Rahman is one of the few writers on these kinds of issues in Pakistan. Very detailed stuff!

Educational expenditure and inequality


By Dr Tariq Rahman

I was very keen to find out approximately how much money goes into the education of different kinds of students in Pakistan. This would seem simple enough. Find out the total number of students in a given institution. Then find out the budget of that year. Now divide the budget by the number of students and you get expenditure per students per year.

Unfortunately, the actual exercise of doing that is not that easy. First, institutions hold on to information as if their life depended on it. They do not give you either the budget or the number of students. Even if they do begrudgingly tell you their enrolment number, the budget remains a mystery. The richer the institution the more it guards its budget. Indeed, gifts and grants by visiting dignitaries - in the good old Mughal style - are generally swept under the carpet or (which is the same thing) hidden away in the cupboard where all the old skeletons are kept.

The madressahs think you are from the CIA or the FBI (gone are the days when they thought you were from the ISI) and give you the impression that their institutions run only on prayers. The budget is never mentioned though some old madressahs publications still print it as they used to in the pre-9/11 period. Anyway, these being the difficulties, I got the budgets and the number of students of all kinds of institutions - madressahs, cadet colleges, government Urdu-medium schools, government colleges, and public universities.

I must remind readers that this was done with great difficulty. And, as for the private institutions, I could not get anything out of them. They are more secretive than the KGB and the CIA put together and budgets are something that must never be mentioned with them, as indeed, is anything to do with money or profit. No, they work out of the goodness of their heart and that is it. Wild horses will not draw out anything out of them.

Let us take these different institutions one by one. First, then, the public institutions, details of which can be seen in Box 1.

Box 1
(in Pakistani rupees)
Institution Average cost student per year Payer(s) Cost to the state
Urdu-medium Schools 2,264.5
(only tuition) State 2,264.5
Public colleges (provincial) 9,572 State + parents (parents pay Rs.
1,591 per year on the average). 7,981
Public colleges (federal) 21,281 Parents pay Rs 2,525 for B.A. on
the average 18,756

The government schools are meant for students from working and lower middle class backgrounds. In my survey of over 1000 students of all kinds of educational institutions from December 2002 to June 2003, I found that most students of the working classes came from families with incomes of Rs 5,000 per month.Lower middle-class incomes ranged between Rs 5001 and Rs 10,000 per month. The government schools are mostly Urdu-medium ones though in the interior of Sindh there are Sindhi-medium institutions. These schools generally have teachers who are there because they could not find any other jobs. They do have degrees and might even have intermediate teaching diplomas but they are hardly competent to teach well. There are, of course, a few exceptions but, as always, they are too few to make a qualitative difference.

The schools have large, open grounds but the furniture is spartan, the rooms are coloured a depressing blue and the books are badly printed and full of propaganda. Teachers are often believers in the 'spare the rod and spoil the child' theory because of which corporal punishment is common.

The government colleges are a big improvement on the schools but they too do not have competent people on the faculty. College teachers do not have to get published or take examinations to get promoted. This makes them unaware of the latest developments in their subject. The students are mostly from the middle-class. Upper class students used to come to the colleges but now they go increasingly to private institutions.

The schools and colleges run by the federal government are far richer than the ordinary ones because the government spends much more money on them. In short, the state spends more money on public institutions in cantonments and federal areas - elitist areas both - than on ordinary public institutions.

Let us now look at the cadet colleges. I have given the average of five cadet colleges below. These are elitist institutions where the tuition fee is high. They were established by the government, generally with the encouragement of the army, and their board of governors have a strong presence of senior military officers, bureaucrats and senior functionaries like provincial governors and so on.

However, they do not follow the state's policy of using Urdu as the medium of instruction and nor do they cater to the poor because their tuition fee can only be paid by the affluent. Some schools do give concessions to the children of low-level government employees but this is not available to everyone. Although these schools are run like private institutions, the state spends more money on them than it does on ordinary educational institutions.

The figures are shown in Box 2.

Box 2
(in Pakistani rupees)
Institution Average cost student per year Payer(s) Cost to the state
Elitist English
medium schools 96,000 -for 'A'
level & 36,000
for other levels
(only tuition) Parents None reported
except subsidized
land in some
schools 90,061(tuition
and all facilities). Parents + state
(average of 6
cadet colleges + 1
public school 14,171 (average
of 5 cadet colleges

Let us now look at madressahs. As far as I could discover, they are run on money from charity (zakat = alms; khairat = philanthropy; atiat = grants and hadiyat = gifts). The expenditure given below is on food, lodging, notebooks, books, teachers and other heads. For details see Box 3.

Box 3
(in Pakistani rupees)
Institution Average cost student per year Payer(s) Cost to the state
Madressahs 5,714 (includes
board and
lodging) Philanthropists +
organizations None reported
except subsidies
on computers,
books etc. in some

As for the universities, the figures are only an average and somewhat inexact. However, compared to good universities abroad, they tell us that we are spending much too little on higher education than other countries do.

As for private universities, they do not release their budgets and the tuition fee varies between Rs 5,000 and Rs 50,000 per month. My rough and tentative estimate is a fees of Rs 10,000 per month on average. This amount is out of the reach of most of people in Pakistan but parents risk their everything, sometimes even mortgaging or selling property, to educate their children in these institutions. For more details see Box 4.

Box 4
(in Pakistani rupees)
Institution Average cost student per year Payer(s) Cost to the state
Public universities 68,000 Parents + state
(parents pay an
average of Rs.
13,000 per year) 55,000
Private universities 120,000 Parents None reported

These figures make it quite clear that the state actually spends out of public funds more on the education of the elite than on the masses. Moreover, the maulanas are running an economical welfare-state policy of their own which the state should have been running. This inequality in the field of education is potentially dangerous. Members of a highly divided society, conscious of injustice and state-maintained inequality, can degenerate into a class war that could take on the undertones of a religious uprising. Do we want this? I hope not!

The writer is professor of linguistics and South Asian studies at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.