PML-N compromises its promise to increase education budget to 4% of GDP


Promise

The PML-N government had promised in its 2013 manifesto to increase its efforts to take up the education budget to 4 per cent of the GDP, as is the requirement of UNESCO.

Background

UNESCO recommends that countries disburse 15 per cent to 20 per cent of their budgets on education. The global average is 14 per cent. Compared to its total national budget, Pakistan spends 13 per cent.

In Pakistan’s case, this spending amounts to 2.83 per cent of the GDP on education. According to Alif Ailaan, an additional Rs400 billion on education is needed to increase spending to 4 per cent of GDP, bringing the education budget to Rs1.2 trillion. Cutting a federal programme or collecting more taxes may help Pakistan towards that target. While Pakistan has doubled its budget and brought it closer to military spending, enrolment rates have stagnated. Parents will send their kids to a private school, charging a few hundred rupees a month, if they can afford it. Nearly 40 per cent of students in Pakistan go to private schools. Their parents spend as much as the government does on education and tuition. If we add what Pakistani parents spend on education, Pakistan’s education spending exceeds 4 per cent of the GDP. Children are out of school in Pakistan because they get so little out of going to school. Teachers are either absent, or present, but not teaching.

In the 2017-18 budgets, all these governments allocated Rs902.7 billion for education. As the budgeted amount in the previous year was Rs776.1 billion, this shows an increase of 16.3 per cent. However, the revised estimate for the previous year was Rs622.1 billion, a 19.8 per cent reduction in utilisation. This was mainly the result of massive underutilisation in Punjab and Sindh, 37.5 per cent and 30.2 per cent, respectively. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and the federal government utilised more than the budgeted allocation. As a percentage of GDP, the allocation in the budget 2017-18 is 2.5 per cent compared to 2.3 per cent in the budget 2016-17. It was 1.95 per cent in the revised estimates of 2016-17. In view of this performance, the budget target of 2.5 per cent of GDP, not high by international standards, seems optimistic.

According to Alif Ailaan, Pakistan it is important that the Federal Government increases education budget to 4% of GDP only then provinces will be able to increase their allocations, as promise of increasing education budget to 4 per cent of GDP was made by the PML (N) Government. Another important factor is enhancing the literacy rate in the province. But it is a matter of concern for all related with the education sector that during the past years, the literacy rate has gone done instead of showing any upward trends.  According to official data, the literacy rate in the country saw an annual drop of 2.0 per cent to 58 per cent during fiscal year 2015-16 — a level last seen in FY2013-14 when the current PML-N government came into power. The decline in the literacy rate has been witnessed in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab, while it remained stagnant in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP). There’s no use of billions of rupee allocations for the sector in the annual budgetary papers if we see the net result in the form of reduction in literacy rates, with each passing year.

Promise Tracking

Ahsan Iqbal, Federal Minister for Planning and Reforms, said that the Higher Education Vision 2025 envisages six indicators, which the universities have to concentrate for achievement of targeted excellence. He added the higher education institutions need to improve fundamental purposeful instruction, become place of quality research and innovation, strengthen linkages with industry, turn into agents of change, embed technology, and produce entrepreneurial leaders. He observed that every activity revolves around knowledge in the current knowledge.  He said that as the Vision 2025 eyes building a knowledge economy, so the Higher Education Vision 2025 has been made a vital part of it.

Opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Mian Mehmood ur Rasheed on Thursday described PML-N as the worst government. Talking about the condition of education in the province Punjab and countrywide he said the budget for the education sector had been reduced by one per cent since the government had spent funds allocated for education on the Orange Line Train Project. He said, “25,000 students have chosen to shift education from the government-run schools to private schools in last one year alone. Seventy per cent schools in Punjab do not have basic facilities.”

Expert’s opinion

Faisal Bari, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore says that we cannot say that nothing is being done to modify education sector in Pakistan. Indeed, he adds, some of the increases were substantial — last year, the Higher Education Commission was given about Rs5 billion more, while for Punjab the 10 per cent to 15 per cent increase meant an additional Rs30 billion for the education sector. He further says that though we are still only spending about 2.3 per cent of GDP on education, it is a significant percentage of the provincial budgets.

Being cautious to the fact that in Pakistan education is still not a priority of the government he shows another part of the story saying that

“Do provincial governments see public education as a priority? If we go by the increases in the provincial budgets, we might say yes and this is how many have been interpreting the increases over the last few years. But there is another way of thinking. The increased expenditures are definitely not going to address the issues in education as:

  1. a) The increases are small and the problems very large,
  2. b) A significant portion of the increased budget is not going to be spent.
  3. c) And even if it is, spending priorities have not been thought through and are not going to address the access or quality issues that we face.

“Clearly, governments are according low priority to education issues: the increased funding is just for the political appeasement of concerned lobbies. If education was indeed an area of high priority and governments wanted to accomplish something, there would be a lot more debate on educational issues in political parties and government circles — the best of political leaders would be made education ministers, there would be a lot more innovative thinking on how to achieve our educational goals and there would be political consequences for not delivering. We do not see any of the above.”

Ruling

From the discussion above though we can say that the government has been trying to increase the budget to 4 per cent of the GDP but has not so far achieved it.

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