ISLAMABAD: Not only the students but universities across the country would suffer as the incumbent government continues to reduce funds for higher education.
Federal government in its budget for the next financial year has allocated Rs. 64 billion- way below the demanded amount of Rs. 104, required to promote higher education.
Interestingly, the allocations for financial year 2020-21 is even little less than Rs. 64.1 billion extended by the government for higher education in outgoing fiscal 2019-20.
Besides cuts in demands for various other heads, the government allocated only Rs. 29 billion for development projects, against Rs. 40 billion demanded by the Higher Education Commission (HEC).
However, a special package of Rs.285 million has been allocated separately for universities of Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan, in addition to overall allocation for the upcoming financial year 2020-21. Also, FATA University will be prioritized, budget documents claim.
According to HEC’s stated policy, funding for all public sector universities has been linked with their performance.
This includes the number of research publications by their faculty members, the number and amounts of the research grants received, the bandwidth utilized for access to digital libraries and internet resources, the amount spent on conferences and professional travel, and the number of PhD faculty and PhD students.
HEC will not be able to add in its recurring grant stream any of the 20 newly established universities
In a recent media release, HEC said due to paucity of funds the commission will not be able to add in its recurring grant stream any of the newly established universities. Almost 20 newly established universities approached HEC for funding from the next year. The inclusion of new universities would have resulted in a reduction of the allocations to older universities, officials at HEC believe.
HEC had requested the government to allocate Rs.104.789 billion as recurring grant for FY 2020-21. The requirement included funds for universities as well as for pursuing the HEC research agenda, start of several new initiatives (NAHE, ETC, HEMIS, PERU, and P-15 Research Universities), funding for the Tenure Track Faculty, funding for the Pakistan Education and Research Network (PERN), and the resources needed to meet COVID-19 related challenges.
As per HEC website, considering inadequacy of funding for next year, HEC requested the Prime Minister to consider enhancement in the budgetary allocation to HEC.
In two separate letters, the Chairman, HEC also apprised the Federal Minister for Federal Education & Professional Training, and Adviser on Finance and Revenues, of deleterious consequences of inadequate allocation to higher education.
Both offices were requested to intervene at this critical movement and enhance HEC’s budgetary allocation for next year.
HEC says it has carried out a rigorous exercise for allocation of funds amongst HEC National Research Programmes, different types of universities / HEIs considering their needs and availability of overall funding, and HEC secretariat expenses, etc. which as per it’s claim constitute less than one percent of the total allocated funds.
shortage of funds means the universities would charge more fees from the students
Facing shortage of funds, HEC last year had written to all public sector universities to generate their own funds. This actually meant that they enhanced fees charged from students.
The reduced allocation for the next financial year would put further strain which would ultimately be passed on to students.
This is coming at a time when students and their parents have to bear additional expenditures on internet data packages, buying of new gadgets (PC/Laptop/Tab/Speaker/Headphones etc. to take online classes due to closure of educational institutions amid coronavirus pandemic.
Parents say they would have this extra burden of paying ever increasing fees, buying new gadgets, accessories, paying for internet data packages and additional electricity bills at a time when many of them have either lost their jobs or their earnings have been substantially reduced.
This is the same for the parents with school going children. “Screen Time is another challenge for all the parents as educational institutions are taking full classes which expose every kid for 7/8 hours a day” a parent wrote on a social media platform.
Most of the middle class is hardly able to manage their home with hard earned savings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students have started protest demonstrations demanding HEC to take back the decision of taking online classes
Meanwhile unrest among the students is increasing throughout the country. Students of different universities held a protest demonstration in Karachi on Saturday demanding HEC to take back the decision of taking online classes citing various reasons. Most common among them is lack of resources to buy expensive gadgets to take online classes. In their protest held outside Karachi Press Club they also demanded to waive-off fee for the session.
Social media is full of posts where a large majority of students complain about poor quality of internet and associated facilities which make it difficult for them to go for online learning.
HEC had promised to provide solutions but nothing materialized. Instead of working out a solution, HEC asked universities to assess students’ readiness and started online classes. “HEC expects that we will invent a magical solution to it” a student remarked.
Universities on the other hand have their own complaints against HEC
During background interactions with The News Today the top management of various universities said it was HEC’s responsibility to seek additional funds from the government to develop students’ and universities’ capacities.
On this front, HEC couldn’t move a single inch, rather started burdening universities with instruction-loaded requirements, they said.
HEC should disclose how many additional financial resources it could manage to secure from the government, a top official of a public sector university questioned.
HEC was successful to get additional funds for security arrangements in universities amidst a wave of terrorist attacks. Why it is failing now, he added.
He said with many students living in no/poor connectivity zones, HEC’s posturing of zero compromise on quality is just a show off.
“HEC has failed to arrange access to quality internet but on the other hand, asking for a state-of-art evaluation mechanism. Way too away from ground realities, it seems” he added.
HEC must also update on its website how many additional resources it has actually provided to the universities other than talks/guidelines on good practices elsewhere in the world, a top official of another public sector university said.
With almost 10 percent on average inflation and substantial rupee devaluation, ever decreasing funding by successive governments during the last decade has created issues not only for HEC, universities and students but for the quality of higher education in the country.
This is resulting in an unrest among the students, extra burden on parents, compromised education standards and a tacit but continuous tug of war between universities and HEC.