The government has cut HEC’s funds in the wake of fiscal constraints. The government has allocated Rs15.8 billion for the HEC for the current year, an amount which is Rs19 billion less than that needed and is under threat of reduction. So far the government has only released Rs1.4 billion of this amount, all of which is going towards human resources while no money has yet been released for scholarships as a result of which the future of 14,000 PhD students, 5,000 of whom are studying abroad, is at stake. [Tribune: 72 Universities to go on Strike]
This fiscal year’s budgetary allocations for higher education have been slashed by more than 70 per cent. In a poorly thought out moment, the government announced in June a 50% increase in salaries which has subsequently not been possible to honour to date leading to a very avoidable sense of deprivation.
CUTTING BACK ON UNIVERSITY EDUCATION
Why is it that financiers only think of money: How much money will it take to make more money? How much money must we borrow? How much money must we make to repay what we borrow? There is never enough talk of what money can buy, what is worth buying, or those things worth achieving that perhaps money can’t buy.
Such as being accomplished at what we do, being well behaved, appreciating what is beautiful around us, how to use authority wisely, how to be calm and dignified, the necessity of being honest in one’s dealings, respect for others, being responsible, how to be empowered , how to be ambitious without being ruthless, how to be competitive without being unjust, how to love and be loved, how to care for and value our elders, our children, our women, our neighbours, our animals, our environment, how to harvest yet preserve the gifts of nature.
I cannot imagine not knowing how to read, how to quickly calculate amounts using multiplication or division, not being able to go to a shelf or the internet to settle some discussion, to not be able to write a letter or a diary, to not remember my geography class when someone talks of whether Pluto is a planet or not, to be able to reach out to the Quran or the Bible or Buddha’s teachings or Confucius to understand the purpose of my existence. I cannot imagine not sharing what I have just read, or not being able to read up the next chapter of my daughter’s history book so I can help her with her exams.
I never want to take for granted that I have an education and that has given me the ability to continue to educate myself.
So, imagine my horror when I find that the wise elders of the country, to whom we look to manage our collective earnings, to negotiate for us, to keep us safe, to plan our future say education is only worth 1.8% of our GDP and we need to cut back on that even further for the sake of the economy of the country; when my despairing Vice Chancellor says we must roll back our very successful professional courses, reduce the numbers of teachers, and not even think of improving our facilities. We must stay uneducated so that we can support our struggle to preserve our borders, to pay back loans that were forced upon us, to pay uncaring bureaucrats better salaries, to build yet another monument or make more signal free roads.
There are some alarming statistics around. In a list of 130 countries Pakistan ranks 126th in the amount of GDP spent on education way below Rwanda, Burundi, Solomon Islands, our neighbours: India Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and nowhere near the list topper, Cuba, that spends 18.7% of its GDP on education.
Yet we can proudly say we have a much more respectable ranking when it comes to Military spending of 23.1% of our annual budget, even more than that most war-mongering of nations, USA and more than our nemesis, India. We slip down the list again when it comes to spending in health with a mere 1.3%.
Even if we question the statistics, we simply have to look around our cities, towns and villages to see the pathetic state of our government educational institutions like dried twigs of a once healthy sapling planted with great hopes. You just have to step into a Flood relief camp and see the lost generation of children and young adults who are so excited to see a shamiana go up that is to be their school.
There is all this talk of literacy, as if literacy alone will lead to progress rather than the whole span of education up to higher education. At least our version of literacy defined as “One who can read newspaper and write a simple letter in any language.” This is nowhere near the UNESCO definition: the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”
637,037 young men and women are enrolled in 68 ( 72) State run universities in Pakistan taught by 38,266 teachers. [Pakistan Education Statistics – PDF] Over 80% of university going students are enrolled in State universities where the fees are heavily subsidized making education for all a real possibility. Eg. In University of Karachi the semester fee is Rs 2600 as compared with most private universities with fees in excess of Rs 50,000 per semester. I too am a product of University of Karachi and had an excellent education, not just academically, but also socially by being part of the wider society of Pakistan.
In comparison in a much faster growing education system 1.603 million are enrolled in Deeni Madaris with 55,680 teachers, and are overwhelmingly private (95%). Not to create is a misleading comparison since this statistic is from lowest to highest levels of education, following are the statistics for State education:
137,225 primary schools. 15,702 middle schools 9,587 high schools 1,202 HSC colleges 802 degree colleges and 68 universities, not including technical and vocational centres.
21,791,890 sought public school education in 2007-8, and 17,090 made it to college level.
In Universities :
445,500 almost equally male and female are enrolled in Bachelors programmes, 146,330 almost equally male and female in Master of 16 yrs of Education, 719 more males than females on PhD programmes.
Including PGD and masters of 16+ years we have a Grand Total 325,777 male 311,260 female and a total of 637,037 that depend on government expenditure on higher education. It is only 0.38% of the population.
How problematic can it be to support 637,037 young people and 38,266 teachers in a country of over 17 million? Especially since this 0.38% will run government and private offices, businesses, write books, develop literature, determine the very economy that they seem to threaten in the eyes of the government.
Parents who send their children to higher education rather than to work in factories and corner shops, have certain expectations: that their children will get a good education and that their chances for respectable jobs will thus increase. Can we let them down? Can we let them feel their economic sacrifice was a waste of time? If today many degrees are a piece of paper that allows us to open doors ( or a better simile may be to help us break into locked doors), may it not be because so few funds are spent in improving, updating curricula and facilities, teacher training, conferences, publications? The University of Karachi was designed for 7000 students in the 1950s. Today it has a student strength of 24,000. Clearly it needs development funds to match their needs.
I am not sure why I am even presenting these arguments, because it is obvious even to the most disenfranchised segments of Pakistani society that the only thing that stands in their way is lack of a good education, not just amongst the uneducated, but even those who have degrees but studied with outdated curricula.
Am I trying to convince a government whose own web pages state:
“ It is a universally accepted fact that education is considered the most powerful instrument, to eradicate poverty and gear up socio-economic development and welfare of a society. It unlocks the door to awareness and informed choices. It gives people access to knowledge for improving their own lives but also for shaping a more informed and shrewd about the world outside. It brings changes in the attitude and behaviour of the people towards modernization and life style, raises the productivity, efficiency of individuals and produces skilled manpower that is capable of leading the economy towards the path of sustainable economic development and this is an instrument for eradication of poverty.” [Education Statistics of Pakistan]
Who have allocated the largest workforce of any government office in the Education Department, almost one million employees all over Pakistan.
As Minister for Finance, Planning & Development Sind, Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh said in an interview “ no country was able to develop itself till such time they educated their people. We also need to do that to be successful and this is a big challenge.” However the 7 major objectives stated by the Minister of Finance in 2010 do not include education.
In the International Crisis Group report Asia Report N°84 – “Pakistan’s deteriorating education system has radicalised many young people while failing to equip them with the skills necessary for a modern economy. Pakistan is now one of just twelve countries that spend less than 2 per cent of GDP on education.”[PDF] UNESCO recommends raising public expenditure on education to at least 4 per cent of GDP.
70 % of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 25. They are the future. We cannot let them down.