Let’s resolve on International Youth Day 2018
Youth of a nation is the chunk of population that is blessed with talent and the vigour to achieve their aim. They can take a nation to the heights of glory and development if they are provided with an environment where they can exploit their élan and talent. It is in this context that “Safe Spaces for Youth” has been chosen as the theme of the International Youth Day 2018 that is being celebrated around the world on 12th of August.
The United Nations defines the term ‘Safe Spaces’ as the places where youth can safely come together, engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participate in decision-making processes, freely express their opinions, take part in sports and other leisure activities and where they have digital spaces to interact virtually across borders with everyone. These safe spaces, hence, are the need of the youth and a basic prerequisite to make the most of their abilities. And, all these facilities are found only within the four walls of a premises and that is a university.
Universities provide safe spaces to the youth that are necessary to make them participate in constructive activities. That’s why to have access to university education has become no less than a fundamental human right. According to the World Bank data, there are nearly 200 million youth currently enrolled in institutions of higher education, or universities – as against the figure of 89 million in 1998. Notwithstanding that, a large chunk of youth population is still deprived of opportunities of having easy access to universities. As per the International Database of the US Census Bureau, the population of youth falling in the age bracket 17-23 years was more than 826,681,000 as on 1st July 2018. Since the National Education Policy 2017-2025 enunciates that the age group for students relevant to higher education in Pakistan is 17-23 years; therefore, on this threshold, the number of students currently acquiring education from universities is nearly one-fourth (24 percent actually) of the youth population while it is still a distant dream for the rest of the young aspirants to higher education.
There are a number of factors behind this state of affairs. At some places, the number of universities is insufficient and at some others, they are inaccessible to the youth owing to financial constraints; in some instances young students face a lack of equal opportunities due to gender discrimination while in some cases universities are located mainly in urban centres, thus denying easy access to those coming from rural areas. If political parties fail to prioritize the provision of education in their manifestos and policies, then a large member of students also do not have minimum education required to enrol at a university. In fine, whatever the reason – financial, social, geographical or political – almost every young man or woman has to face some impediments to reaching a university.
However, it is also true that a large number of countries have successfully overcome the hurdles and impediments faced by the youth and by enhancing the number of universities, they are reaping greater economic and social dividends. A research by the National Bureau of Economic Research, an American nonprofit organization, has established that doubling the number of universities in a country raises its national gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as four percent. Therefore, a number of governments all around the world are paying special attention to increasing the number of universities in their respective countries, and significant results have also been achieved in this regard.
In this context, it is important to note that as per the International Association of Universities’ World Higher Education Database (WHED), with 2,038 universities – 11 percent of the world’s total – the United States is at the top of the list of countries with most institutions of higher education. Mexico is at second place with 9 percent, followed by the Philippines at third with 7 percent. China and India are at fourth and fifth places, respectively. These five countries combined have 7,797 universities which is 42 percent of the world’s total count. At present, there are more than 18,650 higher education institutions in the world.
The WHED further suggests that eight South Asian countries host 6.16 percent of the world’s universities. Pakistan is at 20th position in the world with 0.81 percent of the world’s total universities and is at second place in South Asia with 13.2 percent of the universities here. As per the findings of Pakistan Economic Survey 2017-18, there were only 74 universities in the country in 2001-02; however, after vigorous working of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), which was established in 2002, the number has now reached 189. It means that during the first 55 years after independence, we could establish only 74 universities whereas during the 16 years since HEC’s establishment, we have added 115 universities and degree-awarding institutions (DAIs). Currently, 59.3 percent of higher education institutions are in public sector as against 40.87 percent in the private sector. Punjab has the highest number of universities among all the provinces with their number reaching 61 (32.3 percent of the country’s total) out of which 35 are functional in public sector and 26 in the private sector. Sindh is at second place with a share of 29.1 percent, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (18.5 percent) and Islamabad (11.1 percent) at third and fourth places, respectively.
Likewise the biggest number of public sector universities, that is 35, is also in Punjab whereas most private sector universities are in Sindh with their number at 32 – 41.6 percent of national and 58.2 percent of the provincial total. Punjab again leads in terms of award of charter to new universities as it has, since independence, chartered 53 universities, followed by Sindh (52), Federation (36), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (33), at second, third and fourth places, respectively. Balochistan was at fifth position with only 8 charters. Azad Jammu and Kashmir government has, to date, issued only 7.
Despite this significant number of universities in Pakistan, a perplexing problem still exists, that is, most of the universities and their campuses are located in urban areas, thus, virtually inaccessible to hundreds of thousands of young students hailing from rural areas. The National Education Policy 2017-2025 highlights this fact by reporting that “Out of 120 districts in the country, 65 districts do not have any university or its campus.” In addition, the data available on HEC’s website regarding universities and DAIs suggests that, as on 1st July 2018, nearly half the country’s universities (50.8 percent) are located in three cities– Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad – only, and 48 cities have higher education institutions. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is at the top of the list of cities with universities with their number at 15. Punjab is at second place with 11 cities. Sindh and AJK follow with 7 cities a piece while 5 cities of Balochistan and two of Gilgit-Baltistan have universities. Moreover, Karachi tops the list of cities with highest number of universities with 41 both in public and private sectors. Lahore is at second place with 34 and Islamabad is at third with 21. Islamabad has 15 public sector universities which is the highest number in any of Pakistan’s cities whereas most private sector universities i.e. 31, are in Karachi, accounting for 40 percent of the country’s total.
Higher education benefits not only the individuals but also the society at large because more educated people have better environmental understanding, are healthy in habits and take part in civic issues. Moreover, they have better incomes, ergo pay more taxes. They keep family size small and have healthy children and that is crucial to building strong nations. In short, institutions of higher education impart skills requisite to getting employment but also make their students contributing members of society. However, in spite of this huge importance, there is only one institute of higher education in Pakistan for a population of 1,099,800 whereas even in a backward country like Ethiopia there is one for 738,300 people. If we take the age bracket 17-23 years (those eligible for university education), the fourth biggest chunk of youth falling in this age bracket is in Pakistan where there is one university for 161,400 young students. And, what is more disturbing is the fact that only every 21st young man or woman is currently studying in a university which means the other 20 do not have opportunities in this regard.
As per the Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17, published by the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, the number of students enrolled in various programmes at the universities across Pakistan was 1,463,279 at a time when, according to US Census Bureau, the total population of Pakistani youth belonging in this age bracket was exceeding 30,325,800. It means only 4.8 percent of Pakistani youth were having university education. In the same period, the average of students per university was 7,910 – 10841 per one public sector university; and 3610 per one in the private sector. In 2016-17, the highest number of students enrolled in university programmes was in Islamabad’s universities as these students accounted for 42.6 percent of the national total. Punjab was at second place with 29 percent followed by Sindh (15.8 percent) at third place and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (8.9 percent) at fourth. Similarly, analyzing the ratio in terms of both sexes suggests that 54.4 percent of university students were boys as against 45.6 percent girls. An overwhelming majority of male students was found in KP universities who accounted for 75.5 percent of total enrolment (girls were only 24.5 percent – lowest ratio in Pakistan). On the contrary, the biggest number of female students was enrolled at the universities in the federal capital and with the highest ratio in Pakistan they were 53.1 percent of total enrolled students. In the said year, Islamabad was the only city of country where nearly half the country’s university students i.e. 49.49 percent were studying while that number for male students was 36.7 percent.
Universities in Pakistan generate nearly 40 percent of their budget from students in form of university fees and other dues and it is the reason why university education is not affordable to all. The number of public sector universities is too insufficient to meet the educational needs of the students belonging to low-income group and most parents cannot pay exuberant fees the private sector universities charge. And, owing to this factor, the ratio of enrolment at higher education institutions is not so encouraging.
As per the NEP, Pakistan’s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education was just 10 percent during 2015-16, which is lower than many other developing countries of South Asia. For example, GER of India in higher education is 24 percent, followed by 21 percent in Sri Lanka, 16 percent in Nepal and 13 percent in Bangladesh. The Constitution of Pakistan stipulates that it is incumbent on the state to provide equal opportunities of higher education to all. Article 37(c) of the constitution reads: “The State shall: make technical and professional education generally available and higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of merit…”
Moreover, Goal 4 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has 7 targets and among them Target 4.3 is related to technical, vocational and tertiary education and it envisions to “By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.”
In order to fulfil the international pledges and implement the constitution, it is necessary that we spend, at least, that amount of our national resources as it truly deserves. However, the state of affairs is that the provinces have established their own HECs in the post 18th amendment scenario, but they are spending only 10-13 percent of their respective educational budgets and it mirrors the attitudes of provincial government with respect to higher education. However, in sheer contrast to this, the federal government spent 77 percent of its educational budget on higher education and it spent an amount of 78 billion rupees through the HEC – 60 percent of total spending – on public sector universities.
However, federal and provincial budgetary allocations for higher education even combined are still insufficient to adequately meet the needs of this sector. At present, Pakistan spends 0.28 percent of its GDP on tertiary education but as per the estimate put forward by the HEWC, Pakistan will have to allocate at least 1.40 percent of its GDP – 5 times the current allocation – to meet the targets set in Pakistan Vision 2025 which aims to raise the number of country’s universities to 300 – 195 in public sector and 105 in private sector. Seventy-two of these proposed universities will be established in less developed and backward areas of the country. In addition, at least one general public sector university will be established at every district headquarters while an engineering or technical education university at the divisional level. Moreover, the enrolment will also be elevated to 7,172,000 and the ratio of PhD teachers will also be raised to 40 percent from the current 28 percent.
Do these targets complement our performance in the past? This is an important question because our history is replete with such targets which were set with a complete disregard to ground realities; hence, they failed. Only the time will tell whether these targets will meet the similar fate or the story will be different this time around. Nevertheless we will have to remain attached to the tree for having spring’s expectation.