LAHORE/TOBA TEK SINGH: The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) on Tuesday announced to observe a black day on May 30 (Thursday) at all universities of the country in protest against the huge cut in the budget of the federal Higher Education Commission (HEC).

The federal government has issued a notification to reduce the budget of the HEC for the financial year 2024-25 from Rs65bn to Rs 25bn and it has been limited to only federal area universities though earlier it used to include provincial universities in its budget.

Earlier, the HEC had sought Rs126bn for more than 160 public universities in the country.

The FAPUASA executive council’s emergent meeting was held on Tuesday chaired by its President Dr Amjad Abbas Magsi while General Secretary Dr Muhammad Uzair moderated the proceedings.

The meeting was called to discuss the recent notification of the federal government where it had refused to allocate funds for the universities in the provinces. The participants took stock of the severity of the decision and rejected it unanimously due to its devastating effects on the higher education sector, which is already suffering a lot due to the apathy of the government.

Centre reduces HEC budget from Rs65bn to Rs25bn; VCs fear the move to force varsities to shut down

The council unanimously decided to observe a black day on May 30 (Thursday) in all universities of the country to record a protest against the decision of the federal government.

The academic staff associations (ASAs) of all the universities were directed to hold meetings and bring all the stakeholders along to raise the common voice. The federation also decided to hold a sit-in in Islamabad next week for the legitimate rights of the universities.

Being the representative of the academic community across all universities in Pakistan, FAPUASA President Mr Magsi and General Secretary Uzair vehemently condemned the federal government’s unilateral decision to remove the provincial universities from its budget.

They said that the decision was not only detrimental but also beyond the constitutional authority of the federal government. Any decision regarding the budget of the HEC must be placed before the Council of Common Interests (CCI) meeting, as mandated by the constitution.

They said the issue of the higher education budget was extremely crucial which affected the entire nation and the government must allocate funds in accordance with the provincial shares before making any cuts to the HEC budget. They said that the federal government’s decision to cut the HEC budget would lead to the destruction of universities across provinces, many of which were already facing severe financial challenges.

The federation representatives said that the federation, along with its provincial chapters, continuously raised its voice through the press, video messages and letters to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and also organised protests but the government showed lack of seriousness in addressing the conditions of the universities. They said that higher education was playing a pivotal role in the economic development of a country and undermining the sector would have long-term detrimental effects on the nation’s progress and prosperity.

The FAPUASA demanded the government immediately withdraw its decision regarding the cut in the HEC budget.

Moreover, the executive council of the federation urged the government to increase the higher education budget by up to Rs500bn in the upcoming federal budget.

The council said failure to reverse the decision would result in the closure of universities nationwide as most institutions would be unable to pay salaries and pensions.

The council said the federal government’s budget cuts for universities would create a significant challenge, especially for provinces like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan as both these provinces did not establish their provincial higher education commissions (HECs).

It said these provinces lacked localised governance and strategic oversight necessary to mitigate the impact of reduced funding without the provincial HECs. The council said these institutions might need to enhance their efforts in securing research grants and donations while also advocating for interim support from the federal HEC to ensure continuation of educational standards and development projects.

The FAPUASA council hoped that the government would reverse the adverse decision and ensure that all constitutional formalities were fulfilled before making any decisions affecting the budget of universities. The council said the future of the higher education system and the country would depend on it.

Meanwhile, the Vice Chancellors Committee has also requested the federal government to continue extending support to the universities across the country as head of the federation, urging the provincial governments to make their contribution to their respective budgets for the universities.

The VCs Committee held an emergency online meeting in the wake of the reports of a major cut to the HEC funding for the Fiscal Year 2024-25 budget.

A press release said on Tuesday that chaired by UAF VC Dr Iqrar Ahmed Khan, also chairman of VCs committee, the forum was attended by the VCs and rectors of all the public sector universities. The universities’ heads emphasised that the government must pay due importance to higher education sector in its efforts through ‘Education Emergency’ in the country.

They said the government’s plan to cut the HEC’s recurring budget to Rs25bn for 2024-25 against Rs65bn in the previous financial year would jeopardise the future of students as the universities were already suffering a shortfall of Rs60bn.

In his remarks, Dr Iqrar said the report of government’s plans to cut the HEC funds for the Year 2024-25 had sent shockwaves throughout the academic community as any such move would force the public sector universities to shut down. He expressed his apprehension that the already financially strapped universities would not be able to survive and the future of Pakistani youth would be jeopardised if the federal government stopped giving required funds.

Expressing their views, the VCs of different universities said the provincial governments should make a contribution to the universities’ finances; however, the federal government must continue extending financial support to universities in the provinces for the cause of national development, integration and unity. They termed adequate budgetary allocation to higher education a matter of national interest, expressing fears that any cut in the HEC budget would put the students’ future in danger.

Appreciating the HEC’s role in the development of higher education sector across the country, they said any cut to the HEC budget was tantamount to making it dysfunctional. They said it was impossible to administer and operate universities without finances, adding that the universities’ survival lay in the government’s support to the HEC.

HEC Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed and HEC Executive Director Dr Ziaul Qayyum said the commission would take up the issue with the finance ministry and request for reconsideration of the matter with a sympathetic view.

They asserted that any cut to the HEC budget would put all the investments made in the higher education sector in the last over two decades in jeopardy. The federal and provincial governments must jointly put their contributions to end the crises facing the universities, they emphasised.

They said the federal government’s funding for the higher education sector was a must to strengthen its efforts for national integration through youth.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2024



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