A Senate panel on Thursday expressed strong concerns over the cut in funding for the higher education sector. Instead, it recommended an increase in budgets as per the sector’s requirement.
Moreover, it promised to raise the matter in the next sitting of the Senate.
The Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology meeting with Senator Rubina Khalid in the chair at the Higher Education Commission (HEC) secretariat in Islamabad to discuss internet connectivity problems and other online learning impediments faced by students in the remote areas of the country.
HEC Chairman Tariq Banuribriefed the committee on the steps taken by the commission to put in place a Learning Management System (LMS) in higher education institutions.
With the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) forcing higher education institutions to close, the HEC chief said that they have been actively trying to minimise the disruption to educational activities.
In this regard, he highlighted that there are two main issues, that a majority of the faculty did not have experience of online teaching and that students are facing internet connectivity issues.
To resolve the first part, he said that they were trying to train faculty members to improve the quality of their lectures and virtual teaching methodologies.
To resolve the issue of poor internet connection, Dr Banuri said that the commission has been in contact with telecommunication companies through the Ministry of information technology (MoIT) and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to ensure internet connectivity for students through subsidised internet packages.
“HEC is putting additional efforts to ensure facilitation of internet-deprived children,” he said, adding that the HEC has also proposed that the government establish data centres in different areas so that students may access information.
Moreover, the HEC provided universities with detailed policy guidelines on conducting entrance examinations, laboratory work, and other essential academic activities.
Vice-chancellors underlined the measures taken to promote e-learning and online classes through the LMS. They also pointed out the hardships universities are facing, especially in terms of paying salaries to staff and meeting other expenses due to the recent cut in funds to the HEC.
PTA representatives briefed the committee of the efforts to ensure internet connectivity and the required gadgets.
Universal Service Fund (USF) officials also informed the committee about the different projects in remote areas to ensure access to the internet there.
Expressing concerns over financial hardships faced by universities, Senator Khalid stressed the need for immediately increasing funding for the higher education sector to make education affordable and accessible to all.
She vowed that the panel will take up the issue in the next Senate meeting.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2020.