ISLAMABAD, July 10: After Punjab, now university students across the country are to get laptops as gift from the political savvy leadership of the ruling PML-N.

“We have set aside about Rs3 billion for laptop scheme, to be executed through the Higher Education Commission (HEC),” a Planning Commission official informed Dawn on Wednesday.

HEC’s executive director Dr Mukhtar Ahmad confirmed that. “Initially, the project will benefit students of public sector universities. It will be extended to the students of private sector universities at a later stage,” he said.

Around 800,000 students are on the rolls of the 75 state-run universities in Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, according to HEC sources.

That was the figure provided to HEC Chairman Dr Javaid Leghari who was recently briefed by the federal government about the scheme, the sources said.

Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif conceived the scheme during his previous term in office. He distributed 110,000 laptops, at a cost of Rs4 billion, to reward and encourage talented students in the province early last year.

Another 300,000 students in every district of Punjab are to receive the laptop gift by the end of this year, according to a Punjab government official.

It is not clear whether the HEC will have to share the cost of the laptops intended for the hundreds of thousands of public sector universities from the Rs59 billion allocated to it in the 2013-14 national budget, a 25 per cent increase over last year’s allocation.

Political opponents, particularly Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, had criticised the laptop scheme as a move by PML-N to buy sympathy and votes of youth with taxpayers’ money in the 2013 elections.

Asked if the extension of the scheme to university students was politically motivated, HEC’s Dr Mukhtar Ahmad said: “HEC’s aim is to provide technology and education to students, and if they are given a benefit by the government it is an appreciable act.”

However, PTI spokeswoman Dr Shireen Mazari stuck to the party line. —Imran Ali Teepu


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