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Govt Varsities’ Fate Hangs in Balance


Dr Lubna Zaheer

Alarming news involving the government universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has sent a wave of shock in the education sector of the country. There are reports that the government universities in the province are suffering from a severe financial crunch as the liabilities of universities have increased from Rs6 billion and the fiscal deficit has exceeded Rs1.77bn. We hear that there are half a dozen universities in which administrative affairs have been suspended and several others have, for the past several months, been unable to pay the salaries of teachers and other staff.

In the backdrop of this financial crisis, the sword of closure is hanging over not less than 20 public universities. This situation is not new in KP. A few years ago, when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was in power in the province and at the centre, there was a time when many universities were on the brink of bankruptcy. Some universities approached banks for loans but the banks flatly refused to give them loans. This means that public universities have been under constant financial pressure for many years, but no concrete strategy has yet been devised to deal with and come out of this situation.

Now look at the universities in Balochistan to find worse situation there as well. The public sector universities  have been facing financial difficulties for the past several years. For the past several months, the teachers of Balochistan University, a well-known teaching institution of the province, have been protesting on the streets for the justification of non-payment of their salaries. Some time ago, Balochistan University had to be closed for several months due to non-payment of salaries. Even today the situation is critical. There is a ban on protests within the Jamia, so the teachers are sitting outside the varsity. After assuming the post of the chief minister, Sarfraz Bugti had announced that he would help the universities to get out of the financial pressure. Probably a one-time grant was also announced. However, no permanent and long-term solution has yet emerged.

However, the situation in the universities of Sindh and Punjab appear relatively better with financial pressure there as well. A few days ago, I had a conversation with the vice chancellors of some government universities of Punjab on this subject. They complained of hardships in maintaining a balance between income and expenditure. In the last days of each month, when it comes to paying salaries, the varsities have to juggle regularly. Old universities are more expensive than new ones and the reason is that they have to bear the heavy burden of paying the pension along with the salaries. Successive governments announce increases in salaries and pensions in the annual budget, but no increase in university funding. So the universities have to bear the entire burden of the government announcement.

Of course, this did not happen overnight. It took months or perhaps years for public universities to reach this point of decline. There will be some concrete reasons for this situation. We have a custom that every bad and negative deed is blamed on governments and politicians. Of course, governments are also responsible for this situation of universities. But is there any responsibility imposed on the heads of universities and other officials as well or not? The answer is definitely yes. When a knowledgeable and experienced person is given the responsibility of the vice chancellor, it is his duty to stabilize the institution financially and take it on the path of independence instead of lamenting the situation. Of course, we have had and still have very active vice chancellors. However, there were (and are) those who are more concerned about their publicity than performance. And some of those who spend most of their time promoting their personal relations. In such a situation, how can universities move forward?

In this  context, it’s important that when we cry about the financial deterioration of universities, we should also mention bad governance. For example, about a year ago, a high-level investigation committee was established regarding Balochistan University. The committee examined how the university reached this situation. After the investigation, it was found that there were clashes and unnecessary recruitments and postings. This process increased the financial pressure on the university. It was also found that the rules and regulations were not followed in the process of appointments and promotions. Incompetent people were rewarded handsomely. In addition, there were signs of many illegal activities. This means that organizations do not reach the brink of destruction just like that, the people in the institutions are also part of this disaster.

Governments cannot be acquitted in this whole episode. After the 18th Constitutional amendment, the education department was transferred to the provinces. In this situation, it was (and is) the responsibility of the provincial governments more than the federal government to help the public universities become independent by providing adequate funds. Although the provincial governments provided funds to universities in their provinces according to their capacity, none of the provinces made this issue a top priority. The result is that no permanent solution could be found to the financial problems of the universities till date.

Now let’s keep the financial aspect aside. The priorities of the governments could be judged from the fact that dozens of universities across the country are running without permanent vice chancellors. But the rulers who are busy with other issues do not have time for these appointments. This situation is not new either. Even 10 years ago, the government’s priorities were the same. Currently, 24 public sector universities of KP are deprived of permanent VCs. There are eight universities which have been running without a vice chancellor for the last one year. More than 25 universities of Punjab are deprived of permanent VCs. Imagine that the oldest university of the subcontinent — University of the Punjab — has not been able to appoint the VC  for a year.

Of course, the responsibility also falls on those who reach the courts to get a stay as soon as the placement process starts. However, there must be a permanent and timely solution to this burning issue. Similarly, it is learned that its has been over two years Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University is without the VC and lacks senior teachers and professors. The entire university is run by part-time and junior teachers. How could universities be ‘effectively’ run in the prevailing circumstances? Inna Lillah Winna Illya Rajiyun

Dr Lubna Zaheer


— The author is an academician and political analyst

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lahore Mirror