Budgetary blues

Lack of clarity on funding for higher education has pitched centre against provinces

Budgetary blues

The federal government, in budget 2015-16, set aside Rs20.5 billion for development projects in the higher education sector. The federal higher education budget is prepared and spent in consultation with Higher Education Commission (HEC).

According to Public Sector Development Programme (PDSP) 2015-16, the government has announced around Rs15.9 billion development budget for 87 ongoing projects and Rs4.57 billion development budget for 57 new HEC schemes. According to the HEC website, there are 24 public sector universities each in the federal areas and Punjab province, 19 each in Sindh and KP provinces while six in Balochistan province and five in AJK. But a closer look at PDSP 2015-16 reveals that majority of the development projects have been approved for federal universities and HEC’s own schemes.

Out of total Rs4.57 billion development budget for higher education for 2015-16, the federal universities will get 24.57 per cent share while Punjab will receive 10.5 per cent, Sindh will receive only 2.7 per cent while KP will get 18.13 per cent of the budget. Around 39.10 per cent allocations of the PSDP budget were made for HEC’s own supervised projects. Interestingly, among all the four provinces, KP got the highest share of PSDP higher education allocations with Rs830 million for its 9 new schemes. One project belonging to Nowshera, the hometown of KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, will get Rs500 million allocation while rest of the eight projects will jointly receive Rs330 million.

Further analysis of the PSDP allocation for HEC for 2015-16 shows that out of total 57 new projects, only one project (School of Dentistry, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Medical University) is approved, three projects are under process while 53 projects are un-approved. According to the higher education experts, in this case, it is not sure that all the allocated funds would be utilised.

The 2014-15 PSDP also included 54 projects of the HEC but only 26 of those projects were approved. The media reports say that cheques worth Rs210 million, which the HEC issued to various universities, vendors and individuals for the fiscal year going to end on June 30, 2015 are yet to be cleared and in case of failure, this amount will be surrendered to the national kitty.

Majority of the development projects are meant for universities situated in big cities. For example, only two new projects are mentioned from universities in South Punjab and both these projects are from universities situated in Multan city.

Prior to 18th Constitutional Amendment, education was in the concurrent legislative list and it remained joint function of the federal and provincial governments. The federal government regulated higher education through HEC Ordinance 2002.

With the passage of the 18th Amendment, education has been shifted to the legislative and executive jurisdiction of the provinces. Two provinces -- Sindh and Punjab -- have already set up provincial HECs while Balochistan and KP have been working on the same lines to set up autonomous bodies to govern the higher education. Most of the functions would be undertaken by these bodies, except standards in higher education which would be formulated at the federal level as per international requirements. But implementation would be the responsibility of provincial higher education setups.

The 18th Amendment Implementation Commission, headed by current Senate chairman Raza Rabbani, also recommended that HEC at the federal level should have limited powers while the rest of the powers, including funding of universities, should go to the provinces.

The Council of Common Interests, in its meeting held in April 2011, decided that the financing of provincial universities would be the responsibility of the federal government till the next NFC Award. After the end of current NFC Award, the provincial governments would have to undertake financial responsibilities of the provincial universities, which are already under the administrative control of the provincial governments. The 7th NFC Award was supposed to end this year but as centre and provinces could not agree on a formula for the next award, the funding of higher education remains a federal government subject.

Dr Naimatullah Laghari, President Federation of All Pakistan University Academic Staff Association, says the federal government and the HEC have been trying to keep maximum funds with them. "Our association has already decided to meet after the holy month of Ramzan to devise a policy against this unjust distribution of development funds."

A spokesperson for HEC, however, tells TNS that the HEC budget is for universities in the provinces, where campus development, scholarships (which are given according to provincial quota) and other mega projects are funded. "There are no mega projects going on for the federal universities," says Aayesha Ikram, director media HEC. She says that 57 per cent of the development budget is allocated for provinces, AJK, GB (Rs11.73 billion), while 43 per cent is for federal universities and HEC (Rs8.77 billion). "Majority of the new HEC schemes include projects for establishment of sub-campuses, strengthening of universities of remote areas and scholarships for FATA and Balochistan."

She says that out of the total allocated amount of Rs20.50 billion for development schemes and as per vertical distribution, the federal universities will get 12.85 per cent share, while Sindh would receive 11.25 per cent, Punjab 19.23 per cent, Balochistan 8.65 per cent, KP 14.52 per cent while 29.91 per cent is allocated for HEC-supervised national level projects.

Officials of the provincial HECs say that the commission has never consulted them to discuss new projects in the provinces. "The distribution of funds for higher education should be based on the NFC formula (Punjab receives 51.74 per cent share in NFC) plus population but the mindset in Islamabad is centralised," says Dr Muhammad Nizamuddin, prominent educationist and head of Punjab Higher Education Commission. "There is no mechanism to monitor the distribution formula devised by the HEC. The commission has kept the lion’s share with it," he says, adding that Punjab houses 45 per cent of total public sector universities students in the country.

"Punjab used to have a share of 30-35 per cent in higher education development budget while we have always been demanding to increase it to minimum 45 per cent. But, people sitting in Islamabad have decreased our share drastically. We have already taken up the issue with the Punjab government which has assured us to take up the issue at the appropriate forum," he says.

Pakistan is among the countries where accessibility to higher education among youth aged 17-23 is minimum with only 8 per cent compared to India where it is 18 per cent while in Bangladesh it is 12 per cent and in Turkey it is 39 per cent.

A senior official of Sindh HEC tells TNS that the federal government should have transferred funds to the provincial HECs. "This is not the mandate of the HEC anymore to decide about allocation of funds to universities in provinces. The HEC has been playing with figures and has kept a huge chunk to itself," he says, adding the Sindh HEC has already conveyed its grievances to the provincial authorities. "We have been assured that the matter would be raised at next CCI meeting."

An official of the HEC says that the commission will not invite provincial HECs for planning or distribution of funds. "The legal position of provincial HECs is not clear yet. The HEC funds universities directly and does not even involve provincial governments. We fund universities in accordance with a given policy. Universities approach the HEC with proposals for development projects. The projects are approved on merit and need basis."

A study titled "Post-Secondary Education in 12 Federations" conducted in 2007 by Forum of Federation, a Canada-based reputed global network on federalism and devolved governance, found that in most of the federal countries (including India), primary responsibility for governing, funding of public sector higher education institutes and approval of new academic programmes lie with the federating units.

Experts say that both centre and provinces have not been taking funding for development of higher education in the country seriously. They say on one hand universities are under administrative control of the provinces, while on the other they look towards the centre for funding.

The sub-committee of Senate standing committee on federal education and professional training in its meeting held in August 2014 recommended the HEC to "work out a formula as to how help out universities on need-based and hardship-based principle while funding development projects."

"Centralised planning commission is in contradiction of the 18th Amendment. I have seen that the federal government has even allocated funds for curriculum council. Education is a devolved subject but Islamabad has been pulling it to centre with magnet of money," says Zafrullah Khan, chief executive of Centre for Civic Education. "It shows the HEC has failed to act as a federal organisation. Provinces should come forward and take their responsibilities."

Budgetary blues