KARACHI - Government decision to abandon the visionary programme of setting up four world-class universities in the country in partnership with consortia of top varsities in Germany, Italy, Austria and China is being criticised in academic circles. The experts are of the view that federal government's decision to cut the budget of Higher Education Commission (HEC) and to dispose of the programme of setting up four world-class universities in the country has exposed the value of higher education in the eyes of a democratic regime. It is pertinent to mention here that when this project was initiated, former HEC Chairman was of the opinion that it would also save foreign exchange to the tune of Rs 80 billion that is spent every year by Pakistani parents to send their children abroad for higher education. Thus over 11,000 visas were granted last year by the British High Commission for students to study in British Universities." As per sources, the said projects for establishment of four world-class universities in partnership with consortia of top varsities in Germany, Italy, Austria and China were approved by ECNEC in February 2008 at a cost of Rs 160 billion. These universities of Engineering, Science and Technology would have offered BS/MS/PhD courses and degrees of the foreign universities would have been awarded in Pakistan. This visionary programme would have allowed Pakistani students to obtain world-class education at home without going to foreign countries. The projects were again presented to the present Prime Minister on 12th May 2008 who approved the implementation of this programme and gave necessary directions in this regard. On 19th May 2008, however, the Cabinet froze the programme and decided to form a 4-member committee comprising Begum Shehnaz Wazir Ali, Salman Farooqui (Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission), Jehangir Bashar (Secretary Education) and Hina Rabbani Khar. The Cabinet Committee recommended to the cabinet that the programme should be implemented but at a reduced cost of 72 billion (instead of the original cost of about 160 billion) with a correspondingly reduced number of students. The Cabinet has, however, not so far taken any decision on this matter but instead decided in its meeting in Lahore that the provinces should also consulted. The programme therefore essentially remains frozen. The provinces have already allocated land worth several billion rupees and strongly supported the establishment of these universities. Registrar Federal Urdu University for Arts, Science and Technology, Prof Dr Qamarul Haq, while commenting on the issue, said that there was no doubt about the fact that the country was passing through great financial crisis but it would be a pity if this programme of immense national interest was abandoned at this stage since consortia of top foreign universities have already been formed in Germany, Italy, Austria and China. He said the proposed set-up of foreign universities in Pakistan could play vital role in the economic progress. Central leader of Karachi University Teachers' Society (KUTS), Prof Dr Abid Hasnain, also criticised a cut in the budget of higher education and said that the democratic government should continue the HEC polices in larger interest of the masses.