Pakistan plans turbo boost to higher education

Pakistan says it wants to fund scholarships, set up universities and support collaborative research by increasing funding for higher education by more than 1 per cent of its GDP over the next decade.
Vice-chancellors of Pakistani universities were summoned on 31 May to a meeting in the capital Islamabad where the government explained its research ambitions for the next seven years.
The plans for research and innovation include setting up 120 new universities and supporting its six best existing ones to rank among the world’s top 200.
The document was prepared by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, a public sector body that funds and regulates higher education activities in the country.
The plans are also being driven by another public body called the Planning Commission whose chairman Ahsan Iqbal signs off on budget requests. However, the scale of ambition is such that the country is seeking outside investment.
HEC Vision-2025 sets out plans to establish five research and technology parks in collaboration with universities and businesses. It also said it would set up 100 business and incubation centres.
As well as creating innovation hubs, the government’s strategy includes supporting collaborative research projects with links to growing industries, and encouraging the scientific exploration of natural resources including copper, iron, gold and precious gemtones.
The document also includes plans to increase university enrolment to 15 per cent of the population between the ages of 17 and 23 by 2025. This is “not only reasonable but essential”, it said, and will be achieved by setting up 1,400 colleges in underserved areas of the country.
The capacity of Pakistan’s 180 existing universities will also be increased. The HEC will fund 9,000 PhD scholarships and enrol 200,000 students in postgraduate courses by 2025, according to the vision document. A student loans programme will be established and managed by an independent public funding body.
The implementation of all these measures “demands a considerable increase in investment”, the document said.
“The estimated cost of HEC Vision 2025 is high, but the cost of not investing in [the] higher education sector will be much higher,” the strategy said. It predicted that the Pakistani government’s funding of higher education could rise to 1.4 per cent of GDP by 2025, up from the current level of 0.28 per cent. The estimate is based on a projected 5 per cent rise in the national GDP each year.
The level of Pakistani government investment in higher education has remained relatively static since 2004, having fluctuated between 0.19 per cent and 0.33 per cent for the past 13 years.
Should the strategy’s 1.4 per cent goal be reached in 2025, it would translate into 2.83 trillion rupees ($27 billion) of funding between 2016 and 2025. The document said that the minimum total investment required to achieve its goals by 2025 is 2.01 trillion rupees, or 0.9 per cent of the forecasted GDP in 2025.
To realise this vision, the Pakistani government will seek external investment from the EU, Korea, Turkey and China, the document said.
The document quoted Pakistan’s first governor general Muhammad Ali Jinnah as saying that “education is a matter of life and death for Pakistan” and that without the necessary advances the country “may be wiped out altogether”.


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