Falling Fortunes

How Higher Education Budget Cuts Are Affecting New Admissions

The PTI government promised heavy investment in education. Instead it has slashed the budget for higher education by almost a half. Ammar Sheikh investigates how these cuts are affecting the fate of higher education and students in Punjab.

s admissions for fall sessions begin at universities across Pakistan, students and parents opting for public sector universities of Punjab are in for an unpleasant reality. Punjab’s public sector universities are re-evaluating their fee structures as well as other charges in order to accommodate the budgetary cuts they have had to face due to massive cuts in funding from the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. Some public sector universities, such as University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore, have already announced increase in fee applicable on new inductions that will take place in the fall session. Others, like the Punjab University, have yet to announce a formal increase in fees and other charges.

Per estimates, the fee will be increased by between 20 and 30 percent for the next academic year in Punjab

 

 

Up and Away 

The Academia Magazine spoke to teachers, students and administration to gauge the amount by which the fees are expected to rise. According to estimates received from various public sector universities, the fee will be increased by between 20 and 30 percent for the next academic year in Punjab. This, however, does not include other measures being taken by universities to meet the gap between expenditure and income. It is estimated that universities will also increase charges for various other services, such as transport and hostel charges, in the coming months to ease the burden on their balance sheets. As part of these measures, the Government College University (GCU) Lahore has increased its transport fee from Rs 12,000 to Rs 18,000. Fee, service charges and the general increase in the prices of goods and services will have a negative impact on students and their parents, as access to higher education will get limited to only those who can truly afford the rising costs.

 

Shrinking Options

There is more bad news for stakeholders. Students whose financial position could not even allow for payment of already heavily subsidized charges at public universities are facing uncertain times. Such students usually resorted to various scholarships, fee exemptions or at least paying the fee in installments. But because of the financial crisis faced by varsities, these option are also being shown the door. According to a student at Punjab University, a recent notice in his department stated that students availing fee concessions will have to pay the full fee come fall semester. Another source of hope for many students were the scholarships offered by the Punjab Education Endowment Fund (PEEF). These endowments have also been slashed by 50 percent after the recent reduction PEEF funds by the Punjab government. Per the latest budgetary allocations, PEEF funded scholarships have reduced to 10,000 for the coming year, down from 20,000.

 

HEC And Budget Cuts

Per verified figures, HEC received Rs 59 billion for the fiscal year 2019-20 against a demand of Rs 103.5 billion. The allocation for development projects of the HEC was also lowered to Rs 28 billion against a demand of Rs 55 billion. The reduced allocation means that HEC will have to implement major cuts in funding for public sector universities across the country. In response, universities will now have to shift the financial burden on to students or take drastic measures like reducing necessary expenditure like that on research, phase out scholarships and reduce student intake.

In an interview to Academia Magazine before the 2019-20 budget was passed, HEC Chairperson Dr Tariq Banuri had offered details of the options available with HEC and public sector universities to cope with the financial crisis. He said that the budget cuts would affect the scholarship programs and the commission would not be able to offer fresh scholarships. Additionally, he had said that public sector universities were looking at doubling their fee if the government failed to re-consider the budget to the sector. Banuri had feared that these cuts could result in limiting new admissions in public sector universities across the country, as every student added financial strain to the varsity and its finances.

 

Punjab’s Allocation

The situation has been similar, if not worse, in the higher education budgetary allocation sanctioned by the Punjab government. Higher education was allocated Rs 42.4 billion (11.07 percent of the total budget) for the fiscal year 2019-20. Whereas, the development budget for the sector was Rs 7.3 billion (17.21 percent of the total for higher education). In comparison, the previous government had allocated 40.41 percent of the budget for the development of the sector.

Economic Survey of Pakistan 2018-19, had projected higher education enrollment to decline by 0.2 percent in 2018-19. This decline was predicted without taking the budgetary cuts into account

Other programs and institutions benefitting students in the higher education sector also faced budgetary cuts. PEEF was allocated Rs 300 million for development, down from Rs 1 billion in the previous year. The Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) was allocated Rs 100 million this year for development, down from Rs 500 million in the previous year.

 

Crisis Brewing

According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2018-19, Pakistan had an higher education enrollment of 1.6 million in 2017-18. The growth in enrolment was projected to decline by 0.2 percent in 2018-19. This decline was predicted for the previous year without taking the then unforeseen budgetary cuts into account. This year, the number could be much higher and more students would miss out on higher education given the severity of the financial constraints.

The mammoth challenge was also highlighted by Dr Mansoor Sarwar, the vice chancellor of UET Lahore in a recent interview to Academia Magazine. He said that the university was dependent on HEC to pay salaries and pension to its staff and teachers and now that the commission had decreased varsity’s grant by 10.5 percent, the administration was considering various options to plug the gaps.

 

Teachers’ Take

The teaching community has been vocal about the budgetary cuts since its announcement. In a meeting at HEC, the vice chancellors’ committee expressed its frustration with the government and demanded that the government revisit its decision. The VCs had demanded the government increase the budget through a supplementary allocation, so that universities could function smoothly.The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) also highlighted the issue recently and warned the government of taking to streets if the budget was not revised and increased.In the run up to last year’s election, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf claimed to focus much on investment in education, especially higher education, and also promised to establish new universities in the country.

But given the current financial situation, new universities would only add to the troubles of the sector. So with that in mind, the PTI government must come good on its promise of diligently investing in education, if not adding more universities. Without reconsidering its decision, the government faces the risk of putting the future of thousands of young Pakistanis at stake. Which is hardly the way towards making a better, new Pakistan,