[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan is set to receive a budget several billion rupee short of its requirements in the coming financial year, a development that could affect the operation of universities across the country and hamper scholarships and new admissions.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]With the debt-ridden government struggling with the financial challenges, the HEC is trying to extract the best possible deal from the ruling party for its upcoming budget of 2019-2020. According to figures available, funding for the higher education sector has stagnated and fluctuated in the past decade after a period of rapid growth between 2002 and 2008. In 2001-02, total recurring and development funding was 0.09% of gross domestic product (Rs 3.90 billion) which increased to 0.33% by 2007, fell to 0.19% in 2012, increased again to 0.3% in 2016 and then fell to 0.26% in 2018 (Rs 87.80 billion). For FY 2018-19, Rs 95.96 billion was allocated to HEC. Of this, Rs 65 billion was for recurring expenses, while Rs 30.96 billion was reserved for development.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Recurring Funding 2018-19

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]HEC had estimated the budget for its recurring expenditure for FY 2018-19 to be Rs 82.504 billion, but only received Rs 65 billion. The salary and pension increase announced by the Federal Government last year, effective from July 1, 2018, has added Rs 8.610 billion to the original budget requirement. On the top of that, nine newly established universities have asked for HEC support amounting to Rs 842.23 million. In a nutshell, the revised requirement for current FY 2018-19 totals Rs 91.9 billion, creating a deficit of Rs 26.9 billion. To meet the funding deficit, HEC has requested the government to provide Rs 26.9 billion as supplementary grant, but the situation does not seem favorable.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Requirement FY 2019-20

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]HEC has undertaken an extensive budgetary assessment exercise jointly with Ministry of Finance, according to which the estimated requirement for FY 2019-20 is Rs 103.550 billion. Per Indicative Budgetary Ceilings (IBCs), the Higher Education Commission has been allocated recurring grant of Rs 58.50 billion for FY 2019-20, which is 10% less than recurring grant allocated in 2018-19 of Rs 65 billion.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]
the estimated requirement for FY 2019-20 is Rs 103.550 billion. Per Indicative Budgetary Ceilings (IBCs), the Higher Education Commission has been allocated recurring grant of Rs 58.50 billion for FY 2019-20, which is 10% less than recurring grant allocated in 2018-19 of Rs 65 billion.
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Key Challenges

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]a Currently, universities raise Rs 71.7 billion through tuition fees. After the budget cuts, they will have to raise another Rs 40 billion. HEC also feared that stringent cuts in new admissions in public sector universities would be another option to meet that deficit. The committee was also told that a ban on admissions in all universities opened in the last three years could also come in place, just so that enough some fiscal space could be created for existing public sector universities (besides reducing grant per student from Rs 76,000 to Rs 64,000). Another bombshell dropped during the meeting was the possibility of placing a ban on all fresh recruitments in public sector universities. Lastly, the HEC stated that as a result of the financial mess, funding for research, purchase and maintenance of laboratory equipment, support for conference participation, and funding for organizing conferences and seminars could also be ceased altogether. These steps would be in addition to the elimination of Digital Library that would save Rs 1.5 billion and the removing funding of Rs 3.4 billion reserved for promotion of research.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Development Grant

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Under the PSDP 2018-19, the government initially allocated Rs 35.829 billion to HEC for implementation of 178 development projects (133 ongoing & 45 un-approved projects) of public sector universities/HEIs. However, PSDP allocation was subsequently rationalized to Rs 30.961 billion for only 133 ongoing development projects. Actual releases for three quarters are Rs 14.083 billion (45%). HEC has received indicative budget ceiling of Rs 28.00 billion for fiscal year 2019-20, against the development plan of Rs 55 billion. The allocated grants for FY 2019-20 (recurring + development) would further deteriorate allocation of resources to HEC as percentage of GDP to 0.23 percent, against the international norms of 1 percent. While government funding is an integral component, HEC Chairperson Tariq Banuri points out that the financial crunch can be addressed through three complementary components – government support, non-government fundraising, and efficient use of resources.

“We are also committed to undertaking complementary activities, namely fundraising and service efficiency.

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The total projected expenditure of universities for FY 2019-20 is Rs 169 billion. Of this, Rs 71.75 billion (42%) will come from universities’ self-generated revenues and Rs 8.55 billion (5%) likely to be contributed by provincial governments. As a result, a funding of Rs 88.70 billion (53%) is needed from the federal government.

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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]With the higher education spending being reduced to half of what it used to be, the PTI government is likely to draw flak from all quarters for going back on one of its key items on its election manifesto: education. Despite being short on finances, the government must look for means to slash budgets in places where it is far simpler to do so and with fewer repercussions for the nation’s future. Education, especially the higher education sector, should be the last item on the list of endeavors which the state plans to cut funding to for the time being. The state of public higher education in Pakistan is already far from pleasant. Universities are already struggling to survive in a fast changing competitive world with limited resources for academic as well as research prowess. Be it cutting edge research, engaging world class faculty or offering an academic environment to students that invokes the love of learning, all of these things require adequate resources, and depriving educational institutes of the country of the already limited resources will in no way bode well for the government, the state, the universities or the students.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]This is a budget cut that is hard to justify. The multiplying effect of these cuts spell nothing but disaster. Cuts will lead to doubling of tuition fee, even fewer students would be able to afford public education, a larger number of students will be left without education and an uncertain future, faculty would be deprived of research opportunities that will lead to stagnation, universities could potentially consider downsizing staff (cue efficient use of resources), leading to rise in unemployment, and so on and so forth. The aftereffects look as pretty as a grim morning over a bloodied battlefield. And education? Well, education can expect to take a long leave as the university administrations would be more interested – for the sake of survival – in “non-government fundraising” than concentrating on actual imparting of knowledge. That would really be a tragedy if academics meant to be lecturing students on ways to change the world are found giving presentations in corporate boardrooms on how the board’s CSR initiative could help the department push on for another year. That would be knowledge wasted and education compromised.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
Riaz ul Haq is a senior journalist based in Islamabad . he can be reached at riazulhaq86@gmail.com and on twitter @riazhaq.