KARACHI: The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (Fapuasa) has declared the national budget 2017-18 ‘disappointing and hopeless’.
In a press statement issued on Saturday, the association claimed policymakers seemed to be unaware of the purpose and management of higher education. “If the entire education budget is not reaching the earmark of 4%, a globally agreed upon minimum benchmark for education spending, what else can be expected from the budget,” reads the statement.
It further adds that a mere 20.6% increase has been announced for higher education, but even this has been broken down into a 66.6% increase in development funding and 3.8% increase in recurring expenses. Last year, the higher education budget was Rs79.5 billion, of which Rs21.5 billion was allocated for development and Rs58 billion for recurrent grants. This year, Rs95.9 billion has been allocated for higher education, of which Rs35.7 billion has been allocated for development and Rs60.2 billion for recurrent expenses.
“It is mind boggling how universities will meet the expenses from a 10 to 15% increase in salaries and pensions as announced by the government, with an increase of 3.8% in the recurring grants,” reads the statement. It adds that the cost of procurement of locally made and imported scientific equipment and consumables has increased due to taxes, inflation and this is resulting in a mammoth shortfall.
Announcements of establishing more universities are alarming, according to Fapusa, and schemes such as the distribution of laptops raise a number of questions. It is unfortunate that the allocation for the Benazir Income Support Programme is much higher than the allocation for higher education, read the statement.
In 2013 the government withdrew a 75% tax rebate for teachers and teachers’ associations across the country were demanding the restoration of the exemption. “Nevertheless, this government has been announcing a number of tax amnesties in a number of sectors but higher education,” laments the statement. “A lack of gainful provident fund schemes, no comprehensive health care policies and no housing schemes are discouraging highly qualified people from serving in the higher education sector,” it added.
The statement also discussed universities failing to provide an adequate working environment, facilities or infrastructure conducive to nurturing intellectual development due to lack of funds.
Fapuasa demanded an increase in recurrent grants of at least 30%, increasing the age of superannuation to 65 years, a health care plan for university employees, housing schemes for employees, restoration of the 75% income tax rebate for teachers, tax exemptions on the purchase of educational supplies, tax exemptions for academic and research related travel expenses and a 25% increase in house rent.