On a recent trip to Islamabad, I had the opportunity to talk to some professors engaged in teaching profession at a few local universities. Surprised by their abject account of huge class sizes, and an even greater teaching load, I was curious to find out what, if any, difference exists between private and public sector universities, especially in terms of the tuition fees. In a state where the higher education budget has only shrunk over years, the question that pops up is the affordability of higher education in our country.
I sat down and analyzed in detail the fee structure (excluding boarding/living expenses) of all the HEC recognized public and private institutions in Islamabad offering three to four-year bachelor degree. The results were definitely not what I had expected.
The data revealed that, in Islamabad, the annual average tuition costs for private institutions currently is ~ Rs. 113,000. Based on my experience in the US, (both as a student and now as a professor), I expected the public sector tuition rates to be a quarter or one third of the private institutions. However, ironically, the tuition fees of Public sector institutions were also the same.
The burning question is, do public sector universities should be as expensive as Private sector universities? Can one even call such universities public sector, if they cater to a section of the society that is forced to invest half a million rupees in tuition over a period of four years? It seems that with only a few remedies like Scholarship and Financial aid to a bunchful of students, our government has supposedly contributed enough to promote education in Pakistan.
The right question at this point in time is, how do we fix it? In a society, where the population grows at an exponential rate, the qualified leave the country on a routine basis, and education budget is religiously trimmed almost every year, how does one viably promote education in the public sector? I believe we need a fine mix of both long-term and short-term plans to make any effective changes.
The long-term solution, of course, is to steadily increase the higher education budget – funded through improved taxation system, so government could subsidize higher education.
Second, universities should introduce loan schemes, either through the institution or through other government bodies, where the students can pay back after graduation either in cash or in kind.
Subsidizing higher education and improving on its quality may seem to be an uphill task, yet these measures, if effectively implemented, can catalyze a bigger, permanent and a more positive change. Inaction and maintaining the current status quo, however, will only lead to further deterioration and a darker future.