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September 15, 2019

University funding

Editorial

 
September 15, 2019

The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association had asked the Punjab provincial government for Rs.103 billion to fund activities at centres of learning across the province. The government had agreed to grant a sum of Rs50 billion but later slashed this by another Rs7 billion, leaving centres of higher learning to manage all their activities on this meagre amount. Now, the organisation has appealed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has consistently advocated the need for improvements in higher education in the country.

The budget costs mean universities are forced to charge students more, leaving those who are less able to pay out of their educational loop. This obviously deprives extremely talented young persons of opportunity and preserves a stratification by class which favours the more wealthy. The result has been disastrous in the past and it seems nothing is set to change. FAPUASA has blamed the HEC chairman for failing to put forward the universities’ demands for better funding. It has been clear for a very long time that Pakistan’s educational standards at all levels need to improve. In the latest listing by ‘The Times’ of universities around the world, only the QAU in Islamabad stood within the top 500 universities in the world. Neighbouring countries had at least several more. This is not a good omen for Pakistan or its education system. We are not producing the levels of research or quality of education we need to produce talented individuals in all fields and to drive forward vital areas like science and technology, as well as the humanities, which are crucial to the understanding of the manner in which human societies work.

We also need to step up the budget for primary and secondary education which currently falls well under the recommendation of international organisations such as Unicef, making up barely two percent of the GDP, to move ahead in education. Unless the base is strong, we cannot expect students to do well at the higher level. Indeed, some educationists around the world have argued that primary education is the most vital rung of the ladder and that young children must be given a solid start so that their innate ability of curiosity, absorption, observation, questioning and the desire for knowledge can be built. It is only when this happens that we will produce the scholars of tomorrow in our universities. In universities too, problems such as plagiarism, nepotism and teacher absenteeism need to be checked. We have a long way to go and allocating an adequate budget for education is just the starting point.

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