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Half of free college tuition budget unutilized due to CHED delays

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by Allan Yves Briones

Over P20 billion in taxpayer money allotted for providing free college tuition to students were left idle due to delays by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Commission on Audit reported (COA).

State auditors found that delays in the approval of implementing guidelines, the non-submission of billing statements by state and local universities and colleges, among other things, prevented students from availing of the program.

“The underspending of its budget by CHED due to its inability to immediately address the unresolved gaps and issues encountered in the implementation of its various programs resulted in the huge unobligated allotment…of the total allotment received,” the report read.

This implies a lack of “absorptive capacity” of CHED to carry out its planned projects despite the presence of adequate funding, COA added.

CHED officials explained, also in the report, that the low utilization rate of 49.17% could be attributed to the disconnect between the academic year (AY) and the financial year.

“Since the AY begins every June/August for the first semester and November/January for the second semester, CHED may only obligate the first semester of AY 2018-2019,” CHED said in the report.

In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.

Under the law, the state will provide free college education to students in 191 state and local universities and colleges, expanded last July 26 by CHED to include 27 more.

State auditors also flagged low utilization rates in research and scholarship projects (53.14%), K to 12 transition programs (37.38%), provision of scholarship grants (5.27%) and subsidies for medical students (22.35%).

On Thursday, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto gave CHED an “incomplete” grade in “Fund Utilization 101.”

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