HIGHER EDUCATION - CHALLENGES AND POOR GOVERNANCE

SHAMSUL GHANI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Apr 26 - May 2, 2010

Pakistan's educational development is hampered by a number of factors. Most of destabilizing are:

1. Resource allocation constraints
2. Government's failure to assign top priority to education
3. General societal ignorance of the value of education

Resource allocation for education sector in terms of percentage of GDP has been dismal throughout the history of Pakistan. Any government in particular can not be singled out for this criminal shortcoming; rather it is the overall culture that has demonstrated its active indifference to the issue of education down the decades.

Education has been allocated, on an average, 2.12 per cent of GDP per annum during the last 9 years. The country's population - if the official statistics is taken without a pinch of salt - has also grown at almost a similar rate. So, the resource allocation could at best suggest that education is in stagnancy mode.

POPULATION GROWTH AND PUBLIC EXPENDITURE ON EDUCATION

YEAR POPULATION IN MILLION % GROWTH IN POPULATION PUBLIC SECTOR EXPENDITURE ON EDUCATION (BILLION RS) % GROWTH IN EXPENDITURE ON EDUCATION EDUCATION EXPENDITURE AS % OF GDP
2002-03 146.75 2.69 89.9 13.94 1.86
2003-04 149.65 2.01 124.2 38.15 2.20
2004-05 152.53 1.92 140.0 12.72 2.15
2005-06 153.96 0.97 170.8 22.00 2.24
2006-07 156.77 2.05 216.5 26.76 2.50
2007-08 159.06 1.46 253.7 17.18 2.47
2008-09 162.37 2.08 275.5 8.6 2.10

We all know that lack of education is the root cause of all economic and social imbalances of our society. Education has never been and will never be the top priority of our ruling elite that is formed of predominantly feudal material. Promotion of education creates awareness which in turn becomes a potent threat to the feudal structure of governance. We are said to have a literacy rate of around 60 per cent. This is highly controversial. If measured on the basis of international yardstick of literacy, this fudged literacy rate would shrink to just 35 per cent or so. During military autocratic rules, the education sector comparatively gets greater attention and government financial support.

Pakistan's conventional democrats who mostly come from the feudal setup hardly focus on education either for lack of time or by design. Lack of talent pool and party-line compulsions deter them from finding the right person for the high profile jobs of great national importance. Being aware of the short tenure of their rule they are caught up between the desire to abolish previous government policies and the ambition to advance their own. The result is that the important sectors like economic, finance and education hugely suffer.

Between FY03 and FY08 we recorded an average growth of 21.8 per cent in public sector expenditure on education. This growth came abruptly down to 8.6 per cent in FY09.

The general societal ignorance of the value of education suits the ruling elite who has to exert minimal effort to distract the poor segments of society away from the pursuit of education. Religious extremism also creates a potent synergy with the economic backwardness and poverty to drive the youth away from the midnight-oil-burning pursuit of education. The distraught and misguided youth takes to the course of seemingly easy and money-rich ways of terrorist life.

The parents hardly try to understand the value of decades-long persistent educational effort that could transform the lives of their children, and theirs' too. Their own lack of education and poor economic conditions stand in their way.

Higher education is the phase when highest value addition in human capital takes place. Besides widening and strengthening the basic education base, great attention needs to be given to the higher education segment which is responsible for producing high value human capital both for domestic and international markets. It is heartening to note that this segment of education has expanded with an average annual growth of 18 per cent between FY03 and FY08, on the basis of enrollment.

Funding of higher education, after peaking in FY07, has taken a downturn. After stabilizing a bit in FY08, the funding abruptly recorded a negative growth of 34.1 per cent in FY09. This is a development that needs immediate correction. True, the economic conditions are not favorable, but there are innumerable venues that can be targeted for savings or raising extra revenue. Such type of government policy response to economic crisis only reaffirms the widely-held view that ruling elite especially the feudal democrats pay scant respect to country's educational goals and objectives.

ENROLLMENT & FUNDING IN HIGHER EDUCATION (IN BILLION RUPEES)

YEAR DISTANCE LEARNING PUBLIC SECTOR PRIVATE SECTOR TOTAL ENROLLMENT % CHANGE IN ENROLLMENT FUNDING OF HIGHER EDUCATION % CHANGE IN FUNDING
2001-02 89749 142652 43873 276274 - NA -
2002-03 108709 167775 55261 331745 20.1 7.723 -
2003-04 159257 202871 61108 423236 27.8 10.273 33.0
2004-05 187557 216454 67953 471964 11.5 15.936 55.1
2005-06 199660 242879 78934 521473 10.5 21.384 34.2
2006-07 272272 276226 91563 640061 22.7 28.742 34.4
2007-08 P 305962 331664 103466 741092 15.8 27.927 (2.8)
2008-09 NA NA NA NA - 18.416 (34.1)

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) after performing excellently for quite a number of years has suddenly started to show signs of financial cracks. It has no funds to send abroad some 550 students who have qualified for HEC foreign scholarships and are in the waiting room for the last 3 years. Funds allocation for research activities carried out in 124 HEC-recognized universities has also been curtailed. This is definitely going to kill our research culture which is still in an infantile stage.