Govt Takes U-Turn on Higher Education Budget Cut After Severe Backlash

Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, has assured the Vice-Chancellors (VCs) of public universities that there will be no budget cut for the higher education sector next year.

Taking to Twitter, Ahsan termed the Finance Division’s decision to slash the Higher Education Commission (HEC) budget by 50 percent ‘ridiculous’ and assured that the HEC funding will not be curtailed.

“This is ridiculous. I want to assure all VCs and citizens that we will protect the funding of HEC. Any cut in funding of the Higher Education sector is neither thinkable nor negotiable,” Ahsan wrote on Twitter.

His remarks come days after the government hinted at reducing the HEC funding from Rs. 65 billion to Rs. 30 billion for the next fiscal year.

Earlier this week, the Finance Division issued a circular stating that the provisional Indicative Budgetary Ceiling (IBC) and revised estimates for 2021-22 are worth Rs. 65.25 billion, and budget estimates for 2022-23 for grants related to the HEC are worth Rs. 30 billion.

It directed the HEC to prepare its budget statement in accordance with stated estimations for 2022-23 and submit it to the director of the budget wing of the Finance Division for entry.

The move wasn’t well-received among the stakeholders. On Thursday, the VCs of public universities issued a collective statement, expressing their concerns over the reduced IBC for higher education.

They expressed concerns that the cut would make it impossible for universities to pay salaries and pensions let alone meet the overall expenses needed to run a university.

“The Ministry of Finance has communicated IBC of only Rs. 30 billion for higher education’s recurring grant against the rationalized demand of Rs. 104.983 billion. The allocation is 45 percent less even than the current year’s allocation (FY 2021-22) which was Rs. 66.25 billion,” the VCs said in a statement.

The Vice-Chancellors stressed that the Pakistani universities are already under enormous financial pressure because of stagnant funding in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They said that the public universities would be left with no other alternative but to increase the student fee drastically, and enhance student intake beyond capacities, adding that these repercussions will lead the sector to disaster and severely dent the quality of learning and graduates.