In this paper, we give a framework to design exponential-time approximation schemes for basic graph partitioning problems such as k-way cut, Multiway Cut, Steiner k-cut and Multicut, where the goal is to minimize the number of edges going across the parts. Our motivation to focus on approximation schemes for these problems comes from the fact that while it is possible to solve them exactly in 2^nn^{{𝒪}(1)} time (note that this is already faster than brute-forcing over all partitions or edge sets), it is not known whether one can do better. Using our framework, we design the first (1+ε)-approximation algorithms for the above problems that run in time 2^{f(ε)n} (for f(ε) < 1) for all these problems.

As part of our framework, we present two compression procedures. The first of these is a "lossless" procedure, which is inspired by the seminal randomized contraction algorithm for Global Min-cut of Karger [SODA '93]. Here, we reduce the graph to an equivalent instance where the total number of edges is linearly bounded in the number of edges in an optimal solution of the original instance. Following this, we show how a careful combination of greedy choices and the best exact algorithm for the respective problems can exploit this structure and lead to our approximation schemes.

Our first compression procedure bounds the number of edges linearly in the optimal solution, but this could still leave a dense graph as the solution size could be superlinear in the number of vertices. However, for several problems, it is known that they admit significantly faster algorithms on instances where solution size is linear in the number of vertices, in contrast to general instances. Hence, a natural question arises here. Could one reduce the solution size to linear in the number of vertices, at least in the case where we are willing to settle for a near-optimal solution, so that the aforementioned faster algorithms could be exploited?

In the second compression procedure, using cut sparsifiers (this time, inspired by Benczúr and Karger [STOC '96]) we introduce "solution linearization" as a methodology to give an approximation-preserving reduction to the regime where solution size is linear in the number of vertices for certain cut problems. Using this, we obtain the first polynomial-space approximation schemes faster than 2^nn^{{𝒪}(1)} for Minimum bisection and Edge Bipartization. Along the way, we also design the first polynomial-space exact algorithms for these problems that run in time faster than 2^nn^{{𝒪}(1)}, in the regime where solution size is linear in the number of vertices. The use of randomized contraction and cut sparsifiers in the exponential-time setting is novel to the best of our knowledge and forms our conceptual contribution.