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2019 – year of crisis for Pakistan higher education

M Sharif Rana

The year 2019 remained very abstruse for higher education in Pakistan with major cuts in budget, lessening of scholarships, increment in fee and regular protest demonstrations by teachers’ federation. On the other hand, the government appointed regular vice chancellors in many universities, announced establishment of six new universities in various parts of Punjab province and launched Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarship Programme for needy students in 2019.

During the year 2019, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government reduced Higher Education Commission (HEC) budget up to 20 percent as compared to 2018-19. Only 28.64 billion were allocated for HEC under the public sector development program (PSDP) for 2019-20 against 35.830 billion in the year 2018-19. HEC Chairman Dr. Tariq Banuri stated in a press conference that they had demanded Rs. 59 billion for development budget, but could succeed in getting only Rs. 28 billion from the government.

Public sector universities ran short of resources as 2019 was a challenging year to salaries to the faculty and staff besides brining many development projects to a halt. HEC passed on the budget cuts pressure to universities forcing many universities to increase number of admissions. Universities have also started new programs to increase their revenue. Many launched admissions to various degrees in weekend and afternoon programs.

Universities increased the number of seats without increasing faculty members thus causing deterioration in quality and standard of education. Due to heavy teaching load, teachers cannot find time for research and supervision of students. All these measures adopted by universities increased the strain on faculty members and students.

Similarly, some universities also increased semester fee. Pakistan’s top ranking Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad increased semester fee from Rs 60,000 to 90,000. Increase in semester fee has shut the doors of higher education for students belonging to poor and rural background. Many students could not get admission due to unaffordable expenses thus widening the class difference further.

A student Sidra while talking to The Educationist said, ‘’My father is a rickshaw driver who earns only 20 thousand per month. I meet my university expenses by teaching students but now, due to increase in semester fee, it is harder for me to continue my studies”.

Scholarships were also decreased in the year 2019. Rs 350 million were kept for the scholars returning after completion of their PhDs, while Rs 520 million for Fulbright Scholarship Support Program HEC-USAID. In the year 2017-18, Rs 550 million had been earmarked for the Fulbright scholarships support program of HEC-USAID phase-2, while Rs 527 million had been allocated for Pak-USAID Merit and Need Based scholarship program. A new scholarship scheme named “Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarship” was also started during the year 2019.

During the year, out of total amount allocated for HEC, around 24,887 million were spent on ongoing schemes, while 4160 million were earmarked for new projects. While in the year 2017-18, out of 35.662 billion allocated for HEC, 9188.651 million had been spent on ongoing schemes and 26474.150 for new projects.

The PTI government also allotted Rs. 229 million for development of Fatima Jinnah Women University, Campus-ii (phase-2) Chakri Road Rawalpindi, 350 million for enhancement of research facilities at UVAS, Pattoki campus in fiscal year 2019. Rs 800 million rupees were also allocated for establishment of sub-campus of public sector universities at district level. It is noteworthy that HEC announced 17 new projects for the year 2019 but during 2018, 43 new schemes were included in HEC projects. 

Termination of BA/BSc degrees was another major step taken by the Higher Education Commission in 2019. HEC launched a new degree program called Associate Degree Program by replacing BA/BSc degree – thus making a useless exercise which was not more than a mare change of the degree nomenclature.

According to Times Higher Education Ranking 2019, Quaid-i-Azam University stood from  401-500 in world ranking, COMSATS University Islamabad ranked 601-800 while University of Agriculture, Faisalabad and International Islamic University, Islamabad ranked between 801–1000.

Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) and University of the Punjab (PU) Lahore, also sustained the position of 801-1000. Bahauddin Zakariya University(BZU) Multan, University of Engineering & Technology (UET) Lahore, Government College University Lahore, University of Peshawar, PMAS Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi, University of Sargodha and University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore sustained the position of 1000+ according to Times Higher Education ranking.

According to QS World Ranking of Universities, only seven Pakistani varsities managed to make their place to top 1000. Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS) Islamabad stood at the highest rank among Pakistani universities at 397th position in international ranking, followed by NUST Islamabad at 417th spot while Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad was between 551-560th position. The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) ranked 701-750th, Comsats Institute of Information Technology 751-800 and University of Engineering and Technology (UET) was among 801-1000 in the QS ranking.

It is encouraging that PTI govt announced to build six new universities during the year. These included North Punjab University at Chakwal, University of Mianwali, University of Kohsaar Murree, University at Bhakar, and Baba Guru Nanak University in Nankana Sahib. A campus of Government College University Faisalabad was also approved for construction in Hafizabad. Construction of Baba Guru Nanak International University also started at Nankana Sahib during the year 2019.

It is also reported that 102 PhD scholars including 81 males and 21 females, sent to foreign universities on HEC funded scholarships whose degrees were to complete in 2019, did not return to the country.  These scholars were university teachers. They didn’t come back and resume their jobs. As punitive measures, the government cancelled their passports and put their names in exit control list. It is worthy to mention here that an amount of Rs 1.60 billion was spent for their abroad study.

During the year 2019, PM’s Advisor on Higher Education and former HEC chairman Dr. Atta ur Rehman did not seem satisfied with HEC’s policies. In a statement, he said that “it is time for government to revive the higher education system. There is no better way to destroy a country than to destroy its education system. The HEC sent only about 1700 scholars for training abroad during 2013-2018; this number should have been ten-fold higher. The expansion of universities without adequate attention to availability of qualified faculty has dealt a fatal blow to the higher education sector”, he remarked.

The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) held protest demonstrations across the country. On a call of the federation president, secretary and provincial office-bearers university faculty members observed protests in their respective institutions on a weekly basis every Tuesday against HEC budget cuts, teachers’ tax relaxation withdrawal and other policy issues.   

The writer is a staff member and he can be contacted at: mshareef844@gmail.com

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