Expected budget cuts will cause funding issues for universities, NA body told

Updated May 21, 2019

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Required higher education budget estimated at Rs103.55bn, sector allocated recurring grant of Rs58.5bn for 2019-20. — Dawn/File
Required higher education budget estimated at Rs103.55bn, sector allocated recurring grant of Rs58.5bn for 2019-20. — Dawn/File

ISLAMABAD: Budgetary cuts expected in the upcoming fiscal year will cause serious funding problems for universities if they are executed, Higher Education Commission Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri told parliamentarians on Monday.

Speaking before the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education, Dr Banuri said the higher education sector should be given the required funding so universities can operate smoothly.

He said that the required higher education budget is estimated to be Rs103.55 billion for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. But according to the Indicative Budgetary Ceilings (IBC), the sector has been allocated a recurring grant of just Rs58.5bn for 2019-20.

Dr Banuri also told the committee that Pakistan spends just 2.8pc of its GDP on education, when it should be spending at least 4pc.

Dr Banuri told MNAs that the commission is contemplating a new policy to deal with plagiarism and mulling whether to introduce an online course in this regard as well.

Required higher education budget estimated at Rs103.55bn, sector allocated recurring grant of Rs58.5bn for 2019-20 fiscal year, HEC chairman says

He also mentioned successful HEC projects such as the Technology Development Fund, Offices of Research, Innovation and Commercialisation, Business Incubation Centres, National Research Programme for Universities, Social Integration Outreach Programme and others that are geared at promoting a culture of research in the country.

In response to a question from MNA Ali Nawaz Awan on the increase in private educational institutions in the capital, Dr Banuri said the HEC is a regulatory body that sets standards for higher education institutions across the country.

He said all institutions need to meet HEC’s criteria before securing a charter to operate anywhere in Pakistan.

While discussing the commission’s plans for the future, Dr Banuri said the HEC is working on reviving the National Academy of Higher Education to train potential university leaders and for the capacity-building of teaching and non-teaching university staff.

He also highlighted HEC’s efforts to promote information and communication technology through the expansion of the Pakistan Education and Research Network.

He said the Higher Education Management Information System is being executed to ensure transparency and efficiency in university operations.

Legislative business

The standing committee also took up three bills at Monday’s meeting. Despite the opposition of the education and interior ministries, the committee passed two bills moved by PML-N MNAs – the Islamabad Capital Territory Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill moved by MNA Mehnaz Akber Aziz and The Disabled Persons Employment and Rehabilitation Amendment Bill 2019 moved by MNA Tahira Aurangzeb.

Ms Akber said that although corporal punishment is banned in Islamabad, the practice continues at many educational institutions.

She said experts have consensus that physical punishment can have adverse consequences on a child’s health, their behaviour and emotional wellbeing.

She said in her bill: “One of the reasons attributed to the higher drop-out rate in schools and low learning outcomes of students is physical punishment and castigation of pupils by the teachers.”

The bill aims to have corporal punishment legally banned and declared an offence.

Ms Aurangzeb said that she wants to amend the Disabled Persons Employment and Rehabilitation Ordinance 1981 to insert a clause that would ensure effective access for disabled people in government offices and privately owned buildings housing public offices.

She said she has been trying to get this amendment passed for 17 years, but it has been deferred because of various objections.

The discussion provoked an emotional response from PTI MNA Ali Nawaz Awan, who said both bills should be passed as it is the prerogative of members to decide, not bureaucrats. His perspective was endorsed by other committee members, and both bills were passed.

The committee deferred the University of Islamabad Bill 2019 as the HEC told members that sponsors of the proposed university had obtained a no-objection certificate from the HEC for a university in Bahria Golf City on the Murree Expressway.

An HEC official said the sponsor later resubmitted the case after procuring 103 kanals of land in Bahria Enclave. The committee was told that there is presently no infrastructure on this land, and the bill should be deferred.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2019