Sep 27 - Oct 3, 2010

Sixty vice chancellors of the universities in public sector in Pakistan gathered at the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in Islamabad last week to protest at the across-the-board cuts in their already meager budgets. They informed the chairman HEC that they had no funds and they would not be able to pay the salaries to their staff on October 1, 2010 and if their budgeted allocations are not released immediately they would be forced to resign en bloc.

Federation of all Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association had announced complete strike on September 22, 2010 to lodge their protest against the refusal to release the budgeted allocations of their universities. Against the allocation of Rs15.7 billion for the ongoing fiscal year (July 2010 to June 2011) only Rs1.7 billion has been released during the first three months.

Page in an article published in May last captioned "higher education sector collapsing" commented almost every sector had suffered during the last two years of the PPP government, but higher education sector seems to be the worst sufferer. It seems to have been most seriously hurt by the financial crises being faced by the country as all its development projects have been shelved because of financial constraints. It now appears on the verge of collapse.

Financial crunch caused by the flood now has provided justification to the authorities to cut the budgetary allocations as well. The collapse of this sector now looks imminent as the Finance Minister Dr Hafeez A Sheikh last week refused to provide funds to the universities announced in the budget on the ground that the government was facing unprecedented fiscal crunch.

Dr Hafeez, and Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Nadeemul Haq suggested to 68 vice chancellors of the universities who assembled at High Education Commission (HEC) to ponder over various steps such as increase in fee of students, utility of universities land for business activities and establishing contacts with business communities to run various faculties and generate funds as per the best practices being followed in the world.

They even refused to honour 50 per cent raise of university employee's salaries as announced in the budget and asked the vice chancellors to run the universities with some business plans and fix their own salaries.

Some vice chancellors during the tense and charged atmosphere in the HEC auditorium communicated to the finance minister that they would close down their universities by end of this month, as they did not have enough financial resources to run the universities. They lamented that instead of diverting some of Rs95 billion earmarked for Benazir Income Support Programme and IDPs for the rehabilitation of the flood affected areas, the government had slashed the PSDP and the budget for higher education.

The vice chancellors from NWFP and Balochistan said they were working under the threat of terrorism as militants had kidnapped one of the VCs, and some university teachers were murdered in Balochistan but now that they were facing threats from the federal government. We have become the vulnerable class, they lament. They further said: the contractors of some of the projects were demanding money, which they did not have. Our students abroad are facing difficulties in the wake of non-provision of funds to them. All the VCs threatened to resign if their funds were not released.

Vice chancellor of Baloshistan University Ghulam Nabi said that in the next couple of months he would have no money to pay the salaries. Some VCs said that the parliament had become an industry and MPs were making money and getting richer, but they were not paying attention to the education sector.

Such a sharp reduction in the universities budget has created enormous difficulties for the ongoing programmes including those of Ph.D students studying abroad. The foreign universities were not paid the students tuition fees nor the students provided their living expenses blocking the future of these talented young man. Besides hundred of ongoing developments projects in various universities has been suspended, as the contractors have not been paid their bills for the work already done. The situation is really pathetic.

Like many other state institutions, the High Education Commission is almost in shambles with no budget to provide finances to Universities for their development and non-development programmes and scholarships to students sent abroad. Just a few years back the HEC had shown phenomenal progress and became a centre of excellence as it implemented innovative ideas to promote education including research and development and sent hundreds of talented students abroad on scholarship.

A large number of educationists who were working abroad were offered attractive packages and they returned home to serve their country in the field of education. Now the situation has taken a different turn as the HEC is in financial crunch and unable to provide the resources to the Universities and the situation is reportedly so serious that students sent abroad on scholarship are begging in mosques to meet their expenses. Due to this apathy on the part of the government, all the Vice Chancellors of public sector universities have threatened to resign en bloc in protest against non-availability of funds for higher education. The programme for the establishment of nine science and technology universities has also been scrapped as resources have been diverted to other heads. It is a recognised fact that no country can develop without adequate investment in education sector.