Press Release
June 24, 2015


A bicameral conference committee has concluded its meeting on Tuesday to reconcile the Senate and the House of Representatives' versions of the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) Act which seeks to improve efficiency of and ensure equitable access to student financial assistance programs.

"We've been filing this bill since my days in Congress and we very much welcome this progress that this measure is finally nearing passage. I thank the good sponsors Sen. Pia and Cong. Romulo for working tirelessly to come up with the best version of this landmark legislation.

"With UniFAST in place, we can finally make sense of all the money the government gives for education--to give it more direction, and make sure that the country really benefits from public funds being spent in the field of education," said Angara, principal author of the UniFAST bill.

Among the amendments that the bicam committee has agreed on is the prioritization of the beneficiaries under the Iskolar ng Bayan Act in the provision of government-funded scholarships.

"Under the Iskolar ng Bayan Program, the top 10 graduates of every public high school will be entitled to admission to the state university or college of their choice within their province, without having to pay for first-year tuition and miscellaneous fees. With the UniFAST bill, the government can provide funding for the iskolars ng bayan's remaining years in college on the basis of merit and academic performance," said the lawmaker, a former chairman of the House committee on higher and technical education.

Members of the bicam also stressed that when it comes to giving out grants-in-aid, student beneficiaries should no longer be required to take any qualifying examination to avail of grants-in-aid as these students are the ones belonging to poor families and marginalized sectors.

On the bill's provision on loan programs, it was agreed that the top 10 graduates of all public high schools will also be given priority in the grant of student loans.

To carry out the purposes of the law, a UniFAST Board will be created which will be composed of the Committee on Higher Education chairperson, secretaries of the Education and the Science and Technology departments, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority director-general, and representatives from the Labor Department, National Economic and Development Authority, and the National Youth Commission.

The Board will be tasked to review the performance of the UniFAST program in terms of the total number of beneficiaries, breakdown of beneficiaries by district and region, breakdown of beneficiaries by size of annual family income and livelihood, number of dropouts from the program, average academic performance by year of study, completion rate, and measures of success of financial assistance programs, among others.

"Another salient feature of the bill that I insisted to be included is the performance monitoring and impact assessment provision wherein the Board will be tasked to monitor and evaluate whether the financial assistance provided actually helped the student beneficiaries land a decent job after graduation or make significant contributions to community service and public good," said Angara, a known advocate of educational reforms.

"These provisions seek to address the lack of any institutional means of tracking government's scholarship programs because some studies in the past have shown that though some scholarship programs perform fairly well, a majority had low coverage. As we aim to improve the access to financial assistance programs that would, in turn, raise the number of our scholars, we must also ensure that this assistance rightly goes to who needs and deserves it the most," he added.

Both houses of Congress will have to ratify first the bicameral conference committee report when the session resumes in July before sending the bill to the President for signing.

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