Education even in the best of economic times fares badly in terms of resource allocation. The present low-growth patch has depressed funding for education to its historical lows. It was 1.5 per cent of GDP last year and is likely to be around 1.2 per cent in the current year. The leaked budgetary numbers for next year do not even show a nominal increase over the budgetary outlays of the outgoing year. As releases fell way behind budgetary allocations and utilisation was far less than releases in the current year, the pattern for the next year is unlikely to be any different.
Against this financial slide back is the spate of annoying meaningless announcements and pronouncements made at various levels of leadership. The other day the prime minister told a group of parliamentarians that the allocations for health and education would be increased next year — but there is no sign of that happening even in absolute terms. While half of the year has already gone, the prime minister has declared 2010 as the Year of Literacy. What happened after the declaration is not in evidence. Allocations for higher education are witnessing drastic cuts. Regardless, at least five new universities have been promised by the president, the prime minister and the chief ministers. National Education Policy talks about devoting seven per cent of GDP to education in not too distant future — i.e. 2015. No realistic macroeconomic framework for the period would have the required tax/GDP ratio. The Government of Punjab has moved from “Parha likha Punjab” to universal primary enrolment by 2011. The net primary enrolment rate in the last available Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (2007-08) was 61 per cent. Keeping this in mind, even devoting the entire, NFC-bolstered, Punjab budget for 2010-11 to primary education will not achieve the goal of 100 per cent net enrolment by 2011.
In 1973, the constitution’s architects expected the state to “remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within the minimum possible period”. This was Article 37 (b) under the Principles of Policy. Article 29 (2) made the observance of these Principles “subject to the availability of resources”. The 18th amendment goes a step further and makes education a fundamental right by inserting a new Article 25-A in the chapter on fundamental rights. It states: “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” The task for the legislators is therefore to make laws and provide resources. Empty promises have kept Pakistan at the bottom all league tables using education as an indicator.
Education now is largely a provincial subject. With the abolition of the concurrent list under the 18th amendment, the entry “curriculum, syllabus, planning, policy, centres of excellence and standards of education” has moved to the provinces. However, “standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institutions” have been placed in Part II of the Federal List, which is the jurisdiction of the Council of Common Interests.
This means that the Higher Education Commission, whose present functioning goes well beyond setting up standards, will not only have to redefine its role, but will also have to be taken out of the federal government to the Council of Common Interests. The federal government can now only set up specially sponsored institutes and make policies for international student exchanges under the Federal List Part I. The all-pervasive Higher education Commission is no more. The budget makers seem oblivious of these profound changes.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 28th, 2010.