In order to build advanced communities, foster leadership and strengthen the economy, the government should increase the annual budget of all universities by 30%. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairman Dr Javaid Laghari said this in an interview with The Express Tribune. Contrary to this, the government reduced the budget by 10% this year, he added.
Dr Laghari said the move will be detrimental to research and development in the higher education sector.
“To create a knowledge capital, particularly in an emerging economy, a country has to invest heavily in the education sector,” said Dr Laghari, citing examples of South Korea, Singapore and more recently of Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia, who invested in education and made significant progress. Sadly, he said, Pakistan invests only 0.7% of its Gross Domestic Product in education, “which is too meagre to achieve its future goals”.
Dr Laghari said we need at least 15,000 PhDs in the next decade, which is only possible if more than 1,000 PhDs are produced every year. However, he said within the available budget we are hardly producing 600 PhDs annually.
“Education drives socio-economic development of a country, and progress in any sector mandates sufficient investment on education,” said Laghari. Unfortunately, subsequent governments have been ignoring this key sector, particularly, the higher education sector, he said.
Dr Laghari said that at least 20 to 30% of the population aged 17 to 23 should have accessibility to the higher education, but in Pakistan only 7.8% have this facility. In the Muslim world, 27% population in the given age group in Indonesia has access to higher education, in Malaysia it’s 30% and in Turkey it is 37%, he added. He cited that Brazil has invested $26 billion on its higher education and is expected to produce 75,000 PhDs in the next ten years.
Dr Laghari strongly opposed the idea of commercialising universities, saying that education institutions are non-profit organisations and every government in the world subsidises public sector universities. He said if educational institutions are commercialised, it would adversely affect the society and its poor segment particularly.
But despite outlining the issues marring education in Pakistan, Dr Laghari dispelled the impression that the higher education sector is stagnant.
He said that in spite of the financial crunch, HEC has succeeded in improving the quality of education and research. He said that rate of enrolment in higher education is growing by 15 to 20% annually, and published research is increasing 20 to 25% annually.
He said that 10 offices of research innovation have already been set up and another 12 are in the pipeline. Moveover, three centres of advanced studies focusing on water, agriculture and energy are currently being established at different universities, which are priority areas for developing countries like Pakistan, he added.
HEC is focusing on promoting a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in universities and has defined their roles in building economies, communities and leadership, said Dr Laghari. As a result, he said research output has increased significantly in the last few years and so has as the number of PhD graduates. He said although the commission could not send a single person abroad for PhD last year, this year it managed to send abroad 600 to 700 scholars.
“The biggest challenge for higher education is improving both the quality of education and research, which is only possible if the sector gets appropriate funding,” he maintained. The HEC chief said the commission has gotten some financial respite from the World Bank, which recently loaned it $300 million, in addition to funds from USAID and the British Council.
He said funds allocated to the HEC last year were insufficient, and warned of massive protests by employees across the country if they are not paid their raised salaries.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2011.