The Vice-Chancellors’ Committee has urged the government to revisit its decision regarding budgetary cut, especially the recurring budget of the 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 the 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 the allocation for higher education was not an expense, but an investment in the future of our youth, and that it was impossible for universities to sustain their operations and quality of education after 10 percent cut in higher education sector’s funding.
The meeting stressed that in the light of HEC’s vision, the universities were working to increase their 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 was practically difficult for universities to cope with the financial crisis caused by a recent cut in the recurring grant.
The committee stressed that universities were even facing hardships in payment of salaries to faculty and staff. Financial resources were the blood needed for a sustainable and quality higher education system. The budgetary cut had exposed the universities to severe quality issues, due to which students will suffer, the committee added.
In his remarks, HEC Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri said the Commission fully supported the stance of the Vice-Chancellors regarding budgetary cuts. He said the government was 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 was very clear and has been conveyed to the concerned authorities.
He elaborated that the higher education sector expended only Rs150,000 to 200,000 on a student per year and, on average, the government provided 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.”
Banuri said the financial crisis has created a gap of Rs70 billion for the sector, as the dollar rate has risen and salaries of government employees were raised to 10 percent.
The chairman stressed upon the need for measures to improve efficiency in utilisation of funds, cut unnecessary expenditures and raise universities’ funds. He advised the universities to devise a plan to ensure efficiency and control unnecessary expenses.
VCs Committee Chair Dr Muhammad Ali urged the government to revisit cut in the recurring grant of the 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 the budget to meet our requirement.”
Unanimously adopting a resolution, the Vice-Chancellors’ Committee urged the government to revisit cut in the 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 had caused a great setback to the sector amidst high inflation and devaluation of the currency. This created a situation where universities may sharply slide down to bankruptcy, in addition to the degradation of the 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 the restoration of the higher education sector’s recurring grant.
The committee also announced its plan to invite Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood and Minister for Planning, Development and Reform Khusro Bakhtiar 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 the 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 the 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 a reduction in electricity and fuel expenses, conservation of water, paper and consumables, improving the 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 fundraising activities across the country on December 2019 and holding convocations, alumni events and donor meetings and generating funds through the use of laboratories, contracted research, and consultancies.
The meeting was chaired by VCs Committee Chair Dr Muhammad Ali, Chair and was 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.