SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
Amid the challenges faced by the higher education sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education, on Thursday, acted on timely and relevant proposals to strengthen the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and modernize Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The committee is chaired by Rep. Mark Go (Lone District, Baguio City).
To expedite approval of the measures, the committee created a technical working group (TWG) to consolidate measures seeking to strengthen the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and provide more development funds for higher education institutions and degree-granting programs.
House Bill 1855, authored by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (2nd District, Cagayan de Oro City), and HB 6449 by Go, seek to strengthen the CHED by revising Republic Act (RA) 7722 or the "Higher Education Act of 1994.
Meanwhile, HB 1936, authored by Deputy Speaker Michael Romero, Ph.D. (Party-list, 1-PACMAN), and Committee on Labor and Employment Chairperson Rep. Enrico Pineda (Party-list, 1-PACMAN), seeks to provide additional appropriation to the Higher Education Development Fund to advance and strengthen the higher education sector in the country.
During the hearing, Go stressed that it has become necessary to harmonize the existing body of laws pertaining to the CHED and provide it with the necessary powers and functions to achieve its expanded mandate. Go noted that the CHED was not envisioned to have implementation functions. Under RA 7722, CHED was mandated to perform policy-making, regulatory, and developmental functions over all public and private higher education institutions, he said.
But since 1994, Go said Congress passed numerous laws that have increased the implementation mandates for CHED. These include RA 10931 or the "Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Law," RA 10650 or the "Open Distance Learning Act," and RA 11448 or the "Transnational Higher Education Law," among others.
To address this, he said HB 6449 seeks to rationalize the present structures of CHED to include 1) appointment of three deputy commissioners for operations, administration and finance; 2) an organization of CHED provincial offices that would ensure the effective implementation of higher education policies and programs in the localities; and 3) the increase of CHED's manpower complement to fully execute the additional mandates.
For his part, Rodriguez said HB 1855 aims to address issues about the 1) increase in the number of state universities and colleges (SUCs), 2) imminent and problematic creation of locally-funded universities and colleges (LUCs) and the concomitant offering by these SUCs and LUCs of numerous degree programs without a CHED evaluation, 3) the rational allocation of state support to SUCs, 4) the absence of a grievance and conciliation mechanism on academic issues, and 5) the limitation on the number of educational institutions that may be created.
He also stressed that the bill recognizes that a new generation of students have entered the tertiary system in the 26 years since RA 7722 was enacted. “We believe that technology and other advances could now be put into place in our tertiary system and that we should be able to strengthen and have the powers of CHED commensurate to the needs of the times,” Rodriguez said.
Moreover, Rodriguez said the Higher Education Development Fund (HEDF) is a trust fund and therefore should be free from restriction or limitation on budgetary releases.
Meanwhile, HB 1936 seeks to boost appropriation to HEDF to advance and strengthen the higher education sector in the country. It provides the following augmentation to the Fund: a) P500 million additional seed capital, b) P100 million for additional operational expenses, c) increase from 40 percent to 50 percent annual share in the total gross income of travel tax, d) increase from 30 percent to 40 percent share in the collections from the Professional Registration Fee, and e) increase from one percent to five percent share in the gross sales of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) lotto operations.
The three bills received the support of CHED Chairman Prospero de Vera III. He explained during the virtual meeting that CHED’s expanded mandates have outpaced the its funds, manpower, and reach across the country.
"Even in terms of funds and personnel supplements and plantilla positions, we are very small. So, we support the efforts and plan of Congress to consolidate all the functions created by specific laws into one document and strengthen the organizational structure of the commission so we can implement our mandates," de Vera said.
Association of Local Colleges and Universities President Raymundo Arcega agreed that HEIs direly need government support because of the impact of the Enhanced Community Quarantine on school operations. However, Arcega assured the committee of the LUCs’ commitment to work hand-in-hand with the government in advancing the needs and thrusts of the education sector.
“This COVID pandemic is a wake-up call for all of us—for SUCs, private, and LUCs. While we’re coming from different orientations, we are all in the education sector...Kaagapay kami ng CHED upang mapaganda, ma-improve natin, at maging relevant ang offering ng local universities and colleges,” he said.