By Noor Aftab
A drastic cut in the annual budget is likely to force Higher Education Commission (HEC) to drop 80 per cent of students for foreign scholarships due to non-availability of required funds, sources told ‘The News’ here on Friday.
The data showed that HEC set a target to select 800 students for foreign scholarships in MS, MPhil leading to PhD in universities of US, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Germany, France and Cuba.
The annual PSDP budget for the HEC has been reduced from Rs22.5 billion to Rs15.7 billion and now it is finding it difficult to provide required funds to 640 students for foreign scholarships.
Sources said that the HEC has now approached top government functionaries for provision of funds otherwise it would have no option except to deprive hundreds of students of their foreign scholarships.
An official said the scheme of foreign scholarships was initiated to supplement HEC’s efforts for provision of adequate number of trained PhD manpower that would ultimately help support technology upgrading, develop high standards of science and technology and meet growing challenges for national economy.
He said that a number of scholarships are being offered to scholars to continue their postgraduate studies in the field of economics and finance abroad, adding that the scholarships provide awards for PhD scholarships to universities in leading European and Asian countries with low tuition fees.
He said up to 10 per cent of the available seats are reserved to support the PhD level training of candidates, who have been admitted to a group of carefully selected universities in advanced countries based on their expertise in various disciplines.
Sources said that currently there are over 9,000 students studying on various scholarships and human resource development programmes, including foreign PhD scholarships in various stages of their progress and an amount of Rs10 billion is required to maintain their monthly stipends, tuition fees and research expenses.
The official said the allocated funds for the HEC would hardly enable them to meet expenses of those students already studying on scholarships so it would be difficult to provide more scholarships in the current year.
It is pertinent to mention here that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani assured vice chancellors of 70 public sector universities on February 23 that there would be no cut in financial allocations for the education sector, but unfortunately, the facts appeared contrary to his claim in the annual fiscal budget.
HEC Member Operations and Planning Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad told this scribe that they have approached the government and hopefully required funds would be available for foreign scholarships of students.
To a question whether they have got any assurance for provision of required funds, he said, “Hopefully we would be able to arrange funds for foreign scholarships.”
HEC Executive Director Dr. Sohail Naqvi told this scribe, “Unfortunately we lack required funds for foreign scholarships, but we would try our level best to achieve the target of 800 foreign scholarships this year.”
“We have approached the government, but so far it has given no assurance for provision of required funds. If funds are not available then we would have no other option, but to reduce number of foreign scholarships,” he said.
To a question, he said, it is not yet clear how much funds would be available in the education sector under Kerry-Lugar Bill, adding, “We hope a portion of funds would also be given for higher education sector in the country.”