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September 17, 2010

Refusal of funds to varsities

September 17, 2010


ISLAMABAD: The collapse of higher education looks imminent as Finance Minister Dr Hafeez A Sheikh on Thursday refused to provide funds to the universities announced in the budget on the ground that the government was facing unprecedented fiscal crunch.
Finance Minister Dr Hafeez and Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Nadeemul Haq has suggested to 68 vice chancellors of the universities who assembled at Higher Education Commission (HEC) to ponder over various steps such as increase in fee of students, utility of universities land for business activities and establishing contacts with business communities to run various faculties and generate funds as per the best practices being followed in the world.
They even refused to honour 50 per cent raise of university employees’ salaries as announced in the budget and asked the vice chancellors to run the universities with some business plans and fix their own salaries.
Some vice chancellors during the tense and charged atmosphere in the HEC auditorium communicated to the finance minister that they would close down their universities by 20th of this month, as they did not have enough financial resources to run the universities.
They lamented that instead of diverting Rs95 billion earmarked for Benazir Income Support Programme and IDPs for the rehabilitation of the flood-affected areas, the government had slashed the PSDP and the budget for higher education.
The government earlier scaled down the allocation for higher education to Rs15.7 billion, of which Rs1 billion were released in the first quarter and in the second quarter only Rs700 million was released. If this trend continues, the government would release the same amount in the remaining two quarters, which comes up to Rs3 billion against the allocated Rs15.7 billion. “It is tantamount to murdering the higher education,” they said.
They argued that allocation for higher education was not expenditure, but investment on a long-term basis.

Pakistan needed quality human resources to run the affairs of the country, which could only be possible if funds for higher education were not disrupted.
The vice chancellors from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan said they were working under the threat of terrorism as militants had kidnapped one of the VCs, and some university teachers were murdered in Balochistan but now that they were facing threats from the federal government. “We have become the vulnerable class,” they lament.
They further said: “The contractors of some of the projects are demanding money, which we don’t have. Our students abroad are facing difficulties in the wake of non-provision of funds to them.” All the VCs threatened to resign if their funds were not released.
Vice Chancellor of Balochistan University Ghulam Nabi said that in the next couple of months he would have no money to pay the salaries. Some VCs said that the Parliament had become an industry and MPs were making money and getting richer, but they were not paying attention to the education sector.
The finance minister tried to pacify the vice chancellors by arguing that there were many segments of the society, which deserved immediate attention, but they lacked effective advocacy while the higher education sector possessed powerful advocacy. “The government has to take care of all segments of society,” he argued.
Dr Sheikh promised that the funds would be released for those projects, which were 70 to 80 per cent complete and the ‘genuine students’ studying abroad who are in the final year, would also be taken care of. “However, for new projects there will be no funding,” he asserted.
“We are in a precarious situation, which we can’t ignore.” However, higher education spending to GDP ratio currently stands at 2.3 per cent, which is equal to last year’s ratio,” he said.
He said, “In higher education, expenditure has increased by 8 per cent but we have frozen the expenditure of the government, the Presidency and the PM Secretariat. People are living in tents because of the catastrophic flood. We have to take care of them and it may not be out of place to mention the $10 billion loss the country has incurred on this account.”
“Now we have to make our choices and correct our misplaced priorities to deal with the challenges the country is facing right now,” he said.
The minister constituted a committee comprising deputy chairman of the planning commission and two members from the Higher Education Commission, which would re-prioritise areas of higher education.
One of the top officials of Higher Education Commission told The News: “The government wants to destroy the higher education sector, which we would not allow and would take measures on our own to continue this programme at any cost.”
To a question he said only 5 per cent of the students getting higher education abroad did not return and the HEC had taken stern action against them. “We are going to confiscate their property in Pakistan and also submit cases against them in the court of law.” He said they would be punished severely so that no one might misuse this facility in future.
However, he said 95 per cent students had come back after getting higher education and were now playing a useful role. He said high quality human resources would provide oxygen that the country direly needed.




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