Massive funding cut imposed on higher education

The new government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, in its maiden budget announced on 11 June, has imposed a massive cut of 37% to the higher education development budget, which is the source for around 70% of higher education costs.

This will reduce the budget to PKR29 billion (US$189 million) compared with the budget of PKR46 billion (US$300 million) allocated in July 2018 by the outgoing government of the Pakistan Muslim League.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) had demanded PKR55 billion in its budget proposal to the current government.

A more than 28% devaluation of the Pakistani rupee (PKR) in relation to the US dollar since last year has made the situation even worse for higher education development programmes, as it has increased the cost of implementation. One US dollar was equal to 118.5 rupees a year back but is now equal to 153 rupees. In US dollar terms the HEC’s budget has gone down by more than 50% in one year. All foreign collaborations and scholarships are implemented in foreign currency.

The new government, which came into power last August, also did not release 50% of the already allotted funds from the previous year to the HEC, crippling the entire higher education sector and affecting development and functioning of the universities to such an extent that the HEC chairman had to advise universities to look for charities to run the universities.

The previous government, led by the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has now been jailed over corruption charges, in its maiden budget in June 2013 allocated PKR18 billion for the development budget for universities under the HEC which was brought to PKR46 billion during the five-year term of the Pakistan Muslim League, a massive 155% increase in its five-year term which ended in June 2018.

Pledge reversed

The current prime minister, Imran Khan, the famous cricketer-turned-politician, had pledged during the election campaign that if his party came to power, he would increase spending on higher education, but is now being criticised for doing quite the opposite.

Rasheed Khalid, former head of the department of defence and strategic studies at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University, told University World News: “Imran Khan had been saying in opposition that nations are not made by making roads and bridges and pledged to spend more on education, but now he has come into power, his government has set aside a massive PKR155 billion for highways and slashed PKR17 billion from HEC's budget.

“It reminds us of the Pakistan People's Party government which imposed massive cuts on higher education from 2009 to 2012.”

HEC’s Media Director Ayesha Ikram told University World News: “Many projects of the HEC are now facing slowdown, halt or closure and Pakistani students on scholarships abroad are already facing difficulties continuing their education due to scholarship cuts made even before the announcement of this budget.”

However, Naveed Kamran, secretary for the Finance Ministry, told University World News that the government is “facing severe financial difficulties and a large current account deficit, which has led the government to slash the budget of different sectors, including higher education, but a high revenue collection target set in this budget would change this scenario next year”.

Academics believe that recent budget cuts will lead universities to increase admission and semester fees, lay off temporary faculty members, halt new scholarship programmes, cut research support funding and freeze most of the infrastructure and academic development programmes.