June 25 - July 1, 20

Addressing the closing session of the Education Conference 2012 organised by daily The News in Islamabad last week, the then Prime Minister (now ousted under order of the Supreme Court), Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, boasted that his government was pursuing a vigorous plan to promote higher education even in the far-flung areas of the country. He claimed the higher education commission (HEC) "has accelerated its efforts to ensure speedy measures for establishment of higher learning institutes in the remote areas."

One cannot believe that the prime minister of a country could be so ignorant and ill informed. Only a few days before, the chairman HEC had lamented that the commission was feeling highly handicapped because of shortage of funds. He disclosed at a press conference that the HEC faced with financial difficulties, as about Rs14 billion relating to development budget out of its allocation in the budget for 2011-12 has still not been released. The ministry of finance has released only a paltry sum of Rs2.3 billion in the last quarter (March-June 2012 ) to the commission out of remaining Rs16.3 billion allocated.

Not only this, only a day earlier of the premier's address at the education conference, similar concerns were expressed at a meeting of the vice chancellors of public universities.

The vice chancellors have expressed serious concern over the non-release of funds for the fourth quarter of the financial year 2011-12 including Rs4.6 billion recurring and Rs6.8 development funds.

A special meeting of the vice chancellors from public universities was held on Wednesday last to discuss challenges being faced by the higher education sector in Pakistan. Engr. Imtiaz Hussain Gilani, Chairperson Vice Chancellor's Committee, presided over the meeting.

The remaining recurring budget of Rs4.6 billion will cater to the 50 per cent increase in salaries that was announced by the prime minister for outgoing financial year.

In this regard, the finance division had issued a letter to the HEC that the federal government would provide the additional Rs4.6 billion to the universities during the fourth quarter. As a result, the universities have incurred huge liabilities and had borrowed from the banks and diverted funds from other budget heads to pay the salaries at the enhanced rate with the hope that the same would be provided by the federal government as per its promise.

Furthermore, thousands of scholars pursuing PhD abroad would be adversely affected as a result of non-release of development funds amounting to Rs6.8 billion for the last quarter of this financial year. It is feared that non-release of payment of tuition fee and stipend of these scholars will create huge embarrassment for the government of Pakistan across the world.

Non-release of development funds has also adversely affected the ongoing development projects especially in the newly established rural-based universities. The vice chancellors also informed that the provincial governments have also refused to extend financial support to the universities as they consider that it is the responsibility of federal government till 2014.

The vice chancellors hope that the education friendly democratic government will revisit this critical issue and ameliorate the financial crisis by taking corrective measures and honor their commitments to the education sector.

The VCs also expressed concern that the funds that include salaries for university employees, are not released in time and the situation can take a bad turn. During the meeting, it was further resolved that the public sector universities will not be able to pay 20 per cent increase in salaries proposed in new budget as the federal government of Pakistan has not yet released the previously increased 50 per cent and 15 per cent increase in salaries as per its promise.

HEC has already apprised the ongoing financial crisis of higher education sector in Pakistan to the President, Prime Minister, Chairman Senate and Governors/Chancellors of respective provinces, HEC representative informed the meeting.