Approval of proposed unified student financial assistance system pushed

LAWMAKERS are pushing for the passage of the proposed comprehensive and unified student financial assistance system that will fund quality education to benefit more poor students.

The still unnumbered bill, which substitutes House Bill Nos. 26, 405, 667, 965, 1097, 1246, 1852, 2021, 2108, 2243, 2333, 2527, 2791, 2793, 2829, 3433, 3589, 3702, 3739, 3837, 4218, 4254, 4394, 4439, 5136, 6227, 3908, 4725, 6201,1341, 3133, 4591, 4597, 4833, 5134, 5136, 6020, 6122, 6571, 6598, 43, 153, 242, 365, 499, 670, 1247, 1331, 1610, 1820, 2097, 3719, and 6121, awaits approval by the House Committee on Higher Education (HCHE) chaired by Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara (Lone District, Aurora).

The measure shall harmonize all government scholarship and grants-in-aid programs to promote greater efficiency, coherence, synchronization, rationalized access, effective funding and improved coordination among implementing entities.

Angara, one of the authors of the measure, said the bill shall address problems related to access, equity and distribution of student financial assistance slots, targeting of beneficiaries, allocation and utilization of government resources, tracking of the whereabouts of beneficiaries, the payment recovery rate on student loans and compliance system on scholarships and management, as well as program administration and oversight concerns.

The measure provides for the implementation of the unified student financial assistance system to be known as the Unified Financial Assistance System for Higher and Technical Education (UniFAST).

UniFAST shall have integral components of all existing financial assistance programs for higher and technical education students in both public and private institutions, including national scholarships, grants-in-aid, special purpose or sector educational assistance, student loans, and government programs in partnership with other stakeholders, among others, and which are nationally funded and/or implemented by national government agencies, branches and instrumentalities.

To carry out the measure effectively, a UniFAST Board shall be created to formulate and approve the national government student financial assistance policies and strategies for tertiary education and review existing policies to ensure consistency with its policy framework under the Act.

The measure shall create a Congressional Oversight Committee composed of five members each from the Committees on Higher and Technical education of the Senate of the Philippines and of the House of Representatives to oversee the implementation of the Act.

In addition, a Stakeholders Accountability Committee (SAC) shall be created composed of representatives from parents, organizations and students’ groups, the youth sector, teachers and educators’ groups, HEIs and TVIs, and the industry. The SAC shall ensure transparency and accountability and institutionalize consultations with concerned sectors by allowing it to inquire into the books of accounts, policy statements, issuances and other documents and information of the Board.

To mitigate budgetary constraints and to ensure the availability of appropriation and cash, a UniFAST Trust Fund for Student Loans and a UniFAST Trust Fund for Grants-in-Aid and Scholarships known as UniFAST GIAS Fund shall be created under the power and supervision of the Board.

Student loan refers to a modality of student financial assistance, short term or long term loans provided to finance the tertiary education of students facing liquidity problems, regardless of economic status.

Grant-in-Aid (GIA) refers to a modality of student non-repayable financial assistance to poor but eligible students; it generally requires a minimum level of competence but not excellence.

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