VCs bemoan drastic cut in HEC budget – Newspaper

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

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

The Ministry of Finance has communicated IBC (Indicative Budget Ceilings) of only Rs 30 billion for the Higher Education Recurrent Grant against the streamlined request of Rs 104.983 billion. The allocation is 45% lower than the current year (FY 2021-22) allocation of Rs 66.25 billion.

More than 120 heads of public sector universities, who attended a virtual meeting from across the country, were unanimous in deploring the government’s decision to cut the universities’ unprecedented budget and urged the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and the Minister of Education to urgently look into the matter and increase the budget according to the rationalized request to avoid subversion of the country’s long-term socio-economic goals and save the higher education sector from total chaos and collapse.

They said the streamlined application was submitted following a rigorous process of reviewing and assessing the needs of 100 existing universities, 49 research centres/institutes and 18 new universities (eligible for funding) by a committee joint evaluation of HEC and the Ministry of Finance.

The VCs pointed out that Pakistani universities were already under enormous financial pressure due to stagnant funding over the past five years. The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-21 and 2021-22 has further exacerbated financial stress by increasing costs and reducing fee inflows.

They said that public universities would have no choice but to increase tuition fees, increase the number of students beyond their capacity, adding that these repercussions would lead the sector to disaster and seriously affect the quality of learning and graduates.

University leaders stressed that if the additional CFY grant of Rs 15 billion pledged by the government last year is not provided, the cut in funding is not reversed and the budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year is not allocated in accordance with demand, universities will not be able to survive. .

The president of HEC, Tariq Banuri, underlined: “it must be understood that education is as important as the defense and the security of the country”. He expressed concern that the budget cut, if materialized, would plunge the higher education sector into a serious crisis. He underscored the need to collectively and clearly advocate with government for the loss and consequences of an unprecedented cut in funding for higher education.

HEC Executive Director Dr. Shaista Sohail highlighted the challenges in the higher education sector, particularly in the face of the proposed budget cut. She regretted that the recurrent subsidy allocated to HEC since the 2017-2018 financial year has practically stagnated and that its share as a percentage of GDP has continued to decline at the level of 0.14% in the current financial year.

She pointed out that the higher education sector had experienced phenomenal growth over the past five years due to the establishment of a number of new universities/higher education institutions by the federal/provincial governments, while the Student enrollment had also increased remarkably.

Posted in Dawn, May 27, 2022

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