EducationNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 23

Stakeholders not happy despite hike in HEC allocations

The federal government increased the higher education sector budget by around Rs15 billion for financial year 2021-22, compared to the outgoing year’s allocations, but Rizwan Ali, a PhD researcher, is not impressed at all. Along with local and foreign scholars, especially from the USA, China and Australia, he has currently been working on research projects, accorded to the group of researchers online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Lahore-based scholar secured his PhD degree from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), a leading research university of Hefei, the capital and largest city of the Chinese province of Anhui, functioning under the direct leadership of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. His research will help find out new treatments for cancer patients, he believes.

In a telephonic talk with Cutting Edge, he says research labs in Lahore’s public sector universities are outdated and in shabby condition. In connection with his research pursuits, he had to seek help from different universities’ research laboratories. On the basis of his firsthand experience and observations, Rizwan Ali says Pakistani higher education institutions can’t even think of providing a research environment and facilities to their scholars, which the Chinese universities are providing to their students. The equipment and apparatus available to research scholars in almost all labs of government universities is obsolete and needs immediate replacement. But no mentionable funds are ever allocated for the purpose, Rizwan Ali laments.

The Pakistani researcher recalls that while studying at any Chinese university or conducting research, a student does not have to worry about the costly materials needed for the purpose. The research scholars are never asked about the use of large quantities of costly materials, though in Pakistan they have to pay for whatever materials they use for experiments. It will take a long time, and exceptionally enhanced budgetary allocations if our universities want to create a research culture and produce good scientists in the country, he believes.

The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) also endorses Rizwan Ali’s assertion fully. Soon after the budget announcement, the association said it had demanded a Rs150b non-development budget, but the government set aside only Rs66.25 billion for it, which was almost negligible.

A spokesperson for the association told Cutting Edge by telephone that allocations were made in the budget for setting up new universities and opening new campuses, but almost nothing was done for providing facilities at old universities. He says the non-development budget is meant for salaries, but equipping science laboratories is also part of spending of such allocations. This year, the government allocated Rs66.25b for the non-development budget, compared to Rs64.1b for the same head in the last fiscal year. The Higher Education Commission’s recurring budget was Rs63.1 billion in 2017-18, Rs65.02 billion in 2018-19, Rs64.1 billion in 2019-20, and the same allocation, Rs64.1 billion, was made in 2020-21, showing that the recurring budget had remained almost stagnant during the past years.

FAPUASA Punjab President Dr. Abdul Sattar Malik and General Secretary Dr. Ahtisham Ali said in a press release that the HEC recurring budget had been frozen once again in the federal budget. They said the increase in the development budget would help establish new universities, but keeping the recurring budget frozen would affect the universities, teachers, students and research pursuits of scholars. The non-development budget is meant for 138 public sector universities with 92 sub-campuses.

Following are the details of the allocations made for the higher education sector.

Over Rs108 billion allocations were made in the financial bill 2021-22 for development and non-development expenditure of the higher education sector: Rs42.4b for development and Rs66.25b for non-development expenditures of the HEC.

The development allocations of Rs42.4b have been made for 127 ongoing and 39 new development schemes. The new schemes included the establishment of Institute of Sufism and Mysticism at Bahauddin Zakariya University for which the government has set aside Rs100 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

Also, Rs350 million have been allocated for Kamyab Jawan Sports Academies and Youth Olympic at the HEC and Rs525 million for the establishment of a technology park at Sukkur IBA University, Rs300 million for Fulbright scholarship Support Programme HEC-USAID.

The budget document says that Rs411 million have been allocated to upgrade Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, while for strengthening Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University Peshawar, Rs375 million have been allocated. For the construction of an academic block at Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Medical University, Rs300 million has been set aside. Moreover, Rs300 million has been allocated for the construction of the main campus of Khushal Khan Khattak University. Over Rs575 million was earmarked for the construction of two new departments at Quest Nawabshah; Rs600 million for the development of essential needs for the establishment of Government College University, Hyderabad, and Rs300 million for the development of Government College University Lahore campus at Kala Shah Kaku.

The other allocations include Rs375m for the development of University of Okara, Rs 200m for the enhancement of academic facilities at NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi, and Rs400m for the establishment of Comsats University at Kot Addu.

For the outgoing fiscal year, the federal government had earmarked Rs93b for the HEC – Rs29b for development and Rs64b for non-development schemes.