Governing universities

The estimated budget of 34 public sector universities and colleges in K-P for July-Oct 2023 is Rs9,519,941,000.

Dr Syed Akhtar Ali Shah August 23, 2023
The author is a former Secretary to Government, Home & Tribal Affairs Department and a retired IG. He holds a PhD in Political Science and currently heads a think tank ‘Good Governance Forum’. He can be reached at


The University of Peshawar remained closed for 43 days due to a strike by its employees who have come up with around 32 demands. The situation has raised serious questions about the governance of the universities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

The estimated budget of 34 public sector universities and colleges for higher education in K-P for July-Oct 2023 is: Rs6,986,168,000 for staff salaries and Rs2,533,773,000 for non-salary expenditures, thus totaling Rs9,519,941,000. This was out of the total approved budget exceeding Rs462 billion for the first four months of FY23, indicating the narrow fiscal space to cater to the expenditures under various heads.

Being a corporate body, a university is required to be self-financing, following its own financial discipline. But, hardly any university has been as such. Most of the universities rely on revenues accruing from tuition fees and grants from the provincial government and the Higher Education Commission.

Read Higher education in dire financial straits

The University of Peshawar is a case in point. Its estimated budget for FY23 included grants from federal government Rs1,590 million, grants from provincial government Rs250 million, university’s own sources Rs2,336 million, thus totaling Rs4,176 million. As against this, the estimated expenditure was Rs4,702 million, thus showing a shortfall of Rs502 million. Apart from that, the outstanding payments included pension commutation Rs351 million , arrears of 15% ad hoc relief and pension Rs248 million, arrears of 15% on account of dearness allowance Rs172 million, thus totaling Rs771 million. Increase in 30-35% in salaries will have an impact of Rs630 million, thus adding up to Rs1,401 million or Rs1.401 billion.

An inquiry report by the Provincial Inspection Team dated May 3, 2019 shows an increase in the university’s expenditure of up to Rs2.069 billion during the last 12 years — including Rs1,321 million in salaries and Rs748 million as pension liability. For the same period, the increase in government grants was only Rs792 million, showing a deficit of Rs1.277 billion. Despite the deficit, the University during this period recruited 675 teaching staff. Besides, 1,428 non-teaching staff were also recruited from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2018.

According to the mentioned report, the University had a surplus budget till 2010. But the budget started rising, gradually turning into deficit, mainly due to ceaseless appointments made by the University. The other major cause of huge deficit was the sudden increase in pension expenditure which went up to Rs270.83 million. According to the available data, 2,085 recruitments were made against all posts without proper need assessment in violation of General Financial Rules.

The University which had a total of 1,996 employees in the year 2004-05 kept creating new posts till June 30, 2018, taking the total strength of the institution to 2,975. Citing the HEC criteria, the report mentions that the existing sanctioned strength of 2,881 was in excess by 50%, leaving aside the 1,305 inductions made over and above the sanctioned strength. The report also points out that orderly allowances and others allowances were also not in accordance with the policy of the provincial government, thus aggravating the crisis.

The governance of a university largely depends on adherence to the rule of law, financial discipline and conventions. For this, the government has enacted the Universities Act, 2102 under which the universities have framed their own statutes. However, General Financial Rules, Procurement Rules and policies of the provincial rules are simultaneously applicable.

The question that arises is: why have our universities come to such a pass? The Syndicate and Senate being regulatory bodies and Vice Chancellor being the Chief Executive, under the Universities Act, are required to ensure transparency and accountability with an aim of enhancing quality of education. But these bodies could hardly achieve the aim as they are heavily comprised of university employees having a conflict of interest, while the independent members are marginalised. Even the selection of independent members is more often not up to the mark. Eligibility criteria for selection of Vice-Chancellors need to be reviewed with focus on administrative abilities and communication skills.

Universities Act, 2012 had been enacted with avowed objective to reconstitute and reorganise the universities established or to be established by the Government of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to further improve their governance and management by ensuring accountability and transparency and giving due representation to all stakeholders in the decision-making process, so as to enhance the quality of higher education in the province. Therefore, in line with the spirit of the Act, all appointments made over and above the budgeted posts should be cancelled and those responsible must be dealt with under Efficiency and Discipline Rules. All audit paras not settled so far must be implemented and responsible elements must be dealt with in accordance with relevant provisions of the disciplinary law.

Some other measures include: stopping the opening of new departments till the existing departments are fully strengthened; allowing admissions to MPhil and PhD only after getting approval from the HEC and accreditation from the respective bodies; cancelling all admissions not carried out under the semester rules and guidelines of the HEC; setting key performance indicators for vice-chancellors and each unit of the university; allocating 40% budget for Research and Development; and developing linkages with industries and markets.

Above all, performance audit by a reputed firm meeting international benchmarks should be regularly done. Gross failures must be accounted for and all misdeeds placed under the carpet should be brought to the surface. Adherence to the legal framework and merit which are the hallmark of good governance must be ensured. While all said and done, the findings of the Provincial Inspection Team and the Governor’s Inspection Team must be taken seriously and implemented.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2023.

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