Monday July 04, 2022

Massive funding cut to hit higher education in Pakistan, AJK

May 28, 2022

MUZAFFARABAD: A huge cut in recurring grants for the higher education budget for the fiscal year 2022-23 poses a serious threat to the survival of 141 public sector universities in the four provinces of the country, including five in AJK.

The Finance Ministry of the federal government has proposed only Rs30 billion for higher education’s recurring grant against the rationalized demand of Rs104.983 billion. The allocation is 45pc less even than the current year’s allocation of Rs66.25 billion. After the shocking decision of the ministry, over 120 heads of public sector universities, who attended a virtual meeting from across the country, urged the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and the Minister for Education to urgently look into the matter and enhance the budget as per rationalized demand to avoid the subversion of long-term socio-economic goals of the country and save the higher education sector from total chaos and collapse. “There is a danger of closing the doors of higher education on the majority of students as all universities across the country depend on HEC funding,” they said and expressed their apprehension that the cut would make it impossible for universities to pay salaries and pensions let alone meet the overall expenses needed to run the universities. Addressing the meeting, HEC Chairman Tariq Banuri emphasized, “It must be realized that education is as much important as the country’s defence and security.”

He expressed his apprehension that the budget cut if materialized, would push the higher education sector to a severe crisis. He stressed the need for collectively and clearly making out a case to the government about the loss and consequences of the unprecedented reduction in the higher education funding.

HEC Executive Director Dr. Shaista Sohail underlined the challenges facing the higher education sector, especially in the face of the proposed budgetary cut. She regretted that the recurring grant allocated to the HEC since FY 2017-18 had almost been stagnant and its share as a percentage of GDP continued to decline to the level of 0.14% in the current fiscal year. She highlighted that the higher education sector had witnessed tremendous growth during the last five years through the establishment of a number of new universities/HEIs by the federal/provincial governments, while the students’ enrolment has also remarkably increased.

In his speech, University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Vice-Chancellor Prof. Dr. Muhammad Kaleem Abbasi said the public sector universities of AJK had been facing a financial crisis since the 18th Amendment was passed. As a result of the amendment, all provincial governments provide grants to universities whereas the universities in AJK get meagre grants from the government, he added. All universities of Azad Kashmir depend on the Higher Education Commission for their financial resources and if the budget of the Higher Education Commission is reduced, it will have negative impacts on the universities of Azad Kashmir, he said and demanded the President of Azad Kashmir and Chancellor of the universities, Barrister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry, and Prime Minister Sardar Tanveer Ilyas to take up the issue with the federal government to save the universities in Azad Kashmir from any possible financial crisis.