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Quality education in Pakistan

Education at local levels
Pakistan education August: Equal access to high-quality education is imperative for the development of a country. Among the factors that affect the quality and accessibility of education are qualified teachers, adequate facilities, proper funding, comprehensive curriculums, affordable tuition fees and the availability of scholarships. All of these factors are dependent to a certain degree on budget. For accessible quality education, a serious financial commitment by the federal government is necessary, but often not sufficient to support education spending at institutions.
Involvement of local government in increasing the education budget is essential and can play a major role in improving the status of local educational institutions. If and when municipal, district and provincial funding is insufficient to meet targets for accessible quality education, it is crucial for the survival of the institutions to demand that their representatives increase the budget. In addition, education institutions must seek out other sources beyond public funding, such as contributions from local businesses, community members, philanthropists, corporations or private funds as endowments.

Investing in the future
Accessible education is one of the most pressing issues in Pakistan. Unfortunately, neither the government, nor the private sector is doing enough to promote access and provide assistance to the needy to attend schools, especially institutions of higher learning. With a majority of young people (63 per cent of the population is currently under the age of 25 years), the government must provide affordable education and training opportunities or risk a very bleak economic and social future.

Public education spending must be increased markedly at provincial and district levels to encourage young people to gain skills that can be used within the community. Without proper qualifications, municipalities will suffer a severe shortage of professional services leading to poor overall welfare while their youth will seek better opportunities in other places.

Leaders of local communities must become aware of the importance that education and training have on employment and local businesses. In addition to the economic return to individuals and to society as a whole, higher education improves quality of life in a variety of other ways, including better health practices, social variables such as participation in charities and volunteer work, and the better education of children ("Investing in higher education", Dawn Education, Nov 11, 2007).

Thus, the burden of increasing funding for education must be shared not just by the federal government, but also by the provincial, district, and municipal administrations, as well as by the educational institutions and the communities they serve. Investing in education carries significant economic benefits not just for the individual but is also crucial to the prosperity of local communities.

Education spending in provinces and in turn in districts is dependent upon the provincial shares distributed by the federal divisible pool based on the population and a province's own resources allocated to education. According to a study by Husain and others (The Pakistan Development Review, 2003), there was a strong correlation between the district's allocation of funds to education and its literacy rates. Districts with very low literacy rates had also allocated the least amount of funds to education. Thus, provincial education funding and its proper allocation directly impact the level of education in a particular geographic area.

Empowering institutions
Local empowerment of education institutions is very important for the community. Easy access to schools, affordable tuition fees, available scholarships, and relevant training courses translate to future employment of the students. If these opportunities are not available locally, young people would have no alternative but to leave for another city that offers some employment or education opportunities or find work as an unskilled worker and perhaps even seek other ways, not always legitimate, to generate income.

When education provides training opportunities locally, young people have better chances of finding jobs, supporting their families and investing back in their community by becoming consumers and clients of local services. Thus, the whole community has a strong interest in investing to improve education quality, access and relevance, as it is investing directly in its own wellbeing and future.

While the task of providing education for an increasing urban population and expanding education services to the distant rural areas seems daunting, there are many steps that can be taken to start reform locally. In large urban communities such as Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Peshawar there is an urgent need for inclusive public education. A great example of providing such public service successfully is the City University of New York (CUNY) in New York City.

CUNY was established as the Free Academy in 1847, and later included many existing as well as new education institutions, becoming the poor man's Harvard. CUNY is the third-largest university system in terms of enrollment, in the United States, just behind the State University of New York (SUNY) and California State University systems. The main feature of CUNY is its accessibility to minorities, and other financially disadvantaged groups that cannot afford the cost of private education.

Thus, CUNY offers educational opportunities and opens the door to the children of many immigrants, giving them the opportunity to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees. More than 260,000 degree-credit students and 273,000 continuing and professional education students are enrolled at campuses located in all five New York City boroughs.

It is the largest urban university in the United States, consisting of 23 institutions: 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the doctorate-granting Graduate School and University Centre, the City University of New York School of Law, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education.

The Honors College accepts several hundred "University Scholars" into its ranks each year, offering a free laptop and free tuition to exceptional high school students. CUNY colleges have produced 12 Nobel laureates along with hundreds of prominent politicians, doctors, actors and lawyers, but most importantly have provided educational opportunities to some of the most marginalised citizens, giving them an opportunity to better their lives.

CUNY grew to its current extent and level partly due to demand and the pressure of the expanding immigrant and economically disadvantaged population in New York City. The fundraising campaign "Invest in CUNY, Invest in New York: Expanding the Vision," surpassed its first goal to raise $1.2 billion from private sources and is now trying to reach $3 billion by 2015. The success of this ambitious goal is due partly to a very active fundraising campaign and CUNY's community involvement. CUNY programmes reflect the needs of the community for affordable, quality education and professional training.

To fill this need of the community it serves, CUNY puts pressure not only on the municipal and provincial governments that sometimes are unable to support demand, but privately raises funds from community members, alumni, major philanthropists and successful local businesses. Donors to this cause understand that they are not just giving back to their communities for a charitable cause, but they are, most importantly, investing in improving their community, and thus their own welfare by providing education and training opportunities to those who can not afford them.

In the recent CUNY fundraising campaign, more than 200 donors, most of whom are CUNY graduates, gave $1 million, topped by a bequest for $25 million as a gift for a new school of architecture. Such donations, coming from alumni are extremely important for education institutions such as CUNY that aim at helping needy students.

This visionary campaign allows CUNY to support students in the form of endowments and scholarships to help attract top students, recruit eminent scholars and professionals as fulltime faculty, support new programmes, facilitate ground-breaking research, as well as provide funds for facilities and equipments.

Education institutions in local provinces must follow the example of CUNY and activate local resources, alumni and other tools to raise funds to support their current and future education needs. A very useful lesson to be learned from the CUNY campaign is that the fundraising campaign was driven by initiatives based at the campuses. Colleges can and must strategically plan similar fundraising campaigns by identifying programme priorities and setting up timelines to achieve their targets.

Education institutions produce many successful professionals that would be very happy and willing to give back to their alma mater institution if they are approached with the right programme. Local businesses will contribute as well. Many businesses would be happy to invest in a new programme that targets their needs. A telephone company can be approached for funds to support a course in engineering, or training for phone operators or technicians.

More technical programmes tailored to the need of the community can be added to the school curricula, thus expanding the schools capacity as well as better serving the community. The higher the education an individual receives, the better are his or her benefits, and the more the community where he or she lives profits as a direct consequence of this education.

An investment
Fundraising campaigns for educational institutions require strategic planning, setting timelines, and realistic goals. They also need the leadership and visions of the vice chancellors and principals of the institutions as well as the leadership of other visionary philanthropists in the community that understand the importance of these programmes.

There can be a variety of fundraising campaigns, from supporting a specific programme, a new building or school, or just financially supporting the education of needy students through scholarships. In the long term, however, local education institutions must have specific goals that they should aim to achieve. These goals, depending on the need of the institution, can be achieved through a variety of sources.

Funds can be tapped through federal or provincial government, establishing annual fundraising campaigns targeting local businesses, alumni and community leaders, or by setting up endowment funds ("Funds for Higher Education Institutions" Dawn, Sept 6, 2009).

It is crucial for the survival of educational institutions and the communities they serve to start paying attention to these matters by designating offices and people that work specifically on institutional fund advancement. Such offices can plan, prioritize and organise existing resources to maximize an education budget.

In addition, designated officers can spend time with community leaders, and local businesses to strengthen community links and provide better services to their community through accessible, quality and relevant education. The institution must have records of the donations that the fundraising office has received and how they have applied these donations. Transparency and accountability are very important to donors, and also encourage new donations for worthy programmes. -By Rudina Xhaferri and Khalid Iqbal (The writers work for the Promotion of Education in Pakistan Foundation, Inc., USA.) Dawn

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