KARACHI: As the federal government slashed billions of rupees from the higher education budget for the year 2019-2020, together with the non-issuance of grants by the Sindh government from the allocated educational budget, several public universities have been forced to take loans from private banks to manage their administrative and educational affairs.
At least four public universities in the province, including Sindh University Jamshoro, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai University, Khairpur, Quaid-e-Awam University of Engineering, Science and Technology, Nawabshah and Sindh Agriculture University, Tando Jam have recently obtained millions of rupees in loans from private banks to disburse salaries to teachers and employees as well as pay utility bills and bear miscellaneous administrative expenses.
Even those universities that have not yet turned to private banks for loans are suffering due to the lack of funds. According to sources, the University of Karachi (UoK) has halted the procurement of chemicals and computers for the Science Department and the payment of water bills among other dues.
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The withheld dues are being used to pay the salaries and the pensions of employees, together with several utility bills while college funds are being utilised to run the first-ever government varsity set up in Hyderabad - the Government College University Kali Mori - and for the first time, admissions in the varsity are being conducted without any university funds from the government.
After the federal government cut down the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan’s (HEC) budget by nearly Rs7 billion, a 10-11 per cent deduction was consequently made in Sindh’s educational budget. The federal government issued Rs59 billion in non-development grant for the recurring budget of the government varsities. Last year, this grant was slightly higher than Rs65 billion. While the federal government increased the salaries of government employees by 10 per cent, the provincial government of Sindh decided to increase the salaries by 15 per cent.
With the first quarter of the new fiscal year almost coming to an end, the Sindh government has still failed to issue the budget based on special grants to public universities, meanwhile, the government has increased the PhD grant for the teachers at government universities from Rs10,000 to Rs25,000 per month.
To top it off, the teachers and employees of government universities have started demanding their respective managements to increase their annual salaries in line with the increment announced by the Sindh government. To this end, the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FPUASA) - the representative entity for the teachers of government varsities - called for a strike on September 25 and 26 to protest against the federal government, the HEC and the Sindh government.
The Karachi University Teachers Society (KUTS) President Professor Anila Amber Malik, who is also the leader of FPUASA, told The Express Tribune that a new strategy will be decided on Oct 1, adding that the government teachers in Sindh are likely to boycott academic activities for an indefinite period.
“The FPUASA seeks the dismissal of the HEC Chairman Dr Tariq Banori on priority basis since he has completely failed to resolve the issues of public-sector universities,” she said.
Speaking on the worst-ever financial crisis in its history, Sindh University Jamshoro Vice-Chancellor Professor Dr Fateh Burfat confirmed the news and explained the university received reduced funding in June and July.
“We have issued a notification for the increase of teachers’ and staffers’ salaries, which were supposed to be effective from July,” Dr Burfat said.
He added that the PhD allowance is adding an additional burden of nearly Rs35 million. Similarly, the MPhil allowance was increased from Rs5000 to Rs12,500, which the university is unable to bear. “With these decisions, the Sindh government has burdened us with billions of rupees on an annual basis,” Dr Burfat lamented.
FPUASA Sindh Chapter’s Secretary and the teacher’s society leader at Shah Latif University Khairpur Professor Ikhtiar Ghoomro also confirmed that his varsity took a loan from a bank. “The university’s management did not pay the employees, even on Eid holidays, while those hired on fixed contracts have not been paid for the past three months,” Ghoomro said.
He added that the payment of bills of various services has also been halted for the past six months. “To make matters worse, the university has also reached its limit to apply for more loans. Therefore, the Sindh government must release the special grant to take the varsity out of the crisis,” he said.
The Express Tribune also tried to contact Shah Latif University Khairpur Vice-Chancellor Dr Parveen Shah but she did not respond.
Similarly, the Vice-Chancellor of Government College University Hyderabad Kali Mori, Dr Nasiruddin Sheikh shared that no fund has yet been received by the Sindh government to release to the universities which are currently under financial duress.
“After the approval of the syndicates, admissions in eight various departments are being initiated. I have made a recommendation to transfer the college funds to the university,” he said.
“The annual college fund stands at Rs200 million while the Sindh government has sought Rs350 million.”
According to a source working for Karachi University, the monthly total bill of Rs5 million has not been paid to the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) for the past six months and the amount has now surpassed over Rs60 million. Moreover, the salaries for the past month were paid by suspending the dues of various procurements standing at Rs75 million.
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“The fund given by donors is being utilised to pay salaries and electricity bills. The procurement of air-conditioners and computers for the Computer Science Department has been stopped,” the source said.
According to the source, the monthly expenditure of the varsity to compensate for pension and salaries stands at Rs295 million. Out of the total annual expense of the varsity, which stands at Rs5.5 billion, only Rs1.7 billion has been released to the university after the deduction of the HEC grant.
When approached, the Secretary Universities and Boards, Muhammad Riazuddin said that efforts are afoot to provide the amount to the university.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2019.