Alif Ailaan’s analysis on Education Budget 2013-14

By Ahtesham Azhar 

KARACHI: Since corruption is rampant in almost every single sector and department of the country, shattering the hopes and future of the nation, even education is not immune to this trend. Corruption and mishandling of resources in this particular sector has lead to chaos, confusion and threats to the academic future of Pakistan. Governments although announce large amounts in education budgets, nothing worthwhile is achieved during the course of any political rule.

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Pakistan, rather than reforming the education sector, tends to spend the allocated amount just to maintain the 'status quo'. About half of the allotted amount is utilised in providing salaries of teachers and other recurring expenses. Yet, the concerned authorities do not seem to be serious about establishing 'new and capable institutions' for education in the country. While huge amount of the education budget each year is wasted in maintenance of 'ghost schools' set up in almost all the areas of Pakistan, the sum left serves the pockets of our 'so-called' political representatives.

As a matter of fact, merely increasing the allocated budget amount is not a 'viable solution'. The government needs to take up this issue more critically, and bring reforms in terms of providing a proper infrastructure and make drastic changes to improve teaching standards, provide scholarships as well as encourage our youth to excel in their respective fields to evolve into a more competitive society. An entire overhaul is needed in order to reform the education sector.

In this regard, "Alif Ailaan", a Pakistani alliance to transform the education sector in the country, has issued a detailed analysis report on Education Budget 2013-14.

The report states, "Increasing government spending on education in Pakistan has been a long-standing demand of the citizens, civil society and academics. In the run-up to the May 2013 general elections, political parties began to address these demands by promising to increase the share of education to at least 4 percent of the GDP, which is the global standard to which most countries have committed, and most have lived up to."

Share of education in Pakistan was increased both at the federal level and in each of the provinces, still, much remains to be done, and the conversation needs to go deeper than just simply increasing allocations.

Informing about the money allocation, the report mentions that the combined budgetary allotment including federal, provincial and the expenditure at the district level for all tiers of education, ie primary and higher is estimated at Rs 504 billion for 2013-14. This amount is nearly 17 percent higher than last year's actual spending, and represents 8 percent of the entire budgeted expenditure for 2013-14. In terms of GDP, the combined budget allocation amounts to 1.9 percent of GDP and this figure has remained stagnant over the last two to three years (it stood at 1.8 percent last year). At this level, only seven developing countries in the world spend less on education than Pakistan, according to UNDP Human Development Report 2013. Pakistan, globally, is ranked 177th in terms of public spending on education. 

On how the allotted budget is spent, the report had much to offer. It said that the budget is essentially made up of two types of expenditure: 'current and development'. While the former is for recurring expenses, ie teacher salary; the latter is responsible for new expenses like buildings, improvements in school buildings or purchase of heavy equipment for the laboratories. The upkeep and maintenance of new facilities and equipment is paid for in subsequent years through the recurring budget. Of the total combined budgeted allocation for education, 82 percent is earmarked for current expenditure (mainly salaries) and 18 percent for development expenditure (construction of new facilities, upgrading existing facilities, etc.). 

This means that for every Rs 100 the government spends on education, roughly Rs 82 are spent on teacher salaries and the maintenance of schools, while only Rs 18 remain for 'investment' in the existing schools' structure. Remember, this is the average for all levels of schooling - primary, secondary and higher. Budget allocations are not the same as actual budget spending reported at the end of a financial year. Pakistan has a chronic problem of utilising all of the current budget, but under-utilising the development budget. 

Spending patterns in the education sector are no different. Actual development expenditure in the education sector has fallen woefully short of budgeted amounts. In 2012-13, actual development expenditure on education by all four provinces combined was Rs 31.3 billion - less than 50 percent of what was allocated Rs 70.3 billion. Similarly, in 2012-13, Punjab had the highest rate of under-utilisation of the development budget, spending only 21.4 percent of what was to be paid. In terms of the ratio of current: development spending, Sindh has the most skewed ratio with 90 percent current expenditure and 10 percent development expenditure.

The combined 2013-14 budgetary allocation by all provincial governments for all tiers of education amounts to approximately Rs 424 billion. This figure is nearly 18 percent higher than last year's real spending. Since 2010-11, the first year of the flow of greater resources to provinces under the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, provincial spending on education has increased by 37 percent. Adjusted for inflation over this period, however, real spending on education by the provinces has risen only 4.3 percent. Among the provinces, Punjab's allocation for education is the highest - approximately Rs 182 billion, followed by Sindh Rs 134 billion. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has recorded the highest increase of 30 percent in allocations in the current year compared to actual spending in the previous year. Approximately, 83 percent of the overall allocation is for current expenditure mainly staff salaries, while 17 percent is for development. 

There are wide variations between the provinces in terms of the proportion of resources allocated for development spending and current expenditure. Provincial allocations for development expenditure in education are as follows: Baluchistan 30 percent, KP 19 percent, Punjab 18 percent and Sindh 10 percent.

Published in Daily Times on August 12, 2013.


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