The proposed cuts for education in the Federal budget have already started to reflect in the form of disastrous consequences in our education policies. After the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chief termed the Federal budget allocation for education “peanuts”, the HEC has decided to stop providing funds to new public varsities.

What does this mean? In the past two years, many new universities have been established by the government, mostly in Sindh, including Government College University Hyderabad, Sheikh Ayaz University, Shikarpur and Begum Nusrat Bhutto University for Women, Sukkur. Located in smaller cities which are further surrounded by rural villages, these universities have been essential in providing education to the majority of the population that cannot afford relocating to Lahore, Islamabad or Karachi. However, according to HEC Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri, no funding will be provided to the new universities. Instead, the funds are to be reserved for allocation to the older universities, yet the new universities will still be provided NOCs for admission from the HEC.

It must be noted that the Federal budget has not been officially approved by the Parliament and the President- in fact, the National Assembly is still undergoing deliberation and debate from the opposition on the subject. In that case, it is baffling as to why the HEC has announced an official reallocation of funds when the proposed cuts in the education budget have not even been finalised. With the uncertainty in the parliament, the HEC cannot just eliminate the funds reserved for new public varsities on the justification of budget cuts in education which are yet to occur.

However, perhaps it is good that the HEC announced the reallocation of funds- it provides the opportunity to thoroughly oppose the policy and pressurise the HEC to reverse it. Under no circumstances must there be a reduction in these funds which are so extremely vital in providing education to the often neglected segments of the population. The HEC is responsible for overseeing educational institutes in all provinces and areas- not just in Punjab. Recently only seven Pakistani universities were included in the prestigious Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2020- the same seven institutions which were previously included as well. The way our education system can move forward is by investing in smaller newer varsities as well, instead of the same few institutions.