Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Federal govt indicates cutting HEC budget by half

The former PTI government had already slashed the Higher Education Commission budget during its tenure

Representational image for budget cut. —
Representational image for budget cut. —
  • Newly established federal government proposes cutting education by more than half to Rs30 billion.
  • The former PTI government had already slashed the budget.
  • HEC authorities, on the other hand, have sought 100 billion rupees to cover expenses.

KARACHI: Instead of boosting the Higher Education Commission's budget, which was already slashed by the PTI government, the newly established federal government has proposed cutting it by more than half to Rs30 billion for the fiscal year 2022–23, compared to the previous allocation of Rs65.25 billion.

The provisional indicative budgetary ceiling and revised estimates for 2021-22 are worth Rs65,250 million, according to a circular published by the Finance Division, The News reported Wednesday, while the budget projections for grants relating to the HEC are around Rs30,000 million.

The HEC has been asked to compile a budget statement in conformity with the specified budget for 2022-23 and submit it to the Finance Division's director budget wing for entry. HEC authorities, on the other hand, sought Rs100 billion to cover expenses and ensure that research initiatives at public universities run smoothly.

The HEC officials say that the PTI government had already minimised the HEC budget due to which varsities across the country were facing a severe financial crunch. Therefore, a further cut in the budget will monetarily paralyse higher education in the country as majority of varsities have no capacity to generate funding for annual expenditures.

A top HEC official told the publication that the commission would be unable to provide grants to all state-run universities from the proposed provisional indicative budgetary ceiling and estimated budget for 2022-23. It is not enough to run even the affairs of the commission and at the same time keep research projects going at varsities. However, the commission will have the only option to entertain the universities being operated by the federal government, leaving aside the varsities that come under the jurisdiction of the provincial governments.

What's the current status?

According to the HEC statistics, about 150 public sector universities are functioning in the country. Funding is being provided to 38 research entities, including 12 centres of excellence, eight other centres (including five associated with the HEJ), six area study centres, six institutes, and six Pakistan study centres. In addition to this, 12 centres of advanced studies were funded under development projects.

Academics say that slashing the HEC budget will be more problematic. The varsities will be forced to halt ongoing development projects, research activities and hiring of new faculty members to meet the expenses. Likewise, the students will bear the burden of a three to fourfold hike in tuition fees by next year.

Similarly, they would have no choice apart from firing cooperative teachers and reducing the pension amounts of retired professors and staffers. The varsities will also be forced to close various departments and stop introducing new courses.

The PTI-led federal government, while presenting its third budget, had raised the higher education budget up to Rs15 billion from the budget it presented in 2020. As per the budget documents, the total allocation for higher education, including development and non-development, was Rs108 billion, including Rs42.2 billion for development and Rs66.25 billion for the non-development expenditure of the HEC.

There are around 127 ongoing and 39 new development schemes, which were included in the development budget of Rs42.4 billion. There was a demand for a huge increase in the HEC budget by universities for the last couple of years.

Although the government had increased the development budget, there was no serious increase in the non-development budget, which is used for the salaries of employees of the HEC and universities.

For the fiscal year 2020-21, the government had allocated Rs64.1 billion, and for 2021-22 the government had allocated Rs66.25 billion. The HEC budget was Rs63.1 billion in 2017-18, Rs65.02 billion in 2018-19, and Rs64.1 billion in 2019-20. The same allocation of Rs64.1 billion in 2020-21 means the budget remained almost stagnant.