MANILA — Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo on Sunday said he has high hopes that a greater number of college students from disadvantaged families will soon be able to access public-funded scholarships and other forms of financial assistance.
“We are counting on the Unified Financial Assistance System for Higher and Technical Education, or UniFAST, to vastly improve the distribution of post-high school scholarships, study grants, grants-in-aid and low-cost educational loans to hard-up college students,” Romulo, chairman of the House committee on higher and technical education said.
Largely through the efforts of Sen. Pia Cayetano, the Senate committees on education, arts and culture; social justice, welfare and rural development; ways and means; youth; women, family relations and gender equality; and finance, filed last week a joint report pushing for the plenary approval of the UniFAST bill.
The House version of the bill was passed on third and final reading in June last year.
“We are absolutely determined to help academically able and highly motivated students from underprivileged families realize their hopes and dreams of obtaining a college education,” Romulo pointed out.
Through the proper targeting of potential beneficiaries as well as the adoption of uniform standards for selection and retention, UniFAST is expected to reinforce the delivery of all public-funded scholarships and other forms of financial aid to college students from marginal households.
“Greater access to a college education via financial support programs is crucially important in fighting poverty and growing our middle class families,” Romulo explained.
“We have to ensure that these high-value programs are adequately funded and effectively carried out to benefit the greatest number of students who truly need the most help,” he added.
Previous studies have shown that many college students who desperately need help are being left out of government’s “patchy” aid programs, while others who do not really need the assistance are getting it anyway, Romulo stressed.
According to the Pasig lawmaker, they also had cases wherein needy students get financial help for a year, and then left to fend for themselves because the funding suddenly dried up.
“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.
“Once UniFAST is in place, we will have a fairly cohesive and well-managed financial aid plan that is highly responsive and relevant,” he stressed.
“Enough funds will go to students who truly need the help. And they will be enrolled in high-priority courses that will assure them gainful employment after graduation,” Romulo added.
Under the UniFAST bill, 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 P7.7 billion for post-secondary scholarships.
The country’s 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) have a combined P3.5 billion available for scholarships. This is apart from the CHED’s P2.2-billion allotment for student financial aid.
TESDA has another P2 billion for its Training for Work Scholarship Program.
Romulo has been batting for greater public access to a college education.
He is author of the Iskolar ng Bayan Program, or Republic Act 10648, which provides the top 10 graduates of every public high school with scholarships in SUCs; and the Open Distance Learning Law, or Republic Act 10650.
Romulo is also author of the proposed Voluntary Student Loan Program by Private Banks, which the House previously passed on third and final reading, and is now pending Senate action.