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January 1, 2020

HEC budget cut eclipsed education scene in 2019


January 1, 2020

LAHORE: A cut in the budget for the Higher Education Commission (HEC), though a midyear development, eclipsed everything else on the education scene of Pakistan in year 2019.

Public sector universities were swift to react with the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) coming out on roads and observing academic boycotts to condemn the move, but to no avail.

Before the budget was announced, the HEC had undertaken an extensive assessment exercise according to which the estimated requirement for the higher education sector for fiscal year 2019-2020 was Rs 103.5 billion. But the higher education’s apex body was allocated Rs 58.50 billion under the recurring grant which was even lower than the HEC had received in the previous fiscal year i.e., around Rs 66 billion in the fiscal year 2018-2019. Similarly, for the development budget the HEC was allocated Rs 29 billion against a demand of Rs 55 billion.

The budget cut also led to tuition fee increase by the public sector, ultimately putting the financial burden on students while many development projects at various universities suffered because of lack of funding. For example, University of Baltistan, Skardu, is one of universities hit hard by the HEC budget cut.

The university could not carry out recruitment because of lack of funds while it has been receiving a meagre amount out of its Rs 1800 million development project approved under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) in installments. At the provincial level within the span of just one year, the Higher Education Department (HED) and School Education Department (SED) witnessed a change of more than three administrative secretaries, showing the government’s “efforts” to find suitable heads to run the departments. As far as the ministries are concerned there was no change despite the fact the HED lagged behind the SED in terms of policy interventions and reforms.

The only significant highlight from the HED Punjab is the appointment of around a dozen vice chancellors (VCs) in public sector universities of the province during 2019. While for one of the universities, Information Technology University (ITU), which has been without a regular VC since 2018, the HED failed to appoint a regular incumbent during the whole year.

On the other hand, the SED Punjab was able to introduce the country’s first ever e-transfer facility for schoolteachers across the province. Given the number of schoolteachers i.e., over 400,000 serving in the department, developing a paperless transfer-posting regime is quite an achievement. Later in the year the HED Punjab also announced introduce the e-transfer facility for its teaching staff with effect from April 2020.

The Schools Department also remained prominent on the education scene with the introduction of its 5-year Education Policy, Insaaf Afternoon programme and assessment related reforms by abolishing grade-5 centralized examination etc.

Nonetheless when it comes to real policy interventions, the SED Punjab also failed on several counts particularly its sluggish response to the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG No. 4) which pertains to education. The department failed to formulate the rules of business for implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) law and non-implementation of the Supreme Court’s order in letter and spirit vis-à-vis in fee structure of private schools. Despite legislation in place the Schools Department failed vis-à-vis unbridled working of private sector schools across the province.

The launch of Special Education Policy by the Special Education Department Punjab was one of the important developments in the year 2019.

Among the universities, Punjab University remained in the limelight for producing a record number of PhDs i.e., 243 while setting up three new teaching, training and research centres i.e., Centre for Civility and Integrity Development (CCID), Centre for Social Development and Social Entrepreneurship (CSDSE) and Centre for Research on SDGs. Similarly, reactivating the statutory bodies particularly the Punjab University’s Senate also remained a key development during the year.

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