KARACHI - Despite the intervention of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the federal finance ministry still did not release the fourth quarterly instalment of development and recurring grant worth Rs 7.4 billion for 2007-08 to the Higher Education Commission (HEC), a well-placed source told The Nation on Monday. The source said, "If the government did not take higher education sector as its first priority, public universities would start to be closed down because nearly 59 public sector universities are suffering from financial crisis due to refusal of the federal finance ministry to release the HEC fourth quarterly instalment. Conversely, the government did not increase the HEC budget even symbolically and it remained fixed at Rs 18 billion while an amount worth Rs 15.7 billion has been allocated on account of recurring budget. It seems that public universities will suffer from insufficient budget for higher education". The indifference of the government towards higher education might damage several research and development projects of public universities, funded by the HEC, whose basic responsibility is to facilitate higher learning to serve as engines for socio-economic development of Pakistan, the source added. He pointed out that Prime Minister had assured the HEC high-ups on 12th May that the said instalment would soon be released but no he seems powerless before invisible but powerful lobbies, bent on depriving the new generation of higher education. He said, "Some powers are hatching conspiracies against the HEC to undermine the higher education sector in the country. Their prime objective is to defame the coalition government and undermine the most emerging sector in the country. Talking about the initiatives, being funded by the HEC, the source said that the scholarship programme might be stopped under this situation as the scholars studying abroad would suffer a cut in their stipends.    It is worth mentioning that academicians and scholars have already expressed their concern over the allocation of inadequate federal budget for education sector in the new fiscal year 2008-09. They said that insufficient budget for higher education has exposed the priorities of the federal government.