Hundreds of millions of pounds in British aid are being poured into education in Pakistan – where corrupt officials have creamed off vast amounts of cash by creating thousands of fake teaching jobs and pocketing the salaries.

A judicial inquiry in one province, Sindh, uncovered how the money was being siphoned off to as many as 5,000 schools and 40,000 teachers – which exist only on paper.

The fraud is just one of the scandals in education across Pakistan, to which Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) has committed £700 million, supposedly to help the country’s impoverished children.

In the state of Punjab, where school projects have been allotted £383 million of UK aid, Pakistan’s auditor general uncovered corruption on a huge scale. The investigation revealed that £35 million had disappeared from the region’s higher-education budget, including £25 million on ‘bad investments’ and hundreds of thousands in fraudulent ‘advances’ to teachers.

Although Britain does not fund higher education in the region, the damning findings confirm DFID’s own assessment of its complex ‘support programme’ in Punjab, where it rated the risk of fraud as ‘substantial’.

The Punjab schools minister is Rana Mashhood, who was pictured shaking hands with Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, during a meeting in London at the end of last year. Mr Mashhood has been under investigation since September by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau for corruption allegations unrelated to UK aid. He denies any wrongdoing. Last week, with the inquiry still ongoing, he quit as minister for higher education, sport and tourism saying that he wanted to concentrate on his schools portfolio.

And yet another scandal has arisen after DFID, in an attempt to avoid some of the problems involved in working with state governments, turned to giving money to private companies running non-government schools. DFID has since found that women teachers in ‘low-cost private schools’ are paid sweatshop wages of just 70p a day – less than a quarter the legal minimum.

Civil servants at Ms Greening’s department warned two years ago that there was a high risk of damage to the Government’s reputation if news of the illegal wages leaked out. But the project was allowed to go ahead because it was judged good value for money and officials wanted to be able to claim quick successes to justify the huge aid budget. 

A review in February 2014 warned that ‘pay to teachers in LCPS [low-cost private schools] is often significantly below the official minimum wage… and in many cases below a dollar a day’.

In Punjab, these schools are funded through the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF), which receives £68.7 million in UK aid. It costs about £40 a year to put a child through a PEF school. But an academic study of the programme co-authored by Professor Roy Carr-Hill, from University College London, and his Pakistan-based colleague Ali Murtaza found that the way areas were selected to receive UK help ‘almost certainly means the very poor are excluded’.They concluded that private sector involvement increased the ‘likelihood of corruption’.

A DFID spokesman said: ‘Providing education in Pakistan is inevitably challenging, but that is why we need to be there. Our support is getting millions of children into school and we’ve worked with the education department in Punjab to tackle this issue, helping to save £10 million. The challenge of delivering education in Pakistan is huge but thanks to UK support, 6.3 million children are getting a decent schooling who otherwise wouldn’t.

‘In large parts of Pakistan low-cost private schools, many employing part-time teachers, are the only means of providing education for thousands of those children, so it makes sense to work with them.

Courtesy Daily Mail