By Alexandria Dennise San Juan
The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has clarified that only new applications for merit scholarships or educational support based on academic performances would be temporarily suspended due to budget constraints amid the pandemic.
CHED Chairman J. Prospero De Vera III said in a statement that the Commission will temporarily postpone the application of its Merit Scholarship Program (CMSP), which has 2,467 new slots ,for incoming freshman college students for Academic Year 2020-2021.
According to De Vera, the clarification was issued following media reports on his presentation in the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on Thursday which gave the impression that all CHED scholarship programs are being cut.
However, De Vera said that other grant programs of the Commission such as the reimbursement of tuition and miscellaneous fees in state and local universities and colleges (SUCs and LUCs), the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES), and the Student Loan Program will continue to be received by student beneficiaries as the allocated budget remains intact.
De Vera added that there are more than 300,000 beneficiaries for this academic year under the TES.
The higher education chief explained that no CMSP will be granted this school year due to the implementation of the National Budget Circular No. 580 by the Department of Budget and Management in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is to urgently support and contribute to the government’s efforts in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and to prioritize need-based scholarships rather than merit-based scholarships,” he said.
The circular orders the adoption of economic measures in the government in light of the national health emergency due to COVID-19 through discontinuance of programs, activities, and projects to generate funds to contain the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact on the economy.
Under this, the DBM will no longer release 35 percent of programmed appropriations of agencies under the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) effective April 1.
While it covers all departments and operating units of the national government, including SUCs, the DBM earlier clarified that the Republic Act No. 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Law will not be affected by the implementation of the budget circular.
“With the available funding, we can only cover existing scholars to ensure their continuous education during these difficult times. This temporary suspension is intended to financially support national programs for financially vulnerable families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” De Vera added.
The current health crisis has affected the opening of classes in higher education institutions, with CHED urging the shift to the new academic calendar and start classes in August while implementing a “flexible” mode of learning.