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Pakistan's Educational War

If Pakistan want to compete with India, they need to invest more in education, says Dr. Javaid R. Laghari - Chairperson and Federal Minister of Pakistan's Higher Education Commission.
BY Dr. Javaid R. Laghari |   17-01-2012

Pakistan's higher-education budget has hit hit an all-time low due to this reduction  in addition to the 40 percent cut imposed last year. This shortsightedness imperils economic growth by stunting prospects of a viable middle class.

India has a population six times the size of Pakistan’s. Its GDP, at $1.8 trillion, is 10 times larger than ours. Its growth rate is 8.5 percent, ours is 2.4 percent. Its value-added exports, at $250 billion, are more than ours by a factor of 15; and its FDI, at $26 billion per year, dwarfs ours by a factor of 22. India is set to surpass Japan to become the world’s third largest economy by 2014. This has all been made possible, in no small measure, because of India’s human capital. Pakistan needs to take a leaf out of their book to realize the possible.

Photo by: Noah Seelam / AFP  

The World Bank identifies several key factors to achieve and sustain economic growth: education, a skilled workforce, information and communication technologies, and innovation. These are the veritable pillars of a knowledge economy. Likewise, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2010-2011 lists higher education and training, technology readiness, and innovation as essential for competitiveness.

Catching up to the rest of the world must start now. And there is much ground to cover. For Pakistanis between the ages of 17 and 23, access to higher education is at 5.1 percent—one of the lowest in the world. (India is at 12.2 percent and aiming for 30 percent by 2020.) Pakistan has 132 universities for a population of 180 million and a student population of about 1.1 million. India has 504 universities with an enrollment of over 15 million (its enrolment target is 40 million by 2020). Pakistan has approved funding for two new universities. Over the next five years, India will have established 29 universities and 40 other institutes. Pakistan can today produce about 700 Ph.D.s every year (up from a dismal 200 in 2002) while India can produce 8,900 and China some 50,000.

It’s the middle class that makes the difference. India’s represents 32 percent of the total population and is growing at 1 percent annually. By investing heavily in education and entrepreneurship, they hope half the population will qualify as middle class by 2040. Pakistan’s middle class is about 12 percent of the population, and struggling as more and more people slip below the poverty line each year.

India’s political leadership is putting out all the right signals. India has a Knowledge Commission headed by a world-renowned expert serving as an adviser to the prime minister; a Ministry of Human Resource Development, and a strong and centralized University Grants Commission. New Delhi alone is spending 3.5 percent of GDP on education, with 1.03 percent, or $11.5 billion, on higher education alone. This federal allocation is in addition to the states financially supporting university budgets, in some cases covering up to 80 percent of their costs. Pakistan is spending only about 1.3 percent on education and 0.22 percent on higher education.

Sixty-four years ago, Pakistan and India started out evenly enough in terms of education and skilled-workforce levels. India has overshot us and is now competing with the big boys, swiftly and dedicatedly catching up with the developed world in higher education, science, technology, innovation, and research. Pakistan cannot afford to be left behind. We cannot allow security threats, the financial and ideological allure of Islamist radicalism, and bad governance to defeat us. Shoring up higher education and innovation are the solutions that will yield tangible, long-lasting benefits. Yet we are only capable it seems of dialing down attention to areas that can guarantee our success. Pakistan must push to improve and expand higher education. With so much at stake and so much we can do, this is the wise way forward.

Dr. Laghari is the chairman of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission and can be reached at jlaghari@hec.gov.pk

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