The drastic cut in recurring grants for the higher education budget for the fiscal year 2022-23 has posed a serious threat to the survival of 141 public sector universities in the four provinces of the country, including five in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The finance ministry has proposed only Rs30 billion for higher education’s recurring grant against the rationalised demand of Rs104.983 billion. The allocation is 45 per cent less even than the current year’s allocation which was Rs66.25 billion.
After the shocking decision, over 120 heads of public sector universities, who attended a virtual meeting from across the country urged the Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail and others to urgently look into the matter and enhance the budget as per rationalised demand, to avoid the subversion of long-term socio-economic goals of the country, and save the higher education sector from total chaos and collapse.
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"There is a danger of closing the doors of higher education to the majority of students as all the universities across the country depend on HEC [Higher Education Commission] funding."
They expressed their apprehension that the cut would make it impossible for universities to pay salaries and pensions let alone meet the overall expenses needed to run the universities.
Addressing the meeting, HEC Chairman Tariq Banuri emphasised: “It must be realised that education is as much important as the country’s defence 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 the 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.
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She regretted that the recurring grant allocated to HEC since FY2017-18 has almost been stagnant and its share as a percentage of GDP kept on declining to the level of 0.14% in the current fiscal year.
She highlighted that the higher education sector has witnessed tremendous growth during the last five years through the establishment of the number of new universities/HEIs by the federal and provincial governments, while the students’ enrolment has also remarkably increased.
In his speech, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Prof Dr Muhammad Kaleem Abbasi said that the public sector universities of AJK have been facing a continuous financial crisis since the 18th amendment.
As a result of this amendment, he added, all the provincial governments provide grants to the universities established in their respective provinces whereas the universities in AJK get very meagre grants from the government.
All the universities of AJK depend on the Higher Education Commission for their financial resources and if the budget of the HEC is reduced, it will have adverse negative impacts on the universities of Azad Kashmir.
He demanded Azad Kashmir President and Chancellor of the universities Barrister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry and Prime Minister Sardar Tanveer Ilyas take up the issue with the federal government at the highest level to save the universities in Azad Kashmir from any possible financial crisis.