The universities will suffer if the indicated budgetary cuts were executed, said Dr Tariq Banuri, Chairman Higher Education Commission (HEC) while briefing HEC’s future plans to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee in a meeting on Monday.
Highlighting challenges faced by the higher education sector to the Committee Chair Federal Education and Professional Training Mian Najeeb-ud-Din Awaisi, 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 Rs103.550 billion. However, the higher education sector, as per Indicative Budgetary Ceilings (IBCs), has been allocated a recurring grant of only Rs58.50 billion for FY 2019-20. He maintained that the sector needs Rs55 billion development budget, while the IBCs show allocation of only Rs35.8 billion.
Banuri explained that Pakistan spends hardly 2.8 percent of its GDP on education, which must be at least four percent. He added that the higher education sector must have at least one fourth of the four percent, 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.
The Chairman said HEC was established in 2002 to pursue major objectives including to increase access to education, enhance and improve the quality of education and ensure relevance of higher education and research with the 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 were currently studying in universities. He added that the female student ratio was only 37 percent before the establishment of HEC, which has now reached 44 percent.
He maintained that 195 universities were 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 had cross 14,000 as compared to merely 800 in 2002. Moreover, he said, HEC was focusing on quality and relevance of higher education and research and, in this regards, tangible measures were underway. He also mentioned the 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 facilitating the promotion of research culture in the country.
To a question regarding mushroom growth of private institutions, he said HEC was 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 was 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 said Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS) was being executed to ensure transparency and efficiency in university operations.
The Chairman underscored that HEC was taking steps to bring systems reforms, develop fast track institutions and promote fundraising, as HEC was committed to ensure 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 was also fully aware of the need for global engagement to internationalise Pakistani universities, along with improving 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 Mehnaz Akbar Aziz and Tahira Aurangzeb, Members National Assembly, respectively.
On the occasion, HEC Director General Accreditation and Attestation Tahir Abbas Zaidi briefed the meeting about the University of Islamabad Bill 2019.