An education emergency

June 23, 2024

Public universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa face severe funding issues

An education emergency


ublic universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are facing a severe funding shortage. Since its creation, the Higher Education Commission has been releasing annual grants to the universities. However, its share of the funds has been declining.

In India, the federal government allocated approximately $5.6 billion for higher education in 2023-24. Bangladesh, also in the South Asian region, sanctioned more than $1 billion for its 53 universities for the fiscal year.

However, in Pakistan, the federal government has kept its allocation for higher education fixed at Rs 65 billion since 2018. In June 2018, this sum was equivalent to $537 million, based on an exchange rate of Rs 121 per dollar. Given the current exchange rate of 280 rupees per dollar, the amount has diminished to $232 million.

Another aspect of the issue is that currently the main source of income for the universities is enrolment. However, enrolment at public varsities has been adversely affected by the initiation of four-year BS programmes at colleges that charge a lot less than these universities. The lower fees allow the colleges to attract more students to their BS programmes. Thus, the universities’ revenues have also been affected due to a drop in the number of students admitted there.

Resultantly, most universities are running their academic programmes with temporary appointments. For example, the Journalism Department at Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, is totally reliant on visiting faculty. The Journalism Department at Swabi University has been closed because of insufficient enrollment. Several other departments also have had to close down due to the increasing number of universities and colleges offering similar programmes. The University of Peshawar is short of teaching staff but not trying to fill the vacant posts because they cannot pay the salaries even of the staff and faculty currently on their rolls.

Many KP varsities also lack permanent vice-chancellors. At a recent Supreme Court hearing, the court was informed that out of the 154 universities, 66 have ad hoc heads. Out of the KP’s 32 public varsities, only 10 have permanent VCs; 16 varsities have are being looked after by acting VCs on an additional charge basis; six VC positions are vacant.

Talking to The News on Sunday, a senior teacher, who is also a candidate for a vacant VC post complained of political interference.

“A leader of a political party approached me via an intermediary and offered the VC position, in exchange for money. When I refused the offer, my name was moved down the list. I am told that my case is not unique. Apparently several other candidates too either paid money or were dropped from the top spots and placed lower down on the ‘merit’ lists,” he said, requesting anonymity.

Federal funding to provincial varsities was capped in the year 2018, at around Rs 65 billion. However, the expenses have been rising every year on account of salary and pension raises

Compared to other parts of Pakistan, the universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are facing more challenges. It may be mentioned here that the KP has failed to set up a higher education commission at the provincial level while the Punjab and Sindh have already set up their HECs.

Recently, the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association urged the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to establish a Higher Education Commission at the provincial level. It warned the government that if it did not act quickly it may have to close down several universities on account of financial crisis.

“As you are aware that following the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan in 2010, it is mandatory for the provinces to establish their own Higher Education Commissions to oversee and support higher education institutions in their jurisdictions?“ a letter written to the KP chief minister asks. Article 4 (Part 2, Section 12) of the legislative list goes into further detail about who is responsible for what in terms of higher education. “The provincial HEC in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has not been established, in spite of an explicit directive.”

The management and upkeep of the province’s framework for higher education will depend heavily on the HEC at the provincial level. Additionally, the federation has requested that the provincial government set aside Rs 50 billion in funding to preserve the stability of operations and advancement of the province’s universities. “If these problems are not resolved, the universities will inevitably experience a financial crisis that will make it hard to pay the employees’ salaries in two months,” the statement said.

The government and the universities need to take urgent measures to put the higher education back on track. The universities need to rationalise their fee structure. The governments, both federal and provincial, must assist the universities find their feet.

The Higher Education Commission, Islamabad, chairman, Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, told TNS that the funding issue could be resolved if provinces contributed funds for their varsities.

“The federal funding to provinces’ varsities was capped in the year 2018 at around Rs 65 billion. However, the expenses are rising every through salary and pension raises. This is why there is a funding shortage.”

Dr Mukhtar said Sindh had become a role model for other provinces as it had contributed more than Rs 30 billion for its public universities.

“Given the financial problems everywhere in the country, provincial governments must provide funds to their varsities. I am currently in communication with the governor and chief minister of the KP on this issue,” he said.

The writer, a journalist at The News International in Peshawar, holds a PhD in journalism. He tweets at @doctormshahid

An education emergency