Philstar.com shows how SUC budget cuts threaten quality public education

CHEERS TO Philstar.com for a report that looked at the impact of budget cuts on state colleges and universities (SUCs) and how these cuts are going to affect tertiary education, particularly for the poor. The report, which pointed out the irony of these cuts despite the passage of Republic Act 10931 or the “free tuition law,” also highlighted an often ignored problem: the travel distance between these SUCS and other local universities and colleges (LUCs).

Written by Cristina Chi, Philstar.com‘s September 28 report highlighted the impact of budget cuts on education in SUCs, especially those located in geographically isolated areas. It pointed out that the implementation of the free tuition law has increased competition in higher education among students from all backgrounds. This has led to a shift in enrollment distribution between private and public schools, with over 50 percent of students opting for SUCs, according to Commission on Higher Education chairperson Prospero De Vera. This means more students from richer families availed themselves of free tuition, edging out the poorer ones.

The report said options are limited for students in SUCs, with many located 30 kilometers away from nearby government universities or local colleges, such as Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU). MMSU is facing a 60 percent budget loss in 2024, with the budget set to drop to PHP975 million from PHP2.5 billion in 2023.

Chi’s report also stressed that four of the 25 SUCs facing budget cuts are in places where these are the only public university serving the entire island. This includes Palawan State University, the only SUC in Coron and Cuyo, losing PHP31 million, and Bohol Island State University’s Bingag Extension, Panglao Island’s sole SUC, which saw a significant budget cut of nearly eight percent from 2023, resulting in a total change of PHP62 million.

Overview of heightened inequality

Philstar.com’s report emphasized that students still face financial and logistical barriers to pursue education. The uneven distribution of SUCs and LUCs, along with budget cuts and limited program offerings, not only increases transportation costs and risks for students but also restricts their academic and career opportunities.

These cuts could reduce the number of available slots for students who want to avail of the free tuition law. The budget cuts can also hinder the SUCs’ ability to increase salaries and maintain school facilities.

The report presented data and used Google Maps to help readers visualize the significant travel distance between SUCs and nearby local colleges. It also cited experts and SUC officials who oppose budget cuts and advocate for increased support for public higher education to maintain its “public character” and to uphold its duty.

Education as National Priority

The implementation of the free tuition law has faced several challenges, including insufficient funding and delayed release of funds. The budget cuts run counter to the constitutional mandate of the state to protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education. These further undermine the effectiveness and sustainability of the law.

Media should continue highlighting the issues in the education sector that require immediate attention, especially when learning poverty still persists. Reports like Chi’s serve as a reminder to officials that Filipinos must have access to quality education that meets their needs and aspirations. Budget cuts in education reflect the misguided priorities of government and the lack of understanding among leaders about the place of education as driver of development and progress.