The story of high targets, low performance

By Zubeida Mustafa

EDUCATION planning in Pakistan has traditionally been lopsided, with the priorities misplaced. There has been too much emphasis on higher education, while the primary sector has, by and large, been neglected. Consequently, education has been like an inverted pyramid balanced on a narrow base.

The basic weakness in the government’s education policy lies in its reluctance or inability to allocate sufficient funds to this sector. Hence resources have had to be spread thin. Thus in 1982-83 Pakistan spent only 1.5 per cent of its GNP on education.

The Sixth Five-year Plan hopes to raise this to 1.9 per cent of the GNP. Even this is by no means an impressive target and a far cry from UNESCO’s suggested goal of 4 per cent of the GNP.

Other Asian countries, with the exception of Nepal, are spending a higher percentage of their GNP on education than Pakistan. Thus, Sri Lanka and Burma with lower per capita GNP than Pakistan spend 4.9 and 3.1 per cent of GNP respectively on education.

Pakistan itself was spending a bigger share of its GNP on education a few years ago. In 1976-77, education expenditure in Pakistan amounted to 2.1 per cent of GNP.

Moreover, one cannot be too certain that the expenditure on education will really rise according to plan. The Fifth Plan had targeted Rs 10.3 billion for education when a sum of Rs 5.9 billion was actually allocated and only Rs 5.5 billion spent.

This poor performance of the government has justifiably given rise to scepticism regarding the implementation of the Sixth Plan which has earmarked Rs 20.5 billion for the development of education. If the recurring cost is added to this, the total expenditure on education will go up to Rs 55.9 billion in 1983-88.

In the Federal and Provincial budget for 1983-84 allocations for education total Rs 7.4 billion. And only Rs 1.8 billion has been set aside for development of education. The poor performance has begun with the first year of the Sixth Plan.


A small education budget is not the only weak point in Pakistan’s education planning. Primary education, which can correctly be regarded as the fundamental right of all people, receives proportionately a small share of the funds allocated for education. Thus in 1982- 83, when the Government claims to have given priority to the primary sector. it received 31 per cent of the education budget.

When compared to other Asian countries, the share of primary education in Pakistan appears to be not large enough. In Malaysia 47 per cent of the education budget goes to primary education. Likewise, this figure is 71 per cent in Indonesia, 58 per cent in Thailand and 35 per cent in Sri Lanka (which has a very high rate of literacy and does not have to cope with a backlog in primary education).

The inequitable distribution of resources among the various sectors of education is further accentuated by the government’s own estimate of what it costs to educate a child at the primary level or to send a person to the university. The unit cost per student at the primary stage works out to only Rs 160 (development) and R110 (recurring) while at the university the corresponding figures are Rs 10,200 and Rs 5,000.

In other words, in the amount it takes to create a seat at the university, 64 primary school places can be developed.

Primary education

As a result of the de-emphasis on primary education, the country has suffered. The level of literacy has hardly risen. The nominal growth in primary education has been offset by the population growth. Hence the literacy rate today stands at 24 per cent when it was 23.7 per cent in 1977-78.

Equally disturbing is the inability of the country’s economy to absorb a large proportion of those who acquire education. The HED survey of 1973 found that over 30 per cent of those out of work had finished primary school. Other surveys indicate that a large proportion of those with college education remain unemployed.

For instance, in 1973 it was reported that 47 per cent of graduates from three Punjab universities were unemployed even three to four years after they had completed their education. Sixteen per cent of the graduates from the agricultural universities were out of job for six to eight years. The situation has not improved considerably over the years, except, perhaps, that during the oil that boom period a number of people had been absorbed in the job market abroad. Even this trend is now reversing itself.

The universities

The unemployment of educated people indicates that curricula and courses are very often unrelated to the requirements of the labour market. Thus there is a severe shortage of middle level technical hands while highly trained manpower, such as doctors, is in excess of the existing employment capacity in the country.

The Sixth Plan’s strategy is to seek the consolidation of the universities in order to improve the quality of education rather than seek quantitative expansion. In principle one cannot take exception to this concept, although one cannot be certain that the government will adhere to its resolve not to open any new university, when in the last six years eight universities have been inaugurated (one being a private institution), which is quite an unprecedented rate of expansion.

A freeze on higher education could have two pitfalls, which need to be carefully guarded against.

First, if implemented without a proper assessment of the labour market and in the absence of a planned effort to relate higher education with employment needs, it can lead to a shortage of highly educated manpower.

Secondly, as the primary sector is expanded but no corresponding vocational training capacity is created to absorb the school leavers, it can create a class of people with rising expectations but insufficient training to be gainfully productive.

Although the Sixth Plan take note of the need for training programmes and trade schools for the school leavers, it has largely been left to the private sector to provide training in technical skills through apprenticeship.

Technical skills

Thus the Sixth Plan provides for a 267 per cent increase in the expenditure on technical and vocational education. But this subsector is to receive only 10.7 per cent of the education budget as compared with 11.1 per cent it received under the Fifth Plan.

The concern expressed in the Sixth Plan on the poor quality of higher education is not misplaced. One major cause of this, however, has not generally been highlighted. It is the inequitable distribution of available resources among the various universities.

The basic criteria which should determine the size of allocations to a university should be the number of students on its rolls and the strength of the faculties, since the teaching of science costs more than the teaching of humanities. These, especially the first, should logically determine the size of the teaching and administrative staff.

What yardstick?

It is difficult to say what yardstick is used by the Universities Grants Commission (UGC) to determine its grants to various universities. But this is clear that the ones with the bigger enrollments are not necessarily getting the bigger slice of the cake.

Thus in 1979-80, Karachi University, the biggest in the country, spent Rs 3,390 on each student, Punjab University spent Rs 5,373, Peshawar University spent Rs 7,464, the Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad spent Rs 20,303 and the Islamia University Bahawalpur spent Rs 14,800. In 1980-81, the disparity had grown, with the expense working out to: Karachi Rs 3116; Punjab Rs 5,467; Peshawar Rs 8,888; Islamabad Rs 20,170 and Bahawalpur Rs 36,591.

Even more inequitable was the grant-in-aid provided by the UGC to these universities. In 1979-80 (the year for which figures are available) the grant-in-aid per head worked out to: Karachi Rs 43; Punjab Rs 69; Peshawar Rs 175; and Bahawalpur Rs 303.


The disparity becomes all the more glaring if one compares the numbers of science and pharmacy students in these universities. In 1980-81, they were as follows: Karachi had 4,560 science students (out of a total enrollment of 11,487); Punjab had 1,447 (out of 7,718); Peshawar had 390 (out of 4,359); Quaid-i-Azam University had 608 (out of 1,408) and Bahawalpur had 199 (out of 663).

With some universities so starved of funds as compared with others, the quality of education has suffered enormously. Library, research and laboratory facilities tend tb get limited because of lack of funds and the smaller strength of the teaching staff means a poor student-teacher ratio.

There has been a glaring disparity in this respect too. Thus in 1980- 81 the number of students for one teacher was 20 at the Karachi University, 17 at the Punjab, 11 at Peshawar, 8 at Islamabad and 7 at Bahawalpur University. This disparity among the universities is one aspect of higher education which needs urgent attention of the authorities.

Spurce: Dawn 30 October 1983