Tuesday, August 24, 2010

HEC sinking in financial woes

ISLAMABAD: The future of 9,000 PhD students is hanging in the balance as the authorities have released less than 10 per cent of the budget immediately required by the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

The Planning Commission (PC), which has been authorised for the first time to release the funds in place of the finance ministry, has so far sanctioned only Rs1.47 billion to the HEC. The amount is expected to cover not just the study-related expenses of students but also other ongoing development projects.

“The meagre allocation will not resolve our problems and fiscal constraints will continuously haunt us,” said Dr Sohail H Naqvi, Executive Director of the HEC.

The education commission has immediately sought the release of over Rs8 billion.
Dr Naqvi highlighted that 5,000 doctoral students were studying abroad while 4,000 were pursuing PhD at local universities.

He said that the Commission has requested Rs5 billion to pay off last year’s liabilities since the government has not released funds after December 2009 despite desperate pleas.

On top of the money required to pay off last year’s liabilities, the HEC was also seeking committed funds for the first quarter of the current financial year. The PC had promised to release at least Rs3 billion for the first quarter.

The government has allocated Rs16 billion in this year’s federal budget for HEC against a demand of Rs30 billion and that too is under the threat of being slashed. The government is undertaking an exercise to cut development spending with the aim to create fiscal space for the rehabilitation of the flood victims.Its much-trumpeted slogan of freezing non-salary expenditures to the last fiscal year’s level would save a maximum of Rs4.9 billion.

For the current financial year, the government had allocated Rs280 billion for federal development spending. However, it is contemplating a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in the budget, depending on the outcome of the ongoing discussions between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Pakistani authorities.

The PC has an interesting response to the education commission’s dilemma. The official spokesperson of the Planning Commission said that the HEC could meet its past obligations from the released amount.

The spokesperson said that the authorities have allowed the HEC to spend some portion of Rs1.47 billion for 61 projects, pending since last fiscal year. It is up to the HEC to either undertake the new projects or pay its liabilities.

Dr Naqvi said that the HEC would keep pushing its case for sanctioning of more funds as the Commission was on the verge of default and in return the contractors could stop work on projects.

He pointed out that Rs1.47 billion cannot meet the needs of foreign students as the total requirement on this account stands at Rs9.3 billion over the course of 12 months.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2010.

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