ISLAMABAD: The expectations of university vice chancellors on the enhancement in allocation of funds for the higher education sector almost died down after Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafiz Shaikh on Monday refrained from committing a raise in the budget.
Shaikh was invited as chief guest at the inaugural session of the 10th Vice Chancellors Committee meeting, organised by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) held in Islamabad.
VCs and rectors of over 130 universities are participating in the two-day meeting.
The finance minister said that education should be dealt on a provincial basis and since the federal government transfers almost 70% resources to the provinces every month, they should contribute to this sector.
At the same time, the minister also suggested exploring other avenues for generating resources including Public-Private Partnership and optimum use of the existing infrastructure rather than wasting resources on building new ones.
He said that the universities must attract investment from the private sector to meet their expenses. “We must sit and think together as to how we can better use the available resources,” he said.
The minister agreed to create funds for scholarships for the needy students as well as developing a liaison between banks and universities for introducing student loan programmes.
Shaikh said that no other department would be given preference over higher education in terms of financing and that its allocation would be released at all costs.
He emphasised on imparting quality education. “Degrees do matter and should matter, but in the real world, most of the degrees do not matter. We should ensure that our primary focus is on quality education.”
The finance minister said that excellence must be acknowledged and awarded to promote quality education. “Before a student takes admission in any programme, they must know the potential of that course. He added that the universities should have a mechanism for measuring and rewarding excellence and there should be a difference between performers and non-performers.
Chairperson HEC Dr Javaid R Laghari gave an overview of the higher education sector in Pakistan. He said that the modern university – with its mix of teaching, innovation and research – is different from the universities of the past that only served as teaching grounds.
“By introducing innovation, creativity and interdisciplinary research as a vital component of teaching, and with knowledge exchange programmes, the university contributes more directly to the economy and society than any other institution,” he said.
Vice Chancellors Committee Chairman and VC Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa University of Engineering and Technology Syed Imtiaz Hussain Gillani said that this committee was a realistic forum for the formulation of higher education policy. He emphasised that the budget for higher education should be four per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Referring to the ever-shrinking budget for higher education, he said that vice chancellors are the powerhouse and think tanks which must come up with actionable solutions to our problems.
“We need to do this collectively as one institution. No doubt, public universities are doing a commendable job in difficult times. We should strengthen people’s trust and define in these two days where we want to go,” he said.
Quaid-e-Azam University VC Dr Masoom Yasinzai said that the government should develop a mechanism defining how universities could use their properties to generate funds.
A number of VCs pointed out that they were always short on funds even for the disbursement of salaries to their employees and allocation for HEC should be enhanced by the federal government rather referring issues to provinces as the subject of HEC still remained with the centre.