Drastic Budget Cut For HEC Shocks Vice Chancellors

PAKISTAN: The Higher Education Commission (HEC) governing body has strongly rejected the unprecedented cut in the budget for the higher education sector, saying it would waste all the efforts made in the last two decades for improving quality and outcome of university education.

The commission, in its meeting held online on Friday, unanimously demanded withdrawal of the government’s decision to curtail its budget and due share to the higher education sector in the upcoming budget, and warned that this cut will have dire consequences, including closing of institutions, winding up of university programmes, firing of faculty members, termination of research projects and halting of international higher education agreements.

The finance ministry has communicated IBC (Indicative Budget Ceilings) of only Rs30 billion for higher education’s recurring grant against the rationalised demand of Rs104.983bn. The allocation is 45 percent less even than the current year’s (FY 2021-22) allocation that was Rs 66.25bn.

The meeting highlighted the fact that the academics had been demanding provision of at least one percent of the GDP for higher education, but the proposed allocation of merely 0.04pc of the GDP will be disastrous for the already struggling sector, where universities are finding it hard to manage even the basic expenses like payment of salaries, pensions and services.

The commission members said they were conscious of the country’s current financial situation, but the higher education sector had already been ignored and never got its minimum required share in the budget.

They emphasised that new institutions have been chartered without keeping in view the budgetary impact of this expansion. While increasing access to and improving quality of higher education in the country has been common agenda of every government, this is impracticable without enough financial support on a sustainable basis.

They warned that the public universities would be left with no other option but to increase the student fees drastically, enhance students intake beyond capacities, adding that these repercussions would lead the sector to disaster and severely dent the quality of learning and graduates.

The members were also briefed on Thursday’s vice chancellors’ meeting, which gave a clear message to the government that this budget cut was akin to completely ignoring the sector and bringing the universities to a standstill.

On Thursday, over 120 heads of public sector universities unanimously lamented the decision to introduce an unprecedented cut in the universities’ budget and urged the prime minister, finance minister and education minister to urgently look into the matter and enhance the budget as per rationalised demand of Rs104.983bn.

Meanwhile, Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) Punjab president Prof Dr Azhar Naeem, vice president Dr Ahtisham Ali and secretary general Prof Dr Hafiz Muhammad Tahir expressed serious concerns over the HEC budget cut from Rs65bn to Rs30bn.

The executive body of FAPUASA, Punjab, demanded immediate withdrawal of about 55pc reduction in the budget and said the previous government had frozen the recurring budget but converted many colleges of Punjab into universities because the budget of all the universities was directly affected.

Similarly, they deplored that the government deprived the university teachers and staff of the arrears of disparity allowance with a single notification, and said that after this blatant act there was a lot of unrest among the university employees as they had been given the facility after a year-long struggle of FAPUASA, Punjab.

The executive body demanded that if the government did not reconsider its education policy, FAPUASA Punjab would take the other stakeholders into confidence and announce a protest movement to resist it.



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