Myth of promoting knowledge economy
Prime Minister Imran Khan in his maiden speech after taking the oath of office referred to the role of knowledge economy in the sustained level of economic development of the country and prosperity of its people. His realisation about the importance of knowledge economy is based upon the spectacular level of economic growth and prosperity which has achieved by certain South Asian countries who have started their journey of socio-economic uplift from scratches and that too with scarce physical and material resources in 1960s as compared with Pakistan.
Despite the tall claims and planted articles in print media by one of the member of Economic Advisory Council of the prime Minister about the promotion of knowledge economy in Pakistan the ground reality tells entirely different story. The lack of response to address the grave financial crises of Public Sector Universities in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa is a classic example. Under 18th Amendment the control of Higher Educational institutions was devolved to the federating units. But the provincial governments do not realise their national, democratic and moral responsibility to provide financial grants to Public Sector Universities wherein student from poor and lower middle class families get education. After the transfer of 57 plus percent tax revenue to provinces from the federal divisible pool to provinces , the provincial governments should evaluate the budgetary requirements of government universities for providing sufficient grants to these institutions to meet their requirements of current expenditure and spending on modernizing the research facilities.
Higher Education Commission (HEC) was established under Ordinance CXX of November 2002 as successor organisation of the then University Grants Commission to ensure funding from the federal government to public sector universities. Although it could not perform appreciably its mandated job of promoting quality education and research, however, it did ensure the flow of funds to the institutions of higher education during 2003-9. But the oligarchic ruling elite, who clamor for democracy day in and day out, wanted to apply a reverse gear to higher education and attempted to abolish HEC through a notification of the federal government in March 31, 2011 by applying the provisions of 18th Amendment. This treacherous move of ruling political elite was challenged through a writ petition in the Supreme Court and three member bench declared null and void that notification in a verdict on April13, 2011 and declared that HEC cannot be disbanded under this legislation. Although HEC was saved from dissolution but a process of slashing its allocations was started which continues even in the PTI government. For the current year against the demand of Rs. 103 billion the HEC was allocated Rs.59 billion. It is in sharp contrast with federal education minister ShafqatMehmood denial about big cut in higher education budget during interaction with students and faculty members at Karachi based business school. It will result in further squeeze in budgetary allocations to universities which will certainly exacerbate the financial crisis that currently confront some public sector universities in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, including the University of Peshawar the first government university in the province which had been established in 1950s with a view to provide higher education at affordable cost. The financial crunch of older universities including University of Peshawar, Agriculture and Gomal universities is more sever as these institutions face acute hardship in payment of pension to the retired employees and faculty in addition to meager resources for the disbursement of monthly salaries.
The introduction of BS (four years) study programme has increased the current expenditure and phasing out of BA/BSc and MA/MSc degree programmes will cause further revenue shortfall for the older universities. If the federal government really and seriously wants the promotion of knowledge economy through quality higher education then the federal government should increase funding through HEC and asks provincial governments for sufficient funding as well.