The universities will suffer if the indicated budgetary cuts are executed, said Dr. Tariq Banuri, Chairman Higher Education Commission (HEC) while briefing a meeting of National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Federal Education and Professional Training.
Meeting was being chaired by Mian Najeeb-ud-Din Awaisi at the Commission Secretariat here on Monday.
Highlighting challenges facing the higher education sector, the Chairman expressed concerns that instead of increase in the sector’s budget, it has been fluctuating since the establishment of HEC in 2002. “Pakistan’s education system is grossly under-funded.”
He informed the committee members that HEC undertook an extensive budgetary assessment exercise jointly with the Ministry of Finance, according to which the estimated requirement of the higher education sector for FY 2019-20 is Rs. 103.550 billion.
However, the higher education sector, as per Indicative Budgetary Ceilings (IBCs), has been allocated a recurring grant of only Rs. 58.50 billion for FY 2019-20. He maintained that the sector needs Rs. 55 billion development budget, while the IBCs show allocation of only Rs. 35.8 billion.
He explained that Pakistan spends hardly 2.8 per cent of its GDP on education, which must be at least four per cent. He added that the higher education sector must have at least one fourth of the four per cent, but unfortunately the sector could only get one tenth of the allocated amount.
He hoped that despite financial challenges, the Government will keep in view the sector’s requirement in the allocation of funds for the FY 2019-20.
He said HEC was established in 2002 to pursue major objectives of increase in access, improvement in quality, and ensuring relevance of higher education and research to socio-economic needs of the country.
Shedding light on HEC’s progress towards achievement of its major objectives, he said as compared to only 2,76,000 students enrolled in universities in 2002, 1.6 million students are currently studying in universities. He added that the female student ratio was only 37 per cent before the establishment of HEC, which has now reached 44 per cent.
He maintained that 195 universities are presently operating in the country, though the number was only 60 about 17 years back. He highlighted that the number of per annum research publications has cross 14,000 as compared to merely 800 in 2002.
Moreover, he said, HEC is focusing on quality and relevance of higher education and research and, in this regards, tangible measures are underway. He mentioned success of HEC projects including Technology Development Fund; Offices of Research, Innovation and Commercialisation; Business Incubation Centres; National Research Programme for Universities; Social Integration Outreach Programme, and various other initiatives directed to promotion of a research culture in the country.
To a question regarding mushroom growth of private institutions, he said HEC is a regulatory body which sets standards for higher education institutions across the country. All the institutions need to fulfill HEC criteria before securing charter to operate anywhere in the country, he revealed.
Informing the legislators regarding HEC’s future plans, Dr. Banuri said HEC is working on revival of National Academy of Higher Education (NAHE) for training of potential university leadership, and capacity building of teaching and non-teaching staffs of universities.
He also underlined HEC’s efforts for promotion of ICT through expansion of Pakistan Education and Research Network (PERN). He added that Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS) is being executed to ensure transparency and efficiency in university operations.
The Chairman underscored that HEC is taking steps to bring systems reforms, develop fast track institutions, and promote fundraising, as HEC is committed to ensuring autonomy of universities. He vowed that IT platform will be fully exploited to further strengthen connectivity among universities and the academic community. He stated HEC is also fully aware of the need for global engagement to internationalise Pakistani universities and improve their international acknowledgements.
The meeting passed two bills including Islamabad Capital Territory Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill, and the Disabled Persons Employment and Rehabilitation respectively presented by Ms. Mehnaz Akbar Aziz and Ms. Tahira Aurangzeb, Members National Assembly, respectively.
On the occasion, Mr. Tahir Abbas Zaidi, Director General Accreditation and Attestation, HEC briefed the meeting regarding the University of Islamabad Bill 2019.