Pakistan Higher education spending cut by 73 per cent

Sher Baz Khan

ISLAMABAD: Funding for the higher education sector has been cut by 73 per cent. Officials have attributed lack of cash and economic slowdown for the huge cut.

The government will now spend only Rs114billion, instead of the previously allocated Rs412 billion for executing 600 projects.

According to Planning Commission figures, the government will now grant only Rs18 billion to the higher education sector from the PSDP, instead of Rs297.3 billion needed for the 293 development projects planned.

Officials say the move is driven by the government’s desire to bring budget deficit down to 4.2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product from 7.4 per cent last year.

The Planning Commission characterises projects not taken up this year because of the cut in release of PSDP funds as ‘throw forward’ schemes, backtracking on government’s pledge to the IMF before receiving a $7.6 billion bailout package.

Some observers believe that the cut had started affecting the sector even before the end of 2008.

The deep cut in funding has slowed down activities in the higher education sector which witnessed considerable progress under the previous government, with 3,850 PhD scholarships being awarded for study abroad. So far, 250 scholars have returned home, and the same number of researchers will return every year.

The science and technology sub- sector appears to be the hardest hit; its funding will be reduced by Rs10.6 billion.

Deep cuts have also been made for the information and communication technology sub-sector; it will get Rs34.9 billion less than the allocated Rs60 billion for executing 118 projects.

The government has also put off development projects in industries and commerce.

The government had set a budget deficit target of Rs562 billion for the federal budget 2009-10 that is 4.2 per cent of the country’s GDP. The deficit will be bridged by Rs350 billion from external sources and Rs212 billion from internal sources.

PSDP cuts are now estimated to be worth Rs100 billion, but sources say the figure is likely to exceed the target by the end of the financial year 2008-09.

The impact of the current financial crunch is so severe that the Planning Commission has informed Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that the proposed Rs168 billion project of the University of Engineering and Science and Technology, Pakistan, would be modified ‘into more practicable and financially viable schemes’.

The government plans to establish a number of new technical universities under its Universities of Engineering, Science and Technology of Pakistan Programme.

Each UESTP is to be set up in collaboration with an industrialised partner country. The UESTP-France and the UESTP-Italy will be in Karachi, the UESTP-Germany and the UESTP-Austria in Lahore and the UESTP-China in Islamabad.

The UESTPs had to start undergraduate courses in 2010. Some of the faculty for the UESTPs will come from the partner universities and the remainder will be from Pakistan.

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