LAHORE: Public sector universities across the country suspended on Wednesday all academic activities in protest against the government’s decision to slash recurring grants and its refusal to release funds for meeting a raise in salary of employees.
All academic associations under the banner of Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Associations (FAPUASA) held demonstrations in almost all universities in the country, including Azad Kashmir. They urged the federal government to release funds to allow universities to continue their academic, research and expansion activities. It has been learnt that over 90 per cent of the universities are unable to pay the raise in salary and have been urging the government to provide additional grants. A massive cut of Rs6.8 billion in the budget has led to stoppage of almost all development projects in universities.
Officials said that the government had diverted resources from all sectors to rehabilitation of flood-affected people, but the FAPUASA officials contended the decisions to reduce grants and not to pay additional funds for the increased salary had been made much before the flood. The discontinuation of funds will also affect the National Education Policy’s goal of developing infrastructure and human resources to triple the enrolment in universities.
The FAPUASA had started protesting against the financial cut soon after the announcement of federal budget in June, but toned it down after floods. The FAPUASA president, Prof Dr Mahr Saeed Akhtar, announced that universities across the country would observe a one-hour academic boycott on Thursday. He said the federation’s executive body would hold a meeting in Islamabad on Friday and stage a demonstration in front of National Assembly on Saturday.
Prof Akhtar said that for the first time all vice-chancellors had supported the stance taken by the federation. He alleged that the government was not committed to promoting education because it was funding ‘self-projection’ initiatives and depriving the universities of their share. He said the universities needed Rs10 billion to continue academic activities and carry out development projects.
In reply a question about the constitution of a committee by the prime minister to look into the matter, Prof Akhtar said it was an exercise in futility. “It is a very simple issue and can be resolved if the federal government releases the already pledged funds to the Higher Education Commission and give additional funds to meet 50pc pay raise and 15pc medical allowance.” He said the shortage of funds would force universities to suspend faculty and human resources development projects and affect investment made in the higher education sector over the past 10 years.
The protest gained momentum after statements by the ministers of finance and education. Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh had told vice-chancellors that the funds pledged to universities and for the higher education sector would not be released. He asked the universities to raise fees to generate resources.
Education Minister Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali had accused the teachers’ community of using students to get their salary raised.
The Punjab University Academic Staff Association and Engineering University Teaching Staff Association jointly staged a demonstration outside the Lahore Press Club. Faculty members of all public sector universities in Islamabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Karachi, Bahawalpur, Multan, Faisalabad and Gujrat also boycotted academic activities and brought out processions.
Faculty members of the Karachi University passed a resolution demanding immediate release of funds, abolition of the Higher Education Commission and an unconditional apology from the finance minister and former HEC chairperson for making offensive remarks against public sector universities.
Teachers of Islamia University in Bahawalpur boycotted classes and observed a black day by wearing black armbands.
Prof Dr Mujahid Kamran, Punjab University’s Vice-Chancellor, said that big universities with massive infrastructure and resources might survive, but the small and new universities had no resources to generate funds.
A nine-member committee, led by the Planning Commission’s Nadeem-ul-Haq will hold a meeting on Thursday. The outcome of the meeting will determine the future course of action by the FAPUASA.