Dec 20 - 26, 20

The experts have been complaining that successive governments in Pakistan have failed in allocating sufficient funds to education in general and to higher education in particular. It seems that the focus of present government has shifted away from education. Experts attribute this attitude to the composition of the legislative, which apparently does not believe imparting education. National as well as provincial assemblies are dominated by feudal lords who consider education their enemy because it gives courage to their voters to question their ill doings.

A country can ignore the importance of higher education only at its peril. The need was also felt for improving the quality of education imparted at colleagues and universities to enable the youth to play the role of agents for bringing about socio-economic change in the country. In order to increase the enrollment and raise the levels of institutes of higher education in Pakistan to the world-class centers of education, research and development, Higher Education Commission has been entrusted the mandate. The commission has identified access, quality and relevance as the primary challenges faced by the higher education in Pakistan.

Since 2002 a number of extraordinary changes have taken place. Over years, almost 4,000 scholars have participated in PhD programs in Pakistan. More than 600 students have studied in foreign PhD programs. The commission instituted major upgrades for laboratories and information and communications technology, rehabilitation of facilities, expansion of research support, and development of one of the best digital libraries in the region.

A quality assurance and accreditation process was also established. Its successes have been remarkable as the recurrent and development budgets increased by fourfold in real terms during 2001-06. By 2008, as a result of its policy and financial successes, quality had improved significantly and several institutions were on their way to becoming world-class institutions.

Many expatriate Pakistanis returned from abroad have access to competitive salaries. Almost all the people sent abroad for training returned, an unusually high result for a developing country in response to improved salaries and working conditions at universities as well as bonding and strict follow-up by the commission.

The progress has put Pakistan ahead of comparable countries in numerous aspects. To name just a few, the establishment of a free access to scientific literature by high-speed internet for all universities; the thousands of promising young scientists who were granted PhD studies at top universities abroad; and the upgrade of research equipment accessible across the country and the program of establishing new universities of science and technology, including technology parks attracting foreign investors, prove the efficiency and the long-term benefits for the country.

In an article "Pak Threat to Indian Science" published in the leading daily newspaper Hindustan Times, it was been reported by Prof. C.N.R. Rao, Chairman of the Indian Prime Minister's Scientific Advisory Council made a presentation to the Indian Prime Minister at the rapid progress made by Pakistan in the higher education sector under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, the then chairman Higher Education Commission. It was reported that as a result of the reforms, Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science.

While India considered educated Pakistan a threat, policy planners in Pakistan responded to its call and curtailed funds allocations to universities. The financial crisis faced by higher learning lately deepened with over 50 vice-chancellors of public sector universities dashing to Islamabad to discuss the issue with top officials of the HEC lately. The single point agenda of the emergency meeting of the vice-chancellors' committee was funding problem that has gone from bad to worse over the last couple of years.

Governors of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in their capacity as chancellors of the public-sector universities have already informed the prime minister of their inability to implement the government's decision of giving a 50 per cent raise in the salary of university teachers until they were provided the required funds.

The HEC started the current financial year with a yawning deficit of nearly Rs12 billion. During last year, the government under the public sector development program committed Rs22.5 billion for the development of public sector universities. However, until June 30 last year, it could only release Rs11 billion. This year against the demand of Rs30 billion under the development grant, the government has only allocated Rs15.7 billion to the HEC.

The HEC seems to be barely surviving. It has shelved almost all its major scholarship schemes. Over 200 development schemes, including both infrastructural and academic, have been disbanded. The momentum, which had been created with years of hard work and investment of billions of rupees in the higher education sector of the country, has come to a grinding halt, the official argued.

If the situation does not change, the HEC may ask public sector universities to increase their fees and plan more self-finance based admission schemes. In the past, the HEC had discouraged such measures because they led to an overall increase in the cost of university education.

Dr. Javed Laghari, Chairman of the HEC in late August indicated that his organisation needed Rs19 billion urgently otherwise development projects currently underway in universities across Pakistan would be shelved due to lack of required funds. He said the HEC was no more in a position to provide sufficient funds to the public sector universities for the ongoing development projects.

He said there had been a total of 3000 PhD holders between 1947 and 2003, but after inception of HEC 3,080 students secured PhD degrees from local and foreign universities. Showing firm commitment to scholarship programs, he said whatever the situation may arise HEC would continue to provide funds to the students who are studying in foreign universities on scholarships.

He said HEC was quite clear in its policies regarding financial administration and audit, adding a strict criterion for appointment of vice chancellor of the public sector university is a must to move in the right direction. Dr. Laghari said a total of 11,271 courses have been offered that included 5,622 short term development courses, 1,504 long-term development courses and 4,145 other development courses.