Sacrificing education for floods

If the education department remains low in our list of priorities, it will be disastrous both for the students and for the future of this nation.

Salman Latif September 21, 2010
As the aftermaths of the deluge begins to unfold, the national economy has started to cringe under the weight of the losses incurred.

With the flood waters having affected nearly one-fifth of Pakistan’s land-area, we can only start to imagine the total damage. On one hand, power generation units and fuel supplies have been battered and on the other, the huge losses in crops and livestock weigh heavy on our agrarian economy. To top things off, governmental neglect has been utterly baffling. Not only is there absolutely no crisis management strategy on ground, there also seem to be no economic policies devised to tackle the situation.

Conveniently, the government has taken the easy way out. Rather than reducing the royal expenses of the people elected on our votes, the government is up for reducing education sector to rubbles. In fact, it’s a barely erect facet already. With the 50 per cent cut from last year’s Rs30 billion to this year’s Rs15.2 billion allocated to Higher Education Commission (HEC), the latter is struggling to stand up to its commitments. The commission has already reduced foreign scholarships by 80 per cent and is desperately trying to continue funding the students already on scholarships. The criticism from many quarters has helped nothing and now, the government has decided to take another bite off the miniscule share for the sector. In the last two quarters, out of the 15.2 billion spared for higher education, only 1.7 billion has been handed over so far. The protests and retaliations from teachers, professors and students are insignificant to the elected representatives.

This was particularly manifest in the finance minister’s meeting with the heads of 72 universities from across the nation. Advocating to them astute spending habits and advising them to go private, the minister seems utterly oblivious of the fact that a majority of the students under education at public universities hail from that faction of this society which can’t afford hefty fee sums.  A man being paid more than he deserves may have a problem figuring that out.

Due to the scaling down of funds, 71 universities are at the brink of closure. The staff faces wage-delays, teachers are not sure of the pays and students can not even think of venturing for a project since the university can no longer fund it.  If this state continues some universities will have to be closed and a university being shut down is lot different than a power plant shutting down. You can’t make up for it with a few hours of load shedding. Sadly, the government does not seem to realize this.

The wise suggestions from the minister comprised ‘leasing or selling lands, raising tuition fees and cutting down on scholarships.’ This means that those who can’t afford a fine grand each semester can take their kids home since there’s no higher education for them in this nation.

What bothers me most is that ever since the news over this has been pouring in, there hasn’t been much discussion about this in the ‘intellectual’ circles. Perhaps there’s little to worry for this tiny elite bourgeoisie which sees nothing wrong with this if their own sons can make them proud at convent schools and expensive, established institutions. Nothing wrong indeed if it’s about those thousands of students who fervently prepare and opt for public universities only because that’s the best they can afford.

I agree there’s mismanagement on the part of the universities. Resources are not quite well-managed, utilized and raised output from. However, it can only be a gradual procedure to help these universities become more self-dependent.

The government’s claim of using this money for flood relief is an utter sham in itself. Not yet diverting the billions it’s doling out through Benazir Income Support Program, handed out solely upon political renderings, one sees little use or legitimacy for the program. Why can’t these billions be saved for the helpless flood victims?

The truth is that government is not ready to make any shifts in its own policies, political favors or spending. And rather, goes on to demand money from other indispensable departments such as education. If education department continues to stay down in the list of priorities, it will be disastrous both for the students and for the future of this nation. The hope for a positive change lies in an educated youth. And snatching it away from them is tantamount to intentionally killing this hope.
WRITTEN BY:
Salman Latif A blogger who blogs at http://salmanlatif.wordpress.com/ and tweets @salmanlateef
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

COMMENTS (3)

Meher Zaidi | 10 years ago | Reply They never developed primary education in Sindh and now they are after Higher education. As it is the poor kids cant go for elitist schools and colleges. Now the few who did manage a decent university degree will not be able to. Now the Waderas, criminals with blackened window big cars in which they can rape and plunder and spoil our cities will roam freely. Thanks to the extremely "fair' and smart police chiefs and fair and smart administrations , this country will RUNNNNNNN with "DEMOCRACY".No education for poor and middle class, especially middle class, no law and order no justice to the poor and educated middle class. Who wants martial law? who the hell is dare enough to challenge the rapists, the Karo-Kari, murder, kidnap champions with lands, party flags, big cars, airconditioned homes , electric stealing, non-tax-paying looting, ruling classes. How dare the poor and a few left over educated middle class in Karachi and Hyderabad challenge the omnipotent Rulers, ala Democratic Demons over murdered leaders corpses? God is sleeping eh?
Salman Latif | 10 years ago | Reply HEC was perhaps the only government-funded educational structure that was doing well. With it's exchange programs, foreign scholarships, fundings for reseach facilities and other such incentives, it was immensely contributing towards alleviating the standards of education at public universities. All that is in dumps now. All that had been established over the last few years has been simply trashed by the government on the pretext of having no funds. The question: where are the funds. And, is this the solution - to slash money out of higher education and spend it elsewhere? Its like rendering one part useless while trying to revive the other.
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