Higher Education in Balochistan[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
Getting The Nails Ready For The Coffin[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The federal government is planning to slash the higher education budget for 2019-20 by more than half. That could well mean the beginning of funeral rites for higher education in Pakistan’s largest, but most underdeveloped, province, opines Adnan Aamir. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The struggling economy of Pakistan is taking its toll on the public in many ways. The devaluation of rupee against dollar has brought in new challenges for the nation and its people, with higher education becoming the latest victim of the worsening economic conditions. Finding available resources in limited number, the finance division has told the Higher Education Commission (HEC) that its budget would be cut down by 50 percent. This is tantamount bringing the higher education sector to its knees, and by none other than the PTI government that had put education at the heart of its election manifesto.
On April 19, a meeting of senior HEC officials and vice chancellors (VCs) of various universities took place at the commission’s headquarters in Islamabad where the news of proposed budget cuts was broken. The HEC was provided a grant of Rs 65 billion for 2018-19, however, the HEC grant has been reduced to Rs 58 billion against a demand of Rs 103 billion for the recurring budget. Consequently, HEC has asked universities to cut down on expenditures and start fundraising programmes for HEC would not be able to fund them adequately further.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) has severely criticized the budget cut, saying the move would make Pakistan’s future bleak. FAPUASA fears that the move by the federal government would seriously affect academic programmes in higher education institutes across the country. That is indeed true, but the impact on the already struggling higher education sector of Balochistan will be nothing short of a catastrophe.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
Balochistan’s Bother[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]Despite being the largest province of the country by area, Balochistan has just seven public sector universities, of which three are situated in the capital, Quetta. For the fiscal year 2018-19, the total funds required for all public sector universities in Balochistan were Rs 4.59 billion, but HEC only provided a grant of Rs 2.81 billion. The shortfall of Rs 1.78 billion was facilitated through bank borrowings. As of today, public sector universities of Balochistan jointly owe Rs 1.68 billion to various banks. Moreover, public sector universities in Balochistan get 4 percent of the total HEC grants, whereas the constitutionally mandated share of Balochistan is 6 percent. And given that HEC would now be getting a federal grant that is half of what it used to, the stakes for Balochistan do not look pleasant. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”7573″ img_size=”large”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The April 19 meeting at HEC discussed the proposed funding cuts in budget, with universities directed to be prepared for suspension of new scholarship schemes, hikes in tuition fees to generate funds, banning admissions and recruitment and ceasing funding for the research activities. In other words, the operations and growth of universities would be effectively choked as a consequence of the funding cut. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
Higher Stakes[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]There are multiple negative implications of new HEC cost cutting warning for Balochistan. In the last few years, Balochistan has witnessed a boom in higher education. A couple of new universities are being established and multiple sub-campuses of universities are about begin operations. All these initiatives require funds for land acquisition, construction, procurement of equipment and recruitment of teachers and administration staff. However, the cut in HEC funding means that all such projects will have to be suspended and the investment made to date, potentially wasted. Suspending progress on new universities and sub-campuses in Balochistan would have both political and social consequences. These new initiatives were a part of a federal government plan to establish at least one university or sub-campus in every district of Balochistan. This step was meant to bring Balochistan at par with other provinces in terms of higher education. If all the new initiatives are ceased, it could well be considered yet another move by the federal government to prevent Balochistan from developing. The PTI government will have to bear the political fallout of this move in the form of an expected steep reduction in its popularity over time. Additionally, the cuts would further aggravate the sense of deprivation among the people of Balochistan, with the increased resentment unlikely to bode well for the federation. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]Moreover, there are also socio-economic implications of this decision for Balochistan. According to a report on Multidimensional Poverty 2016, 71 percent of people in Balochistan live below the poverty line. Higher education is considered as an engine for economic development and poverty alleviation. The planned development of higher education institutes in Balochistan was supposed to usher in economic prosperity by pulling people out of poverty. However, the cut in the higher education budget would also shatter thousands of such dreams. This decision by the federal government would be tantamount to pushing people of Balochistan further down the abyss of chronic poverty and deprivation. It needs to be understood by political leaders in Islamabad and Quetta that the possible devastation to higher education in Balochistan must be stopped. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”7575″ img_size=”large”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Firstly, the federal government should recognize the blunder that is cutting down funding for higher education. There is absolutely no justification for this step and it should be rolled back in larger interests of the country. In fact, the share of Balochistan ought to be increased rather than reducing it under the unjustifiable pretext of austerity. In the face of mounting pressure against cutting down higher education funding, it would be really difficult for the PTI government to implement this decision in the first place. Therefore, sanity should prevail in corridors of power in Islamabad to reverse this ill-advised move.
Secondly, the government of Balochistan should come forward to rescue higher education institutes in the province. Balochistan government is already facing a financial crunch but it needs to prioritize funding for higher education in current circumstances. Presently, the government of Balochistan has an annual allocation of Rs 550 million for higher education. This should be increased to meet the additional shortfall created as a result of the HEC budget cut. There could be a temporary arrangement until the federal government increases funding for HEC in the future.
Lastly, the Balochistan government needs to establish its own provincial higher education commission, which it should have done after the 18th Amendment. Sindh and Punjab already have their provincial HECs. In Balochistan, the governor unnecessarily controls all universities and the practice needs to end. In fact, the current financial crisis can be used as an opportunity to sort out the control structure of public sector universities in Balochistan by reducing the role of governor to a ceremonial chancellor rather than an all-powerful administrator. In any case, the ball is now in the court of the provincial government to protect the higher education in Balochistan from falling into complete chaos. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”7576″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row]