Despite an overall 10 percent cut in the budgets of government entities, Vice Chancellors and Rectors of universities have expressed trust in the Government to protect the higher education sector’s budget. In the 23rd Vice Chancellors’ Committee Meeting chaired by Dr Masoom Yasinzai and attended by 137 Vice Chancellors and Rectors on Monday, the university heads appreciated the Government’s commitment towards higher education, while seeking Government’s further support to meet the rising financial requirements of the universities.

The meeting was also attended by Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri, and HEC Executive Director Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Muhammad Asghar.

The meeting discussed HEC undertook an extensive budgetary assessment exercise jointly with the Ministry of Finance, according to which the estimated requirement of the higher education sector for FY 2019-20 is Rs. 103.550 billion. However, the higher education sector, as per Indicative Budgetary Ceilings (IBCs), has been allocated a recurring grant of only Rs. 58.50 billion for FY 2019-20.

Acknowledging the Government’s support for higher education and research, the VC’s hoped that it will translate into significant release of funds. They also resolved to mobilise various non-government and non-tuition fee fundraising means and ensure initiatives aimed at efficient use of resources.

The meeting discussed in detail various agenda items including higher education sector’s funding and emerging challenges, four-year integrated undergraduate programme, relevance in digital age,and HEC policies and regulations.

Addressing the vice chancellors, Dr Tariq Banuri highlighted the issues and challenges pertaining to financial crisis faced by the higher education sector. He informed the meeting that President of Pakistan Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan, Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mehmood have assured him of their support to the higher education sector. “The sector has a strong and unambiguous support from the current government,” he asserted.

While Government funding was an integral component, the chairman pointed out that the financial crunch could be addressed through three complementary components which were government support, non-government fundraising and efficient use of resources. “We are also committed to undertaking complementary activities, namely fundraising and service efficiency.”

Proposing measures regarding fundraising, he said the sector needed to mobilise alumni to generate funds, seek philanthropists’ support, urge bilateral donations, non-tuition fee means like executive trainings, encourage and formalise consultancies, attract fee-paying foreign students, strengthen public-private partnership, streamline patents and royalties and promote sports.

Referring to efficient use of resources, he said the operational expenditures needed to be controlled, while rationalising faculty to student and faculty to staff ratios, controlling non-salary expenses and targeting of funds towards most important areas.

In his opening remarks, Dr Masoom Yasinzai said the higher education was going through a tough time as far as its financial requirements were concerned. He acknowledged that the government was facing economic hardships which had created this situation, however the sector will eventually come out of these constraints with the government’s support. “The universities must play their role in fundraising and look for new avenues to generate funds, he stressed.

He appreciated Dr Tariq Banuri for bringing much-needed reforms into the higher education sector. He assured that universities stand by HEC in its pursuit for excellence in the higher education sector. “We all are a family and have to work together for the uplift of this sector,” he stated.

On the occasion, HEC Consultant Academics Dr Zulfiqar Gilani, briefed the VC’s on HEC’s plan with regard to four-year integrated undergraduate programme. He said HEC was exploring possibilities of developing the programme in order to inculcate in students the abilities of critical thinking, evidence-based observation and research and lifelong learning.

“As in the rest of the world, the undergraduate degree should be a terminal degree for most students, who on graduation should have adequate knowledge and skills for employment or other gainful work.  Also, graduates interested in further education, like Masters or MPhil or Doctoral studies should have sufficient knowledge and adequate grounding in research.”

HEC Consultant Academics Asif Shahid Khan highlighted HEC’s efforts to assist universities in staying relevant in the digital age. He said HEC was expanding the scope of Pakistan Education and Research Network (PERN), while building an educational cloud to give faculty and students access to infrastructure need for research in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cloud computing, etc. He said HEC was providing a cloud-based MOOC platforms, ERP and LMS.

Shedding light on HEC’s regulatory reform project, HEC Legal Consultant Dr Daud Munir, said the initiative aimed to structure HEC’s regulations and guidelines, in order to create a highly enabling regulatory environment for new and existing higher education institutions. “Well-formulated regulatory frameworks can actually create greater autonomy rather than constraining environment.”

He said HEC was working on additional tiers to improve quality of higher education. “It is creating effective reporting, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to facilitate better implementation and compliance of the regulations.”

The meeting elected Quaid-i-Azam University Vice Chancellor as the new Chairman of the Vice Chancellors’ Committee.

The Committee also prayed for the departed souls of Quaid-i-Azam University Vice Chancellor Dr Tariq Siddiqui, Virtual University of Pakistan Rector Dr Abbas Chaudhary, University of Management and Technology Rector Dr Hasan Sohaib Murad and Bahauddin Zakariyya University former Vice Chancellor Dr Tahir Amin and paid them tribute for their services to the higher education sector.

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