Seventy-one public varsities’ VCs threaten to resign
By Khawar Ghumman
ISLAMABAD: The vice-chancellors of 71 public sector universities have threatened to resign en bloc against the government’s refusal to provide fund for higher education.
Federal Minister for Finance Abdul Hafeez Sheikh on Thursday refused to provide funds to the cash-strapped Higher Education Commission. Instead, he asked it to generate its own resources.
Incensed by Mr Sheikh’s response, the vice chancellors of 71 public sector universities threatened to resign en bloc. They also outrightly rejected the minister’s suggestion to set up a special committee headed by Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Nadeemul Haq to determine the universities’ needs, saying in the presence of Higher Education Commission (HEC) there was no need for any committee.
On the special request of HEC Chairman Dr Javed Leghari, the minister held an emergency meeting with the members of vice chancellors committee on the HEC premises. He was also accompanied by Mr Nadeemul Haq.
During the meeting, which lasted for a couple of hours, the minister not only refused to make any financial commitment but also appeared dismissive of the issues raised by vice chancellors of 68 state-run universities present at the meeting, a participant of the meeting told Dawn.
At one point after the VCs had spoken about their financial woes, Mr Sheikh told them that the government had more compelling commitments than the higher education sector.
He was equally non-committal when the future of the HEC’s scholars studying in foreign universities came under discussion. If the HEC continues to remain short of cash, some 4,000 students may need to be called back before they get their degrees. However, the finance minister argued that at the moment the flood victims were more vulnerable than anybody else. In the absence of funds, the HEC has already scrapped all its future scholarship schemes.
Ironically, Mr Sheikh was one of the task force members on whose recommendation in 2002 the HEC came into being. Over the last eight years, the government has invested more than Rs200 billion in the commission for promotion of university education. “Now the federal government is hesitant to provide money to the sector,” said one of the vice chancellors.
Later at a press conference, Dr Saeeda Asadullah, chairperson of vice chancellors committee, and other VCs painted a dismal picture of the universities’ future if the government remained indifferent to their genuine needs.
Despite the announcement of 50 per cent increase in the salaries of employees by the government, 99 per cent universities have not yet implemented the decision due to financial constraints, they said.
Dr Nasir, head of the Institute of Management Sciences, Peshawar, warned that all public sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would go on a complete strike if the salaries of the staff were not increased as per government’s own decision. “I will be the first to lead the protest and will resign in case my staff does not get their raised salaries,” Dr Nasir said. Criticising the government, Dr Najma Najam, Vice Chancellor of Karakoram International University, Gilgit, said: “Mr Sheikh asks us to generate funds. Should I ask my students to start digging up the surrounding hills to earn money?”
During the last financial year, the government released only Rs11.5 billion under the development grants against a commitment of Rs18.5 billion. During the current financial year under PSDP, Rs15.7 billion have been earmarked for the development of universities but so far only Rs1.5 billion have been released. As a result, around 300 development schemes have been affected adversely. The situation is, however, expected to deteriorate as the floods will force the government to make more substantial cuts in the PSDP.