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January 24, 2021

HEC budget shortfall puts varsities in a fix

Top Story

January 24, 2021

PHOENIX: Pakistan — a 220 million population’s country with more than 1.8 million undergrad and graduation students enrolled in 135 public sector universities — has spent only Rs64 billion ($400 million) on its higher education. An average American university spends eight times more than the entire country’s higher education budget.

A perusal of official documents, background briefings and discussions with the government officials reveal that out of Rs64 billion budget more than 80 percent is spent on salaries of the universities’ employees. The remaining 20 percent is spent on students. Despite this, the universities have no funds and are getting loans to pay the staff salaries. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) had requested Rs70,000 per student average grant from the government. However, according to the official documents, the commission was allocated Rs56,349 per student. It is important to note that HEC calculated the allocated amount without deducting the salaries of universities’ staff which is more than 80 percent of the total budget.

It means only one fifth of the total HEC budget has been spent on student’s education. On the other hand, the annual expenditures of an American university which is not even ranked among the top 100 American universities is around $3 billion.

As per the official documents, the HEC demanded Rs104 billion for the recurring expenditures and Rs42.6 billion for the development budget. However, the government of Pakistan allocated only Rs64 billion for the fiscal year 2020-21. There are 135 public sector universities which have more than 1.2 million students enrolled in different disciplines from Bachelors’ degree to PhD. Similarly, these 135 public sector universities have around 130,000 to 150,000 staff (teaching and non-teaching).

With these cuts in budget, such is the irony that before coming into power the ruling PTI in its 2018 manifesto had the realisation of low education budget and promised to bring reforms in this sector. Now in its own government, the universities have no budget to pay the salaries of their staff. Some universities have taken loans, others have written to their employees that they could not pay full wages and will only disburse the basic salary amount into their account. The University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore secured an Rs300 million loan in December 2020 from the Punjab government to pay the staff salaries. The University of Peshawar on January 21, 2021 has issued an official letter (a copy of which is available with this scribe) that due to financial constraints they are unable to pay full salaries of the staff. Similarly, Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur is also facing the same problems. Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) Islamabad - the highest ranked university of Pakistan, as per official documents, has an annual budget of Rs2.5 billion. The university has around 2,000 employees including 300 faculty members. In July last year, the HEC reduced the QAU budget for the fiscal year 2020-21.

The QAU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Muhammad Ali while talking to this scribe claimed that the university is facing Rs800 million deficit because of the budget cuts. “Can you imagine what would happen if the highest ranking university of the country has no money for the lab equipment so that the students could perform practicals”?

The VC while identifying other issues said, “The universities’ income has reduced drastically because of the COVID-19 and HEC policies. The students’ enrolment after the coronavirus pandemic has drastically decreased. Similarly, the HEC has imposed a ban on the universities for conducting private examinations. This policy has seriously impacted the universities financially”.

A well-placed source in the higher education department informed that the HEC has imposed a ban on the universities from taking examinations of private students. This decision has deprived the universities from a huge chunk of money. Some institutions like the University of Karachi were generating around one fourth of its revenue from the private students’ examinations.

“On one hand, the government has slashed the HEC budget and on the other it is announcing new universities. Instead of strengthening the existing institutions and enhancing their budget to improve the quality of education the HEC and government is announcing new universities which will ultimately become liability. When almost 80 to 90 percent of the total recurring budget of HEC is spent on the salaries of the universities’ staff then how could you ensure quality education and research in the country,” commented an official.

According to official documents, the total number of faculties in the public sector universities is 50,852. However, if the non-teaching staff is added to this number the total employees of the universities according to the officials is around 130,000 to 150,000. For example the University of the Punjab has around 10,000 employees, Comsats University has around 1500 employees, and Government College University Faisalabad has more than 3000 employees. Taking the employees’ ratio in view of year-wise total number of enrolled students and budget, the government allocated Rs63 billion for HEC for the fiscal year 2014-15. The official data obtained from the HEC reveals that a total of 1.28 million students were enrolled in the universities including 0.92 million in Bachelor’s, 205,879 in Master’s 16 year, 136,086 in Master’s 17 years/MS/MPhil and 14,492 in PhD classes. As per the data, the full time faculty of the public sector universities in 2014-15 was 37,428 in 2015-16. The students enrollment increased as a total of 1.39 million students got admission in the universities including 0.99 million in Bachelor’s, 223,906 students in Master’s 16 year, 153,485 pupils in Master’s 17 years/ MS/MPhil and 16,993 PhD students. With the increase of number of students, the HEC budget was also hiked by 11 percent and the government allocated Rs79 billion for higher education budget for the fiscal year 2015-16. Besides, the faculty size also increased from 37, 428 to 43,274 in 2015-16.

In 2016-17, the Pakistani universities witnessed an upward trend in student enrolment as a total of 1.46 million students got admission in different institutions. The Bachelor’s students’ registration crossed the benchmark of one million. Similarly, 257,343 students were enrolled in 16 years’ Master’s degree programme, 172,631 students in Master’s 17 years/MS/MPhil and 19,919 students in PhD classes. The total number of faculty in all the universities as per the HEC official data was 47,829. The students enrollment in year 2017-18 reached 1.57 million out of which 1.1 million were enrolled in Bachelor’s, 22,186 in PhD classes and the remaining 0.44 million in Master’s and M Phil classes. The total number of faculty was slightly decreased as compared to previous year and the universities had a total of 47,190 faculty members.

In 2018-19, as per the official record a total of 1.85 million students were enrolled in the academic institutions out of which 1.39 million got admission in Bachelor’s and 22,499 in the PhD classes. The remaining were admitted to Master’s and M Phil classes across the universities. Whereas, the universities’ faculty strength was 50,852.

Talking to The News, HEC spokesperson confirmed that currently some universities are facing financial crisis due to shortage of budget. She informed that HEC had demanded Rs104 billion for its recurring budget but the government allocated only Rs64.1 billion. The demand for the development budget was Rs42. 6 billion but the government allocated only Rs29.5 billion.