No doubt education is a very important subject and basic need of every citizen of the country, but, unfortunately, since the last few years, this important subject has not been of priority among the concerned authorities. It is indeed unfortunate that rather than increasing the education budget, it has been decreased, and due to this, universities and HEIs have suffered the most. Certainly, it should be the first and foremost responsibility of the governments, education ministry, and the concerned authorities, like the Higher Education Commission (HEC). They should also examine the problems and come up with the best possible solutions to improve the education standard and also providing education to every citizen of the country irrespective of class, ethnicity, cast, etc. At the same time, it is the responsibility of academia to give their feedback and recommendations to the education ministry so that education standards can be uplifted.
A close review of the last five years HEC’s recurring budget reveals that it remained stagnant i.e., Rs. 63.183 billion in 2017-18, Rs. 65.020 billion in 2018-19, Rs. 64.100 billion in 2019-20, same allocation of Rs. 64.100 billion in 2020-21 while the proposed allocation for the coming financial year is Rs. 65 billion. This budget seems quite insufficient even to meet the current requirements of the 138 public sector universities with 92 sub-campuses. That is why, during the last few years, we have witnessed chaos and unrest among the universities due to strikes by the faculty and the universities’ staff due to non-payment of salaries and pensions.
In this regard, it is a need of the hour to look at the matters properly, and the concerned quarters should give serious consideration to the ground realities while allocating budget for the higher education sector. For instance, the inflation rate of 14.5% increases in access to higher education from 1.76 million in FY 2017-18 to 2.06 million in FY 2020-21, increase in the number of Ph.D. faculty from 15,028 in FY 2017-18 to 19,978 in the current FY 2020-21 and increase in several public sector universities from 99 to 138 with 92 regional campuses during last five years.
Concerning the involvement of academia in suggesting policy recommendations to the government, a live webinar on the topic titled, “Budget 2021-22: Needs & Expectations of Higher Education Sector” recently held in which Vice-Chancellors of different universities, including Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad; University of Balochistan, Quetta; Government College University, Hyderabad; University of South Asia; Islamia College University, Peshawar; and the President of FAPUASA participated. The distinguished Prof. Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, Chairman Prime Minister’s Task Force on Science & Technology gave the keynote speech. The webinar was organized by the Association of Private Sector Universities Pakistan (APSUP), Superior University, Inter-University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences Pakistan (IUCPSS), University of Lahore, Government College University Lahore, and FPCCI Central CSR Committee on Higher Education, Science, and Technology. The session was moderated by me, so along with discussing the education matters and giving my policy recommendations, this article will focus on what was said and discussed during the webinar
While addressing the webinar, Prof. Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, Chairman, Prime Minister’s Task Force on Science and Technology, emphasized that the national education emergency is the need of the hour. He strongly recommended an increase in allocation to education by federal and the provincial governments by at least 0.5% of GDP annually till it reaches 5.0% of GDP over the next 5 years. He said that 33% should go to higher education and the rest 67% be spent on schools, colleges, and technical education. Prof. Rahman also suggested that at least 5% of all colleges should be converted to high-level technical colleges with foreign collaboration to ensure high-quality skilled workers. He also emphasized that 5,000 students should be sent on scholarships for Ph.D. to top 200 universities abroad annually to pursue emerging technologies. He further suggested major national programs for technology parks and promotion of innovation/ entrepreneurship, funding for knowledge economy taskforce projects in emerging areas of industrial and agricultural importance, and promotion of high tech manufacturing/ value-added exports through appropriate policies and incentives. Also, he was of the view that the tenure track system (TTS) of appointment of faculty members in universities should be revised to attract top foreign faculty to Pakistan. He recommended the expansion of the matric-tech program in schools across Pakistan to provide technical training at the matric level.
The Chairman Vice-Chancellors Committee and Vice-Chancellor Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, Dr. Muhammad Ali Shah suggested allocation of 150 billion rupees in the new budget as a recurring budget to overcome a years-long deficit and financial problems being faced by Pakistani universities.
Other speakers recommended allocating 5% of GDP for education, involvement of stakeholders and end-users across Pakistan in the policy formulation process, equal opportunities of scholarships, research grants, and faculty training both for the public & private sector, one window facility for issuance of NOC and accreditation of academic programs to avoid unnecessary delays, restoring the role of HEC as a supportive and facilitative organization, respecting the autonomy of the universities, restoring tax rebate to 75% for teaching & research community, the establishment of a contributory fund for payment of pensions, encouraging the role of the private sector in the higher education sector, a revival of the indigenous scholarship program and special grants for the mobility of sharing expertise, existing facilities, experience, and knowledge. They also vowed to undertake collaborative efforts to overcome challenges being faced by the higher education sector. In the end, Prof Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman assured that these important recommendations by the stakeholders would be communicated to the concerned quarters.
Simultaneously, issues being faced by the Tenure Track System (TTS0 faculty are one of the great headaches as well. Yet, the following are a few major issues that need to be tackled as soon as possible: Resolving the TTS promotion & salary issues, special bailout package for the universities which are unable even in paying salaries & pensions, allocating special budget for the universities with student hostels, provision of seed money to the universities for the creation of the endowment, review of criteria for the allocation of budget per student for General Universities, Engineering Universities and Medical Universities.
In summing up the whole discussion, it is quite clear that the Federal and Provincial Governments have to consider education as their top priority and, as it is obvious that due to a rapid increase in population and the youth bulge, it is high time to give due importance to improve standards as well as provide quality education to every citizen of Pakistan. For this, let’s join hands together and move forward collectively for making the future of our contemporary as well as future generations of the country brighter.
The writer is Executive Director of the Association of Private Sector Universities Pakistan (APSUP) and associated with Higher Education Sector for last more than 20 years.
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