In a crucial meeting held on Thursday, the Vice-Chancellors of the five public sector universities in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) met with Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, the Chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC). The Vice Chancellors expressed their concerns regarding the universities’ financial, administrative, and other pressing issues.
During the meeting, the Vice-Chancellors unanimously conveyed to the Chairman that implementing the recent federal government budget’s 30 and 35 percent salary increase for employees would be impractical for the universities. Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, acknowledging the challenges faced by the universities, assured the Vice-Chancellors that the HEC is committed to addressing these issues as a priority.
Dr Mukhtar Ahmed informed the Vice Chancellors that the allocation for the recurring budget of higher education in the fiscal year 2023-24 amounts to 67 billion rupees, while an additional 70 billion rupees have been allocated for development projects. The recurring grant being provided to HEC by the federal government is 67 billion since 2017 while salaries and allowances have increased almost 100 percent over the past six years. Now it has become nearly impossible for the universities to meet their operational expenses with the current allocation.
Highlighting the financial difficulties faced by universities nationwide, Dr Mukhtar Ahmed mentioned that on the request of HEC, the Balochistan government has already provided a grant of 4 to 5 billion rupees to support universities in the province. Similar recommendations have been made to the Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments, urging them to address the financial constraints faced by universities in their respective provinces. Moreover, the HEC has appealed to the Punjab government and the Azad Kashmir government to prioritize and allocate resources from their budgets to alleviate the financial burden on universities within their jurisdiction.
The Chairman of HEC clarified that due to the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the responsibility of funding the higher education sector now lies with the provincial governments. Consequently, the Federal Ministry of Finance is unable to directly provide funding to universities located other than the federal territory. Letters have been dispatched to the governments of all four provinces, including Azad Kashmir, awaiting their response.
Dr Mukhtar Ahmed emphasized that provincial governments must utilize their budgets to provide financial assistance to the universities within their jurisdiction, as there are no alternative avenues available since the passage of the constitutional amendment. The meeting was attended by Vice-Chancellor University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (UAJK) Prof Dr Muhamamd Kaleem Abbasi, Vice-Chancellor of Mirpur University of Science & Technology (MUST) Brigadier (R) Dr Muhammad Younis Javed, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Poonch Rawalakot (UPR) Prof Dr Zakaria Zakir, and Vice- Chancellor of Women University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (WUAJK) Bagh Prof Dr Abdul Hameed.