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ISLAMABAD: Federal government’s Ehsaas Programme aims to empower 10 million “poorest women in Pakistan and help them fully achieve their potential,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar said on Thursday. “I strongly believe that Ehsaas scholarships will translate into more women in the professional job market — breaking down barriers, ensuring their increased participation in society and business, and enhancing women’s overall economic empowerment,” she said, presiding over as Chief Guest at an event organised by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Higher Education Commission (HEC).

Ehsaas is running need-cum-merit based Undergraduate Scholarship Programme nationwide offering 200,000 scholarships worth 24 billion rupees over four years, she said.

Till date, over 142,000 scholarships have been awarded under Ehsaas within two years, Nishtar said.

The Ehsaas scholarship reserves 50 percent of its places for women, the SAPM said. By covering 100 percent of the tuition fee and providing additional stipend for essential living expenses, Ehsaas provides level playing field for all students, she added. “With Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarship Programme dovetailed to Ehsaas School Stipends nationwide, the unprecedented scale of Ehsaas assistance allows Pakistan, for the first time, to look holistically at measures to improve education at all ages from preschool to undergraduate and everything in between,” the special assistant said. She acknowledged that USAID has had been supporting scholarships for meritorious yet financially disadvantaged students since 2004 through the Merit and Needs Based Scholarship Programme (MNBSP) to assist the HEC in improving enrolment in Pakistani universities and meet international standards.

Julie Koenen, USAID Mission Director for Pakistan, said, “We are pleased to share that in partnership with the HEC, we are more committed to support female education. As many as 700 fully funded graduate level scholarships will be awarded to the most talented females preferably from rural Sindh, former FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), South Punjab and conflict affected districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

Supporting sustainable donors and partners is one of USAID’s important agenda, she added. “For better delivery of services and transparency of systems, we are very pleased to invest in enhancing capacities of university administrators of financial aid offices of 40 partners of Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarships,” Koenen said.

It merits a mention here that Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP), in its recent report, has unearthed mega irregularities amounting to Rs 4.8 billion in HEC funds including foul play related to students’ scholarship programmes, employees, procurements, recoveries, internal controls and others areas. In the recently released report of audit year 2010-21 that covers financial year 2019-20, the AGP has raised observations of Rs 306.39 million of employees-related irregularities in HEC, Rs 485.25 million related to internal controls, Rs 978.84 million under the head of “value for money and service delivery”, Rs 205.29 million procurement-related irregularities, Rs 1.03 billion related to recoveries and Rs 1.81 billion irregularities under the head of “others.”

According to the report, the HEC showed only 38 per cent compliance with the directives of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in financial year 2017-18. Out of total 83 audit paras, there were 13 actionable points, out of which HEC showed compliance on five points and nil or partial compliance on remaining eight points.

The AGP report states that the management of HEC incurred heavy expenditure of Rs 4.06 billion on Pakistan Education and Research Network (PERN)-related activities during financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The AGP made “various written and verbal requests” to HEC management to provide record of activities performed and expenditure incurred under PERN. The audit observed that no record was provided by the management to the AGP for scrutiny. The audit recommended that responsibility be fixed for causing hindrance in audit.

The AGP report further revealed that the management of HRDI-UESTP under HEC’s command incurred an expenditure of Rs 1.40 billion on account of expenses of scholars of MS and MS leading to PhD programmes despite cabinet’s decision that no further students should be sent abroad under HRD project.

The AGP recommended that the matter be investigated to fix responsibility.

Furthermore, the AGP, in its report observed that an amount of Rs 212.67 million was recoverable from those students who went on HEC foreign scholarships. The audit recommends inquiry to fix responsibility besides recovery of this amount.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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