KARACHI: A severe financial crisis has struck the biggest general university of the country, the University of Karachi (KU).
Sources in the university administration said that employees’ salary cheques have bounced and the varsity has been forced to use its internal funds for petty expenses. “These few months from June to September are problematic in terms of money for the university every year,” shared KU Vice-Chancellor Professor Dr Ajmal Khan. He told The Express Tribune that the grant they get from the Higher Education Commission (HEC) is released in September and they should receive it soon, as the new financial year starts in June. This is why they often face difficulties in the last few months of the fiscal year. The problem is not new; the university has been facing this crisis for the last decade, as the grant is never given on time. “It is difficult to even pay salaries and bills,” he lamented.
The payment of electricity bills is also difficult for the university. “We pay the bills as soon as we receive the grant but how can we pay such a hefty amount which is in millions?” asked the VC.
The past two months have been tough for the varsity – there have been no admissions, examinations or other activities that could generate funds. “The university saves a portion of the students’ fee, mainly from the evening admissions, which will start soon, to use until the grant is received,” he added.
Sharing how difficult it is to manage things in the varsity financially, Dr Khan said that recently, on Eid, the university released an Eid grant and leave encashment because employees were.
He also appealed to people, civil society, government institutions and the media to come forward to help the university resolve its financial issues and save the internationally recognised institution.
“Right now the university is in a state of coma,” lamented Dr Khan, adding that before anything else can be done, there is a dire need for financial stability at the varsity. The VC said all the other issues the university faced were secondary.
There is no finance director at KU and, for the past year, the chief accountant has been working as the acting finance director. The finance director was removed after allegations of corruption were levelled against him and Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has not appointed a new director yet.
The university, established in the 1950s, was for 2,500 students but today, the number of enrolled students has passed 36,000, yet there has been no increase in the grant to cater to these students.
The HEC gave Rs1.7 billion to the university as a grant, while the university itself generates Rs1.8 billion from examinations, admissions and fee processes. “The total expenditure of the university is around Rs5 billion,” shared an official in the administration department, adding that the K-Electric bills are around Rs25 million per month. Other than that, KU also pays bills to the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, Sui Southern Gas Company and for maintenance of the medical hospital.
“Right now the financial condition at that the university means that the lift in the administration building cannot be repaired,” said the official, adding that in many laboratories, research work has been stopped as the university does not have funds to purchase equipment.
Karachi University Teachers Society President Dr Shakeel Farooqi, who is a former member of the syndicate and finance committee, said, “The financial blues of KU are not going to be alleviated until the administration gets rid of all illegal appointments, promotions, overtime, allowances, increments, gift-visiting appointments and illegitimate payments”. He said he has yet to see any significant moves on the part of the administration to curtail unnecessary expenses.
“Slashing essential expenses such as maintenance, payment of utility bills, research and lab grants would only worsen the situation. The administration must investigate many [Public Sector Development] projects that have been incomplete for years and ensure the collection of internally borrowed money,” he explained.
There should be a will in the university administration to eliminate the influence and involvement of all political parties, including the ones in the governments and their student or labour wings, said Dr Farooqi. “The university finance committee and senate should have met in January to finalise the budget 2017-18 before submitting it to the HEC, but unfortunately this did not happen,” he said. He said the university badly needed a bailout package but the federal and provincial governments were too busy preparing for next year’s election to do anything.