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Lack of funds jeopardises higher education sector

Karachi, June 10, 2008: The higher education sector in the country has been threatened by new policies of the present government as nearly 59 public sector universities are suffering from monetary crisis after refusal of the federal finance ministry to release the Higher Education Commission's fourth quarterly instalment of development and recurring grant worth over Rs 8 billion for 2007-08.

According to an HEC official, the government's step to withhold HEC grant has created hurdles for public universities to carry on their projects.

"However, grants and funds have been provided to all higher learning institutions of the country for various projects and payment of salaries to their employees. The fourth quarterly instalment was due in April, but not a single penny had been released on account of the grant so far; this situation will aggravate the situation at the public-sector universities. In the regard, the higher-ups, including Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani have been asked for intervention into the matter to get the grant released," he said.

He said, "The present government is not aware about the fact that higher education and scientific research in present time is very expensive undertaking. This is far less compared to India (7 per cent of its GDP) and Malaysia (2.7 per cent) and some other developing countries.

The government has forgotten the marvellous efforts of the HEC to boost up the higher education sector in the country under the leadership of Prof Dr Attaur Rahman.

It is worth mentioning that the Karachi University is not beyond to current financial crisis being faced by the HEC, as the Karachi University is also waiting for Rs 220 million. Conversely, the Federal Urdu University for Arts, Science and Technology is also in need of Rs 70 million from HEC.

It is may be noted here that the decision of the government to deprive the higher education sector from its required monetary is being criticized in the educational circles of the country nowadays.

Praising the efforts of the HEC, while talking to us on Monday, Prof Dr Mazhaerul Haq, former Professor at the University of Karachi and later senior official at UNESCO, headquarters, Paris, said that the creation of Higher Education Commission in 2002 was a technocratic vision of the previous government at a time when the country was passing through development of various sectors of its economies.

He said, "In its design it is highly innovative, ambitious directed to modernize the entire higher educational system in the country to respond to country's future needs. Since its establishment, HEC has launched a number of projects including award of 2500 fellowships to young promising scientists for PhD level studies in foreign universities, establishment of digital library providing access to about 23,000 international journals and 35000 textbooks from 220 international publishers. HEC is also embarking on a series of reforms, such as improving conditions of universities, quality of research publications, curbing such evils as plagiarism and similar other weaknesses noticed at the institutional levels.

The general criticism that HEC will overshadow the massive educational needs of our many schools and colleges that fall under the purview of the Ministry of Education, in my view, does not hold water.

There can't be two opinions on the urgent need to strengthening this important part of the education sector. On the contrary, any feed back from higher education reforms on a continuing basis to lower educational system as proposed, could only go a long way towards strengthening the system thus achieving the over all national objectives. Similarly, criticism of its huge spending (4 per cent of GDP) can not be upheld."

By the decision of the federal finance department, a debate on the future of the HEC has been started in the literary circles of the country. However, the government unwillingness towards promotion of higher education sector in the country is also being depreciated educational and literary circles.

By SYED JAFAR ASKARI (The Nation)
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