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August 9, 2019

Three leading KP universities facing severe financial crisis

National

August 9, 2019

PESHAWAR: Owing to severe financial crisis, three oldest and leading universities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are on the verge of closure.

These institutions are in need of immediate attention of both the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the provincial government. Besides, drastic corrective measures are required by the universities concerned.

The University of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Agriculture University and Gomal University Dera Ismail Khan are faced with severe financial constraints after being unable even to pay salaries to the employees for the month of July. The universities had to take loans from the HEC and different banks to give salaries to the employees.

The universities are unable to pay pension to their pensioners. Also, these institutions are clueless how to pay the salaries and make other necessary payments for the current and next months. “The universities don’t have any means to pay back the loans taken from different quarters,” reliable sources told The News.

The three universities sought bailout packages from the federal and provincial governments, but to no avail. The Agriculture University asked for Rs5 billion bailout package from Prime Minister Imran Khan and Rs1 billion from the provincial government to overcome the financial crisis.

The University of Peshawar requested Rs2 billion from the provincial government through the Higher Education Department (HED), but it was turned down. A similar request made by the Gomal University from the provincial government. Reached by telephone for his comments, Agriculture University Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Jehan Bakht confirmed that the university was passing through the worst financial crisis as they were unable even to pay salaries and make other urgent payments.

For the month of July, he informed that they decided to pay 50 percent salaries to the employees, which triggered protest by the teaching and non-teaching staff, forcing the university administration to take a loan from HEC.

He said they have sought bailout packages from the federal and provincial government to save the university, which is a national institution. “If the financial support is not extended to the university at the earliest, it would be unable to function,” he added.

About the reasons behind the financial problems, the vice-chancellor counted a number of causes. He said the university was set up in 1981, but pension fund for the employees was established in 2014, resulting in financial issues.

He said that a number of professors were going to retire this year. “Each professor has to be paid at least Rs10 million at the time of his retirement as commutation, gratuity and other payments,” he added.

“The surplus number of employees is another reason for the sorry state-of-affairs and needed immediate rationalisation. Every vice-chancellor recruited employees without any need or justification. My administration has been struggling hard even to find out as to where these employees are actually working,” he maintained.

He added that they had already initiated the process to rationalise the employees.

The problems at the University of Peshawar, which is the oldest and premier seat of higher education in the province, are almost similar. The university has been paying the pensions of 265 professors of Islamia College University apart from thousands of its own retired employees.

The university has over 500 surplus staff in different cadres hired without any need. Unnecessary allowances and double payments to the university employees is another serious issue, which is required to be settled down.

The most serious challenge faced by this university is the shrinking number of its students, which was one of the leading sources of income of the university. The number of students in the university was above 50,000 in recent years, but has now dropped to about 25,000.

The students not only contribute to the university in terms of fee, but the HEC issues grants to universities on the basis of strength of students. There are a number of factors responsible for the declining number of students. The prime reason is the introduction of BS system and abolition of BA and MA. The opening of universities in almost all the districts of the province is another reason. Also, BS courses are offered at government colleges at much lower fees with good quality of education, so the students prefer to get admissions there instead of going to universities.

The three universities certainly need bailout packages from the government, but the administration there should also ensure proper financial management to overcome the issues and save these seats of learning from closure.

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