LAHORE: The vice chancellors of public sector universities on Thursday expressed concern over drastic cut in the higher education budget for 2022-23 fiscal year.

The situation will make it impossible for the universities to pay salaries and pensions, let alone meeting the overall expenses needed to run a university.

The Ministry of Finance has communicated IBC (Indicative Budget Ceilings) of only Rs30 billion for higher education’s recurring grant against the rationalised demand of Rs104.983 billion. The allocation is 45 per cent less than current year’s allocation (FY 2021-22) of Rs66.25 billion.

Over 120 heads of public sector universities, who attended a virtual meeting from across the country, were unanimous in lamenting the government’s decision for the unprecedented cut in the universities’ budget and urged the prime minister, finance minister and the minister for education to urgently look into the matter and enhance the budget as per rationalised demand to avoid subversion of long-term socioeconomic goals of the country, and save the higher education sector from total chaos and collapse.

They said the rationalised demand was submitted following a rigorous review and assessment process of the requirement of 100 existing universities, 49 Research Centres/Institutes and 18 new Universities (eligible for funding) by a joint Assessment Committee of HEC and Ministry of Finance.

The VCs stressed that the Pakistani universities are already under enormous financial pressure because of stagnant funding during the last five years. The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-21 and 2021-22 has further exacerbated the financial stress by increasing the cost and reducing fee inflows.

They said the public universities would be left with no other option but to increase the student fees, 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 university heads stressed that if CFY additional grant of Rs15 billion committed by the government last year is not provided, funding cut is not reversed, and budget for FY 2022-23 is not allocated as per the demand, universities will not be able to survive.

HEC chairman Tariq Banuri emphasised, “it must be realised that education is as much important as the country’s defense and security.” He expressed his apprehension that the budget cut, if materialised, would land the higher education sector in a severe crisis. He stressed the need for collectively and clearly making out a case to the government about the loss and consequences of unprecedented reduction in higher education funding.

HEC Executive Director Dr Shaista Sohail underlined the challenges of the higher education sector, especially in the face of the proposed budgetary cut. She regretted that the recurring grant allocated to the HEC since FY 2017-18 had almost been stagnant and its share as percentage of GDP kept on declining to the level of 0.14% in the current fiscal year.

She highlighted that the higher education sector had witnessed a tremendous growth during the last five years through establishment of a number of new universities/HEIs by the federal/provincial governments, while the students’ enrolment has also remarkably increased.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2022

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