By Khalid Khattak
THE cuts in grants of Higher Education Commission (HEC) and public sector universities by the government in the wake of global financial crisis remained the hottest academic debate in 2008.
The shortage of funds compelled vice chancellors (VCs) of various universities to publicly demand the government support the institutions of higher learning on the plea that academic and research projects were being adversely affected.
Nevertheless owing to cuts in funding, the commission had to withhold various scholarships of students who were all set to proceed abroad to pursue academic endeavours at international universities.
At present, the HEC has withheld all new scholarships while new projects of universities are not being considered.
According to sources in the HEC, the government has released only 20 per cent of the development grants during this year. They further said a cut of Rs 3.2 billion was made which added to the problems of the universities.
It is generally believed that resignation of Dr Atta-ur-Rehman from chairmanship of the HEC is also linked to poor funding of universities from the government.
The June 2008 was considered quite decisive in connection with private universities and higher education institutions (HEIs) which did not meet the minimum criteria as it was announced that all such institutes would be closed down.
Surprisingly, not a single university or HEIs was closed down, as almost all institutes strived hard to meet the minimum criteria laid down by the federal cabinet.
It is pertinent to mention here that a couple of years ago the HEC had launched a campaign against substandard universities and HEIs and, in this connection, it had even published “Parents Alert” advertisement in national newspapers.
In Punjab, however, the government took a number of initiatives to streamline the education sector. Besides increase in budget and recruitment of teachers, the government expressed its will to address maximum issues related to the uplift of education sector.
An amount of Rs five billion has been allocated for establishment of computer labs in over 4,000 schools while another initiative to turn selected schools at tehsil level into centres of excellence is also in progress in the province. Another unique initiative about provision of bus service to students of the government schools is being discussed these days.
The Punjab government has also decided to do away with the external monitoring of government schools which is evident from the fact that the district tier of the school administration has been asked to be more active than previous years. The Executive District Officers (EDOs) Education have been asked to engage the officials of their offices in the monitoring process.
The year 2008 also witnessed government’s firm commitment to the provision of quality education for which the Punjab School Education Department took disciplinary actions against heads of schools who produced poor results in matriculation examinations. A number of teachers were dismissed from services in this regard. Another good initiative was taken by the government during the current year in speech and declamation contests among students, both from public and private sector schools. An amount of Rs 140 million has been allocated for the programme in which students from primary to higher education level are participating from across the province.
Like many other departments, the government in 2008 kicked out dozens of reemployed officials from School Education and Higher Education Departments and its attached wings and autonomous bodies. However, the government failed to take notice of officials who had been sticking to lucrative posts in different wings and autonomous bodies of these departments despite availing extension in deputation tenure twice.
The stakeholders have been criticising the government for its inability to take action against such officials since the prolonged stays do affect promotions of other officials.
Another important side ignored by the Punjab government is related to private sector’s educational institutions. The previous government had made tall claims of evolving a regulatory body for private schools besides amending the Punjab Private Educational Institutions (Promotion and Regulation) Ordinance, 1984 but to no avail. No significant progress by the incumbent government was witnessed in this connection during the year 2008.
Like previous years, a number of cases like collection of three months’ advance fee ahead of annual summer vacation and collection of other unnecessary charges were reported because of absence of any regularity authority.
A little improvement was witnessed in the provision of free textbooks to the students of public sector schools this year too. A number of cases were reported from different areas of the province according to which books were received quite late by the students which hampered the academic activities.
The entry test system for admission to medical colleges and engineering universities also drew criticism and huge attention of the public. The government earlier expressed its will to revert to open merit policy however later it was decided admissions to such institutes would be made on the basis of entry test system.
On the other hand, entry test based admissions to institutions of higher learning offering general education witnessed a considerable change. Most of the universities, including the Punjab University, Government College University and Lahore College for Women University (LCWU), did not adopt the National Testing Service (NTS) aptitude test for admission and preferred open merit policy.
Among institutes of higher learning, the Punjab University (PU) remained centre of attention where administration under the leadership of a teacher-Vice Chancellor was firm to flush out a particular student group which had been running a “parallel” administration over the years.
A number of incidents of violence was reported from PU during the year 2008 in which a number of students were injured. The News