By Sammy F. Martin
MANILA, August 5 (PNA) — The Senate and the House of Representatives have ratified the conference committee report on a proposed law that is expected to vastly improve the handing out of college scholarships, grants-in-aid and low-cost educational loans to hard-up students.
“The bill should be ready for President Aquino’s signature in a matter of days,” Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo, chairman of the House committee on higher and technical education, said.
Romulo has high hopes that the Unified Financial Assistance System for Higher and Technical Education, or UniFAST, will enable a greater number of qualified college students from disadvantaged families to access public-funded scholarships and other forms of financial support.
“We are determined to help academically able and highly motivated students from underprivileged families achieve their hopes and dreams of obtaining a college education,” Romulo said.
UniFAST speeds up the delivery of state-funded scholarships and all forms of student financial assistance via the proper targeting of beneficiaries and the adoption of uniform standards for selection and retention.
“The unified system will ensure that student financial aid programs are adequately funded at all times, and effectively carried out to benefit the greatest number of students who truly need the most help,” Romulo said.
In the past, Romulo said many college students who desperately needed help had been left out of government’s “patchy” financial aid programs, while others who could do without the assistance were getting it anyway.
“We’ve also had cases wherein needy students received financial help for a year, and then suddenly left to fend for themselves because the funding dried up,” he said.
“UniFAST will address all these issues, which have been attributed to the fragmentation of aid programs, the flawed targeting of recipients, and the insufficient allocation of funds per student,” the lawmaker said.
Several government-sponsored student financial aid plans have been developed over the years, with various agencies administering them based on all sorts of guidelines and targets, thus the fragmentation, according to Romulo.
“With UniFAST in place, we will have a fairly cohesive and well-managed student financial aid plan that is highly responsive and relevant,” he said.
“Enough funds will go to students who actually need the help. And they will be enrolled in high-priority courses that will assure them gainful employment after graduation,” he added.
Under UniFAST, a board will synchronize all financial aid programs based on a unified and definite set of guidelines and targets.
The UniFAST board shall consist of the heads of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA); one representative each from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA); and four representatives from associations of private higher educational institutions.
This year alone, the national government is spending some Php7.7 billion for post-secondary scholarships.
The country’s 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) have a combined Php3.5 billion available for scholarships. This is apart from the CHED’s Php2.2-billion allotment for student financial aid.
TESDA has another Php2 billion for its Training for Work Scholarship Program.
Romulo has championed greater public access to higher education, which he said “is absolutely imperative to fight poverty and grow our middle income families.”
He is author of the Iskolar ng Bayan Program, which provides the top 10 graduates of every public high school with scholarships in SUCs.
The lawmaker also sponsored the Open Distance Learning Law, which enables overseas Filipino workers who are high school graduates or college undergraduates, working students and even persons with disabilities, to acquire higher education via remote learning facilities.
Romulo also introduced the proposed Voluntary Student Loan Program by private banks, which since been passed on third and final reading by the House, and is now pending Senate action. (PNA)