PAKISTAN: Parliament opposes loan to higher education

Pakistan's parliament has strongly opposed a US$300 million World Bank loan for higher education reforms. The concessional loan facility to the education ministry was originally sought for the implementation of the government's still-to-be-launched Higher Education Development Programme for 2011-15.

The bank approved the loan at a meeting in Washington on 11 September 2010, in support of the government's initiative to increase participation, enhance the quality and relevance of higher education, and strengthen the efficiency and financial sustainability of institutions.

But opposition and treasury representatives in parliament said the federal government should stay away from higher education matters, which they said had been devolved to provinces through a constitutional amendment enacted in April 2010.

Higher Education Commission Executive Director, Sohail Naqvi, disagreed. He told University World News: "The standards in institutions of higher education and scientific and technical institutions is a federal subject even after 18th amendment. Therefore, federal government is competent to negotiate loans and foreign aid for higher education in Pakistan."

The national assembly's move to reject the loan offer is regarded as a serious blow to the cash-starved HEC, which regulates and funds 72 public sector universities.

Former HEC chairman, Atta-ur-Rahman, told University World News: "The world is recommending Pakistan a model for rapid advancement in higher education and now the lack of political will to sustain the achievements is undoing past efforts and huge investments.

"The federal government should not deviate from its responsibility by shifting the burden to less capable provinces."

The provincial government of Punjab has refused to immediately take over the higher education sector, quoting lack of resources.

Shaukat Hameed Khan, an educationist and former planning commission member, told University World News that the issue of higher education devolution had emerged as a bigger problem than the low funding of higher education.

"The federal government's refusal to take the responsibility for higher education external loans might make the HEC a rolling stone between the federation and the provinces," he said.

The HEC, which is independent of the federal Ministry of Education and whose funds were slashed by almost 40% by the federal government this financial year, is now struggling to survive and foreign aid is considered a lifeline for the crumbling higher education sector.

A number of its programmes are being funded through external aid such as a US$7.33 million agreement signed in 2004 with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide scholarships at undergraduate and graduate levels in agriculture and business administration.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, head of the physics department at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University, believes universities need to generate funds themselves to reduce dependence on government money and foreign aid.

He told University World News: "World Bank money in the past was wasted on unimportant projects and now the bank should keep an eye on where this money is being spent, if it is transferred to Pakistan."

The World Bank's interest-free loan was specifically directed at improving higher education institutions in the most populous provinces of Punjab and Sindh.

The loan was to come from the International Development Association, a part of the World Bank that helps poor countries.

Related links
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