‘Iskolar ng Bayan’ bill OK’d by 2 House panels

By Sammy F. Martin

MANILA, Aug. 17 (PNA) — The House committee on appropriations, alongside the committee on higher and technical education, has approved new proposed legislation awarding automatic college scholarships to the top 10 graduates of every public high school.
In the proposed Iskolar ng Bayan Program, the top 10 graduates of every public high school shall be entitled to admission to the state-run university of his or her choice within his or her province, without having to pay for first-year tuition and other matriculation fees.

After the first-year college scholarship under the program, the student beneficiary shall be covered by the regular financial assistance programs of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), if qualified.

“We have very high hopes that the program will boost public access to higher education,” said Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo, chairman of the committee on higher and technical education.

“We have to churn out a larger number of college graduates at a faster rate in the years ahead to produce a strong and vibrant middle class, and to build up the global competitiveness of our human resources as well as the national economy,” Romulo added.

Under the Iskolar ng Bayan Program, public high schools with more than 1,000 graduates shall enjoy one additional college scholarship slot for every 500 graduates, to be granted to graduates whose ranks immediately follow the top 10.

The program is contained in House Bill 4860, principally authored by Taguig City Rep. Lino Cayetano and Romulo.

Meanwhile, Romulo said a total of P43.3 billion in subsidy has been earmarked for the country’s 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) in 2015 — an increase of 13.8 percent over their 2014 allocation.

The new money includes P3.5 billion for scholarships lodged with SUCs, which is on top of the P2.2 billion available to the CHED for student financial aid, Romulo said.

He said the fresh funding is provided for in the proposed P2.606-trillion General Appropriations Act for 2015.

Romulo has been batting for the democratization of higher education. He is also author of the proposed Voluntary Student Loan Program by Private Banks, or House Bill 3617.

The bill has since been passed on third and final reading by the House, and is now awaiting Senate approval.

Under the program, an eligible student may obtain a low-cost bank loan to pay for the tuition of the college where the borrower has been accepted. The student may also use the money to finance all other schooling as well as living expenses.

The loan would have an effective interest rate pegged to the 91-day Treasury bill rate, which stood at 1.157 percent per annum as of Aug. 15.

The bank may apply an add-on 3.0 to 5.0 percent annual interest rate. But instead of the student paying for the extra interest charges, the lender may claim the corresponding amount as tax credits. The bank may then use the credits to pay, or offset, its tax obligations.

The borrower would pay off the loan periodically, starting two years after graduation, but not later than eight years after leaving college.

Borrowers would be issued either Social Security System (SSS) or Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) numbers, depending on their preferred future employment.

The bank may then enlist the SSS or GSIS to collect repayments via salary deduction or withholding.

The lender may also ask the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to help collect from borrowers with job contracts abroad. (PNA)