In higher education, the role of the government
After 2018, discouraging news about the financial position of public universities has become a regular occurrence. Historical and reputable universities like Karachi University, University of Peshawar, and University of the Punjab have suffered financial crises in recent times and the list of universities suffering from crisis is getting longer day by day. It is expected that some public sector universities may fail to maintain their existence.
In such a situation, the role of the government appears to be that of a silent bystander, who has nothing to do with the whole scenario. But the government is actually not a bystander; its policies are actually causing more problems for the universities.
When the government is continuously carrying the burden of white elephants like Steel Mills and PIA, why are the universities being neglected? The dominant character behind this detachment is a phrase, which our policy makers have heard from the western world; that “higher education is not included in the basic human rights, therefore their official patronage is not necessary”.
Unfortunately, some policy-making institutions are engaged in advocacy of this thinking. Now, the question arises that the government spends hundreds of billions annually to keep institutions like PIA or steel mills alive, what basic human rights are being achieved by this investment? Providing government jobs to everyone does not fall under the category of basic human rights, so why does the government create hundreds of departments and spend hundreds of billions on them; because it is necessary to do this for the execution of various affairs of the government.
Similarly, higher education is not included in the fundamental rights, but higher education deserves full attention for carrying out many government functions.
The Government has taken the meaning of the phrase quite contrary to its internationally recognized meanings. The exclusion of higher education from the list of fundamental rights means that the government is not bound to incur unnecessary expenses on people of all intellectual levels. However, the provision of higher education for those who are capable is sponsored by all the governments of the world. Developed countries invite hundreds of people from Pakistan by giving them expensive scholarships. Why are these governments sponsoring higher education despite excluding higher education from basic human rights? Higher education is actually an investment that helps achieve many of the most important goals of any government.
Look around you, you will see hundreds of people who have been below the poverty line, but in the past few years, they have progressed into the middle or privileged class. If you explore the reasons enabling them to improve their economic condition, you will find that about 40% of them improved due to higher education, 35% due to foreign jobs and the remaining 15% for the other reasons. These people, who were among the poorest people a few years ago, were able to get education because the government had set up institutions where education was subsidized.
Eradication of poverty, attainment of decent employment, and social development are all included in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Government of Pakistan has adopted these goals as National Development Goals. Therefore, higher education, which is not itself recognized as a fundamental right, is a very important government responsibility because of its contribution to the implementation of various national goals and government affairs.
Pakistan’s economy today survives on the basis of foreign remittances and in the current era, obtaining remittances is not possible without highly educated manpower. Not only this, but many other government affairs are impossible without educated people. NADRA is among the best performing institutions of the country, and a pride for the nation. Is it possible to have an institution like NADRA without highly educated manpower?
The currently prevailing higher education policy meant that higher education should be restricted only to those who could afford to pay for it. The first result of this policy will be that the role of education in reducing the class differential will be completely lost. On the contrary, the privileged class will get more privileges and cause more inequality. It will become impossible for common people to find employment abroad, and this will reduce the supply of remittances. The supply of manpower for industries and other technical matters will decrease, which will further increase the economic difficulties of the country.
On the one hand, the government claims that since higher education is not included in the fundamental rights, and there is no need to patronize it, on the other hand, by announcing new universities every week, the government is increasing the difficulties of the existing universities and the list of candidates for aid is being extended.
At least, the government must prepare the need assessment and economic feasibility before announcing the new universities. Universities which are not patronized by the government and an adequate number of students are not available in the market, what will be the benefit of establishing such universities?
There is a need for the government to understand its responsibilities and pay full attention to the patronage of higher education and to eliminate the negative interference in higher education.