ISLAMABAD, May 27: Over 4,000 scholarships approved by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) have been delayed due to non-release of funds amounting to Rs13.82 billion.
Besides, not only over 150 development projects of the commission remain unfinished but their cost has also gone up due to the delay, Dawn has learnt.
According to sources, in August 2011 the revised funds allocated for the HEC stood at Rs48 billion (31.5 billion non-development and Rs16.5 billion development), but so far only 77.5 per cent of the non-development (Rs24.41billion) and 58.95 per cent of the development (Rs9.76 billion) budget have been released.
An official of the HEC requesting not to be quoted said: “The development grant caters to the core strategic areas of access, quality and research of higher education sector. The infrastructure, human resource development, research lab facilities etc., are the key drives in the move toward the objective. It can really affect the enrollment rate which is still 7 per cent in the country. The overall expenditure on higher education is 11 per cent in Pakistan though according to Unesco and international standard, 25 per cent of the total education budget
may be spent on higher education.”
The official said lack of essential research facilities, particularly lab, library and hostel, was the key barrier for the students, researchers and faculties. The PSDP portfolio of HEC has been encountering the challenges of higher education sector. But reduced allocation, non-inclusion of new schemes and non-release of development grant on time has severely affected the execution of the projects, he said
Another official said more than 150 development projects had been affected and due to the delay in their completion, the costs have also gone up.
“The ongoing academic programmes are at stake due to unavailability of funds. More than 4,000 PhD scholarships have also been delayed for six months,” he said.
The scholarships were of various disciplines, including social sciences, engineering, medical, natural sciences, arts etc., and the students have been waiting for funds to continue their studies. Majority of them have been studying in foreign countries but some are also stuck in Pakistan as their fees could not be paid, he said.
“The requirements to enhance access to rural communities and support the weaker institutions are not met due to non-execution of new projects. Eight newly-established universities, including Hazara University, Swat University, Saheed Benazir Bhutto University and Shringal University in Upper Dir, have not been awarded even a single development project, he added.
According to sources, seven newly-established sub-campuses in the far-off areas also required immediate support to take off their academic activities. Most of the 67 schemes proposed by the HEC in the budget plan for financial year 2011-12 were not allowed. The HEC proposed Rs16.50 billion for fiscal year 2011-12 against which Rs14.00 billion were allocated. However, the case of additional Rs2.50 billion was also taken up which is yet to be materialised.
They said the government was not giving any preference to the education sector due to which the fourth quarter of the current fiscal year has almost passed without release of any grant.
An official said the quality initiative of hiring new Tenure Track Faculty would have to be put on hold. In order to meet the growing needs, indigenous scholarships (500 additional) from the newly-approved schemes till September 2012 require around Rs350 million during the fiscal year 2012-13. However, no fiscal space on development side is available to accommodate this requirement, he said.
Adviser to HEC Dr Riaz Qureshi while talking to Dawn said they had been in touch with both the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Finance. “They have assured us that despite the financial crunch some amount will be released soon,” he said.
Chairman Vice Chancellors Committee Imtiaz Gilani said a few days back he had a meeting with parliamentarians in Lahore and tried to convince them to ensure release of funds forhigher education.
Chairman National Committee on Development of Social Sciences Dr Nizamuddin said the finance ministry had promised that funds would be released soon. If the funds are not released within a few days, we will consider our future strategy, he added.Dawn.