INSIGHT: $400M Loan From the World Bank– for Higher Education

PKONWEB Report — The World Bank has announced it will provide $400 million to support higher education in Pakistan.

The lending institution’s ‘Higher Education Development in Pakistan’ project is expected to strengthen tertiary education in the country, so that skilled, innovative and enterprising graduates can be produced.

Considered a flagship initiative, the project is aimed at preparing Pakistan to become an upper middle-income country by 2047.

The bank’s economist Tazeen Fasih said “the project will also support the improvement of teaching and learning at the affiliated college level for improved mid-level skills and employability of graduates”.

While pointing out its support for the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan’s Vision 2025 program, the project document says there is a misalignment between the government’s agenda of promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship and implementation of this agenda.

The WB’s educational loan announcement comes as the lending institution announced it will dish out $400m to the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) to help improve its capability and capacity for tax administration.

We assume, at the end of the day, FBR will be rebranded as the medium of tax collection which it is meant to be.

The FBR has sought a $400 million loan from WB for tax reforms. This will however be the second full-scale attempt by the WB to reform the FBR in the past 14 years. Its earlier $150 million assistance to FBR’s “Tax Administration Reforms Project” badly failed to yield the desired results, and the money went down the drain, according to The Express Tribune.

In higher education matter, two radically different views are said to be in collision, writes Pervez Hoodbhoy. “Both have constituencies and it is unclear which will win.’

Concentrating the bulk of HEC’s resources into widening and strengthening undergraduate teaching across Pakistan on one side, and on the other side is the rationale based on number of published research papers, patents obtained, and PhDs produced locally. Spending priorities would also include the purchase and maintenance of scientific equipment, funding overseas visits, paying for meetings, and supporting project grants, etc.

Comparison of few fine prints in the education policy of Pakistan and Bangladesh

The first set of priorities include shifting away from universities in major cities toward the country’s less-developed areas. Creating teacher training academies and physical infrastructure development would be prioritized over funding research. 

Between the two sets of priorities, there exists an opportunity to debate the future shape of our higher education– and the country’s future upper middle class from skills sets point of view.

Institutional sapability and capacity building is yet another issue which we ought to consider when accepting such loans in good faith.

We have examples where things did not or do not go right.

Here is this tale of neglect characterizing such weakness: The deplorable state of Sindh’s higher educational system as reported by ET.

Despite the tall claims of the Sindh Education Department to improve the higher education and examination sector, the system has been in shambles for quite some time, the paper reported. “To top it off, the so-called ‘education emergency’ imposed in the province on the orders of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has failed to produce any positive results.”

Information gathered, the paper wrote, has revealed that out of the 24 public universities in Sindh, eight have been operating without vice chancellors, 14 have also been running without director finance, while at least four universities have not become operational due to a lack of interest on the part of the provincial government.

How much of the $400m HEC loan and the $400m FBR loan (by the time it’s all said and done it could climb up to $1 billion with supplementaries, etc.) will really add value under the circumstances is a matter of concern to the ultimate underwriters (young Pakistanis) of this two new addition to our national debt. We have been robbing Peter to pay Paul while handing out sweeteners, particularly the youth– many need critical thinking improvement, comprehension, oral and written communication skills, etc., according to experts. These are being ignored in pursuit of “degree” to the detriment of a sustainable and gainful employment– specially overseas.

So the focus on quality and not quantity of the number of “upper middle class” (undergraduates, graduates or post-graduates) youth that we plan to mass produce should be considered seriously and steps taken at this stage. Better late than never.