The Vice Chancellors’ Committee has urged the Government to revisit its decision regarding budgetary cut, especially the recurring budget of higher education sector and announce a supplementary grant for universities.
A meeting of the Committee was held at the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Islamabad to discuss the challenges arising out of the budgetary cuts for higher education sector.
The Vice Chancellors expressed solidarity with the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir in the wake of Indian Government’s presidential order stripping disputed Kashmir of its special status. “This is a blatant violation of the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination and entirely against the United Nations resolutions. This is a serious breach of Kashmiris rights, and the Indian Government is highly condemned for its brutal and unjust assimilation of the valley.”
The Vice Chancellors said that the allocation for higher education is not an expense, but an investment in the future of our youth, and that it has become impossible for universities to sustain their operations and quality of education after 10 per cent cut in higher education sector’s funding.
The meeting stressed that in the light of HEC’s vision, the universities are working to increase their own resources through different measures including fund generation, entrepreneurial activities, and launch of new programmes as well as addressing issues leading to financial mismanagement. However, there was a consensus that it has practically become hard for universities to cope with the financial crisis caused by recent cut in the recurring grant.
It was emphasised that universities are even facing hardship in payment of salaries to faculty and staff. Financial resources are the blood needed for sustainable and quality higher education system. The budgetary cut has exposed the universities to severe quality issues, due to which students will suffer.
In his remarks, Dr. Tariq Banuri, Chairman HEC said that the Commission fully supports the stance of Vice Chancellors regarding budgetary cuts. He said that the Government is well aware of the importance of investment in higher education. “There is no lack of sympathy in the Government with regards to financial hardships facing the sector,” he said, adding that HEC’s position on funding is very clear and it has been conveyed to the authorities concerned.
He elaborated that the higher education sector spends only Rs. 150,000 to 200,000 on a student per year and, on average, the Government provides only Rs. 50,000. “This is a very low figure as compared to the spending of all other countries of the world on a student per year. No other country is providing education of this quality at such a low cost.”
He said that the financial crisis has created a gap of Rs. 70 billion for the sector, as dollar rate has risen and salaries of Government employees have been raised up to 10 per cent.
The Chairman stressed the need for measures to improve efficiency in utilisation of funds, cut unnecessary expenditures, and raise universities’ own funds. He advised the universities to devise a plan to ensure efficiency and control unnecessary expenses.
Dr. Muhammad Ali, Chair of VCs Committee, urged the Government to revisit cut in the recurring grant of higher education sector and announce a supplementary grant for universities to overcome the crisis. “We have a genuine demand and we want a small chunk of the entire volume of budget to meet our requirement.”
Unanimously adopting a resolution, the Vice Chancellors’ Committee urged the Government to revisit cut in recurring budget of the higher education sector. It underscored that the higher education sector funding was growing reasonably over the last five years, but the recent reduction has caused a great setback to the sector amidst high inflation and devaluation of currency. This has created a situation where universities may sharply slide down to bankruptcy, in addition to degradation of quality of education and research.
The Committee strongly emphasised that without additional financial support, universities would not be able to finance the salary, operational and research expenditures. Furthermore, universities do not support fee raise unless the Government choose it over restoration of higher education sector’s recurring grant.
The Committee also announced its plan to invite Mr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance, Mr. Shafqat Mahmood, Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training and Mr. Khusro Bakhtiar, Minister for Planning, Development and Reform to the Vince Chancellors’ Committee meeting to be held in Islamabad soon to directly deliberate on the financial situation.
The Vice Chancellors urged the Government to take steps for consolidating the existing universities, stopping establishment of new universities and sub-campuses, and diverting funds earmarked for knowledge economy for utilization by higher education institutions. They also advocated mobilizing the support of Provincial Governments to share recurring cost of the provincially chartered universities.
Considering the unprecedented financial squeeze, the Committee agreed to focus on improving efficiency, cost cutting and reducing unnecessary expenses, including but not limited to reduction in electricity and fuel expenses, conservation of water, paper and consumables, improving faculty-to-non-faculty ratio, business process re-engineering, and better use of technology.
It also agreed to equally focus on broadening the university resource base and better management of university funds, organising fund raising activities across the country in December 2019 and holding convocations, alumni events and donor meetings, and generating funds through use of laboratories, contracted research, and consultancies.
The meeting was chaired by Dr. Muhammad Ali, Chair of VCs Committee and attended by Chairman, Executive Director and other staff of HEC as well as 84 Vice Chancellors and Rectors of public sector universities across the country.