Thursday March 23, 2023

Federal govt hints at slashing HEC budget by 50pc

The HEC has been directed to prepare the budget statement in accordance with the stated budget for 2022-23

May 25, 2022

KARACHI: Instead of increasing the Higher Education Commission’s budget already slashed by the PTI government, the newly formed federal government has indicated a reduction in the HEC’s budget by over 50 per cent to Rs30 billion for the upcoming fiscal year 2022-23 as compared to the last allocations of 65.25 billion.

A circular issued by the Finance Division on Monday stated that the provisional indicative budgetary ceiling and revised estimates for 2021-22 is worth Rs65,250 million and budget estimates for 2022-23 for grants related to the HEC is worth Rs30,000 million.

The HEC has been directed to prepare the budget statement in accordance with the stated budget for 2022-23 and submit the same to the director budget wing of the Finance Division for entry. However, HEC officials had demanded 100 billion rupees to meet the expenditure and smoothly run the research projects at public sector varsities.

The HEC officials say that PTI government had already minimized the HEC budget due to which varsities across the country were facing severe financial crunch; therefore, a further cut in the budget will monetarily paralyse higher education in the country as a majority of varsities have no capacity to generate funding for annual expenditures.

One of the HEC top officials told The News on Tuesday that the commission would be unable to provide grants to all state-run universities from the proposed provisional indicative budgetary ceiling and estimated budget for 2022-23. It is not enough to run even the affairs of the commission and at the same time keep research projects going at varsities. However, the commission will have the only option to entertain the universities being operated by the federal government, leaving aside the varsities that come under the jurisdiction of the provincial governments.

According to the HEC statistics, about 150 public sector universities are functioning in the country. Funding is being provided to 38 research entities, including 12 centres of excellence, eight other centres (including five associated with the HEJ), six area study centres, six institutes, and six Pakistan study centres. In addition, 12 centres of advanced studies were funded under development projects.

Academics say that slashing the HEC budget will be more problematic. The varsities will be forced to halt ongoing development projects, research activities and hiring of new faculty members to meet the expenses. Likewise, the students will bear the burden of a three to fourfold hike in tuition fees by next year.

Similarly, they would have no choice apart from firing cooperative teachers and reducing the pension amounts of retired professors and staffers. The varsities will also be forced to close various departments and stop introducing new courses. The PTI-led federal government, while presenting its 3rd budget, had raised the higher education budget up to Rs15 billion from the budget it presented in 2020. As per the budget documents, the total allocation for higher education, including development and non-development, was Rs108 billion, including Rs42.2 billion for development and Rs66.25 billion for the non-development expenditure of the HEC.

There are around 127 ongoing and 39 new development schemes, which were included in the development budget of Rs42.4 billion. There was a demand for a huge increase in the HEC budget by universities for the last couple of years. Although the government had increased the development budget, there was no serious increase in the non-development budget, which is used for the salaries of employees of the HEC and universities. For the fiscal year 2020-21, the government had allocated Rs64.1 billion, and for 2021-22 the government had allocated Rs66.25 billion. The HEC budget was Rs63.1 billion in 2017-18, Rs65.02 billion in 2018-19, and Rs64.1 billion in 2019-20. The same allocation of Rs64.1 billion in 2020-21 means the budget remained almost stagnant.