A FEW months ago, the country’s public-sector universities were rocked by the news of an impending cut in government spending on higher education. The latest information confirms just how drastic the change has been. A vice chancellors’ committee comprising the heads of some of Pakistan’s top-notch universities has called for an additional official grant of Rs10bn for these centres of higher education to cope with a worrisome situation. The call, made on Tuesday at a press conference after a meeting at the Higher Education Commission Secretariat in Islamabad, has come amid reports of stalled programmes and the cancellation of many important initiatives, all resulting from the budgetary cut. The recurring budget for public universities was cut from Rs65bn in the last fiscal year to only Rs59bn this year. The consequences have been severe. So much so that some of these universities are struggling to pay staff salaries, and it appears that all — or at least a majority of — the fancy schemes through which the universities were supposed to raise their own funds have failed to take off.
Experts had pointed out that the cut would limit students’ access to research and knowledge and adversely affect the salaries of teachers. It is feared that scholarships will dwindle and that the reduction in the budget will spell disaster for those students who have few resources. As it is, the country was already spending a paltry sum per student. The latest information from the campuses is alarming and the VCs are demanding some quick measures to avoid the system from falling apart. They want to invite the relevant ministers for urgent discussions regarding the funds that are needed to course correct quickly, together with arranging some emergency fund-raising activities. The outcome of this two-pronged advance that engages the government at one level and simultaneously seeks to identify sources of funds is crucial to the future health of higher education institutions in the public sector. However, the final responsibility of sustaining the universities rests with the state.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2019