MANILA -- The government’s economic managers rejected on Thursday, February 9, proposed legislations seeking to provide free tuition for all State Universities and Colleges (SUC) undergraduate students.

They are pushing instead for full funding for the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (Unifast).

In a joint position paper, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said Unifast is a “better alternative” to the blanket implementation of free tuition as it is a “a more coherent and comprehensive framework to address the educational needs of the students and is better designed to ensure a more efficient and effective use of government funds.”

Unifast, established through Republic Act No. 10687, aims to unify all modalities of publicly-funded Student Financial Assistance Programs such as scholarships, grants-in-aid, and student loans for tertiary education. The law provides full financing to deserving students, which generally "favors" the poor.

“The proposed free-tuition policy will benefit largely the non-poor students who predominate in SUCs. In 2014, only 12 percent of the students attending SUCs belong to the bottom 20 percent of the family income classification based on the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey,” the economic managers said.

They added that living expenses, not tuition, account for the bulk of the students’ burden, citing data from the government’s Student Grants-In-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation.

Data showed that tuition constitutes only one-third or P20,000 of the annual cost of P60,000 per student covered by the grant. The bigger chunk of college education cost is for living expenses at P35,000 for 10 months while instructional materials cost around P5,000, they added.

“Accordingly, with the government’s provision of free tuition to all SUC students, poor families would still be unable to pay for the remaining two-thirds balance of college education cost, thereby still preventing them from sending their children to college,” they stated.

The economic managers pointed out the possible “adverse implications of an across-the-board free tuition policy,” including the exodus of students towards SUCs from private Higher Educational Institutions.

“The government should implement its mandate of promoting quality and accessible education within the limits of fiscal prudence, and with the use of appropriate tools and targeting mechanism," the Cabinet officials explained, adding that "the budgetary support for free tuition will be difficult to sustain.” (SunStar Philippines)