LAHORE - Education unfortunately has remained one of the most neglected sectors in the country. Although no one denies, and neither can if anyone even chooses to, its importance and the prevailing realities present a very gloomy picture. Everyone knows who is responsible but not those who are at the helm of affairs. There are many questions needing immediate answers. If we look at the higher education one can easily feel that something is going wrong, and going wrong very badly. Is it true that the present regime is ignorant of the importance of higher education in science and technology for the development and progress of the country, as it has drastically slashed the budget for the Higher Education Commission (HEC)? Whether it wants to reverse the progress and consciously or unconsciously undo the achievements made in the promotion of higher education during the past over 8 years when the public sector universities expanded and grew tremendously? Whether the cut imposed in the HEC budget is result of a conspiracy, bad governance or corrupt practices? There is no denying the fact that curtailment of the funds allocated for HEC has denied the opportunity to the public sector institutions to grow at par with private counterparts with quality education at competitive tuition fee. Now, the private sector will find an open opportunity to fetch students at their campuses, which had suffered a set back with the better facilities at public sector varsities through HEC funding. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani's orders to maintain the recurrent budget of HEC to Rs23 billion from the previous Rs44 billion means almost half the cut in the three years time. The cabinet has approved an annual increase of only 10 per cent in the amount in view of the inflationary trend while ignoring the fact that inflation is climbing at a rate of almost 23 percent. The 'cutting trend' for HEC budget had started visibly during the fiscal year 2007-08 to the extent of five billion as early as in May 2008. Since then, the higher education is becoming untenable for the universities and other higher education institutions. The slice has created a short fall of Rs one billion in the already approved budget of the varsities for the year 2008-09. For example, the Punjab University has a total budget of Rs3 billion per annum, out of which the varsity itself generates 2 billion. The remaining amount is funded by the HEC but with the recent cut, PU will receive only 330 million rupees. Meanwhile, the universities have forwarded their demand for the year 2009-10, but it is not likely to be approved. The universities authorities held detailed briefing with the Chancellors and HEC officials about new projects and their funding. But, most likely the fate of all these projects would be shelved off. The Vice Chancellors have expressed their deep concern on the financial crunch, which is ultimately a heavy toll on them. Either they have to increase tuition fee by burdening the students and parents or slash their development projects and expansion and research programmes along with discarding ideas for launching new market-oriented disciplines. The cut in higher education commission was ordered by the cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani. Subsequently, the HEC budget remains at Rs18 billion for the 60 public sector universities implying Rs300 million to each university. Meanwhile, those who are to suffer badly as a result of the sad episode are the students studying abroad for higher education on the HEC scholarships. The Commission has refused to release the third quarter fund of Rs3.5 billion resulting in hardships to these students. Many of them are facing suspension in their studies and thus wastage of already spent money, while they will not be able to complete their research work. The HEC Chairperson Begum Shehnaz Wazir Ali, politically motivated women who held high offices in the past stints of PPP, has never voiced her concerns over the massive cut, perhaps because of her political affiliation. Astonishingly, not only the foreign scholarship but also the local scholarships and internship programme of Master degree holders have been dropped. It is worth mentioning that the HEC provided Rs10,000 to the unemployed Master degree holders for one year during which they taught in various government sector institutions. After the first batch of the year 2006-7, no other batch was enrolled for scholarship for the year 2007-08.