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University Teachers seek Rs10bn to help ease varsities’ financial crisis

KARACHI, Oct 14: Expressing concern over a financial crisis being experienced by all public sector universities of the country, university teacher representatives have called upon the government to immediately release at least Rs10 billion to the Higher Education Commission.

The financial crisis, according to sources, has developed on account of the government’s failure in making timely release of adequate funds to the HEC. Resultantly, the universities have no money to pay for the 40 per cent raise in salaries that the government has given to all public sector employees over the past two years.

The acute shortage of funds, they said, was also badly affecting research and academic activities. Not a single penny had been paid on account of development funds since the last quarter of the last financial year.

Speaking to Dawn, Prof Dr Muttahir Ahmed, the president of the Karachi University Teachers’ Society (Kuts), said that the crisis was not KU specific and all public sector universities were being affected. “The universities are getting funds in three to four instalments and then even that instalment is half of what is promised,” he said.

Regarding the situation at Karachi University, he said that this time it seemed that the financial crisis was far more serious than what the institution had been facing over the past few years.

Earlier, he said, the KU had been managing largely from the evening programme funds but now it appeared that the reserve had already been exhausted.

He referred to a recently held meeting of the university’s academic council where the vice chancellor had admitted that the university’s financial position was very weak.

“We were told that the university has no money to pay salaries to its staff. The vice chancellor looked extremely worried since the government has announced that public sector employees will be paid salaries before Eid,” he said.

Prof Dr Abid Husnain, former Kuts president, blamed the previous university administration for the financial crisis and said that when the present vice chancellor took over the university coffers were empty.

“The situation today is highly worrisome. The university has refused to attend requests for academic expenses and we have no idea how the situation would be tackled,” he said.

Dr Kaleemullah Bareach, the president of the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association, said that no amount of this year’s budget had been given to the universities and the government needed to release at least Rs10 billion immediately.

“The Rs4bn released by the government was from the last year’s budget. The university teachers across the country are deprived of raise in their salaries. We are surprised over the crisis at the HEC when employees at other government
departments are getting their salaries without delay.”

He criticised the HEC, which he said did not take up the issue with the government at the right time despite reminders from university teachers.

According to Dr Bareach, the government-HEC conflict over other issues seemed to be a major factor behind the government refusal in addressing the HEC’s financial needs.

“The situation is more serious in Balochistan as well as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. All public sector universities recently observed a strike for 15 days in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to force the government to release the salary increase amount pending since July,” he said, adding that the association had called a meeting in Islamabad after Eid to formulate a national strategy on the issue.

He also said a ‘conspiracy’ was under way to commercialise public sector universities. “Rs10 billion is not a big amount. The government has diverted funds to other schemes like Benazir Income Support Programme. The anti-education attitude has forced us to think that a conspiracy against public sector universities is in the offing,” he said.

Dr Humayun Khan from Agriculture University Peshawar said: “Though the vice chancellors of public sector universities have issued notifications regarding payment of enhanced salary following a protest by teachers, no payment has yet been made to the employees.”

HEC Chairman Dr Javed Laghari concurred with teachers on the issue and said the government had backed out of its commitment on funds’ release.

“Last year the finance ministry had given us an assurance in writing that the universities would pay enhancedsalaries to the employees and later the ministry would adjust the amount in arrears. However, this hasn’t happened yet. The government also hasn’t released any amount for development funds since the last quarter of the last financial year,” he said, adding that more than 60 per cent development funds were spent on stipends and foreign and local scholarships.

“The student scholarships and stipends are HEC first priority and it has to cut down its other programmes to pay for their expenses since the government is not releasing any funds for them,” he said.

About the World Bank’s aid, he said foreign funds went to the government exchequer without having any effect on the HEC budget though a part of the aid was promised to be given to the commission.

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