HEC chief urges PM to restore higher education sector’s budget

Terming 35 percent cut in budget as the biggest one in the country’s history, Chairman Higher Education Commission (HEC) Dr Tariq Banuri has appealed to the Prime Minister for restoring higher education sector’s budget as it is affecting ongoing as well as future programs.

Addressing a presser here on Tuesday, Dr Banuri said that HEC received around half of the amount it demanded the government for the fiscal year 2019-20. The HEC had demanded Rs 103.5 billion for the fiscal year 2019-20, but the government approved Rs 59 billion, and Rs 28 billion for the development sector against the demand of Rs 55 billion, he regretted.

HEC chief urges PM to restore higher education sector’s budget

He further said that all of the 120 public sector universities are not only facing quality education challenge but also financial crisis, which is not a good omen for the higher education.

He said that the HEC is in contact with the government to realize the latter importance of funding for the sector. The HEC presented its case for allocation of budget on every forum including the Prime Minister Secretariat, Ministry of Finance and cabinet, and the government promised positively in this regard.

Prime Minister Imran Khan should do something practical to fulfill his promises. He said that the HEC is in contact with the government to seek a reversal of the shortsighted policy. “Pakistan is providing the lowest level of funding to the higher education sector,” he emphasized.

Sharing the details of the 25th Vice Chancellors’ Committee meeting, Dr Banuri said that the HEC and vice chancellors agreed that students are the primary focus of the universities. The universities need to ensure that their students get the skills that will enable them to achieve success in their life. Likewise, the universities must protect the rights to safety and privacy of their students.

He said the university heads brought three agenda items for consideration including safety and security of vice chancellors, safety and security of students, and drastic cut in the higher education sector’s funding. Dr Banuri expressed his concern over recent tragic incidents in universities, stating that every student is a responsibility of the university and the HEC.

“We must ensure that students are protected, nurtured and facilitated.” He emphasized the need to set up a system which is not in place because of anyone’s negligence or inaction.

In the meeting, the vice chancellors had expressed their anxiety regarding the attack on the vice chancellor of Federal Urdu University, and floated a number of proposals regarding the challenges facing the higher education institutions. They stressed the need for ensuring the safety and security of vice chancellors.

The job of a vice chancellor is one of the most difficult tasks in Pakistan. The vice chancellors have to bear the brunt of a myriad of pressures, and need to be protected against uncivil behavior.

Dr Banuri urged the government to ensure the security of educationists. He also proposed that the university heads should formulate an academic code of conduct.

The HEC has initiated a number of programs aimed at enhancing prospects of students’ success. These include the revamping of the undergraduate curriculum and incorporation of “practical” competencies into the educational programs, in particular. These have been done in collaboration with the recently launched Kamyab Jawan Program.

Under this collaboration, internships and practical training opportunities will be created in order to facilitate student success in the job market. Secondly, an entrepreneurship program is being launched to support those who may wish to enter into business endeavors on their own. Finally, civic clubs at universities will be supported in order to build competencies in social engagement and interaction.

Furthermore, the HEC has initiated discussions with the provincial governments to revamp the system of university sports. Besides the focus on student success, the HEC has also started a review of policies regarding the protection of students’ rights. This review has been triggered in part by the recent tragic incidents in various universities. A number of policies are being developed or revised in this regard. These include the review of the HEC’s Anti-Harassment Policy 2011, with a view to addressing loopholes and strengthening review and appellate mechanisms.

Second, the HEC has adopted a policy for students with disabilities, and has begun the process of operationalizing it. Third, the HEC has issued interim guidelines on student safety and is developing more detailed guidelines. These include procedural protocols, monitoring and inspection system, backup plans, safety drills, certification, and emergency mechanisms, and are based on a consolidation of various provisions that may have been developed by the universities or other relevant institutions, and will cover all the relevant areas, including building safety, safe handling of educational equipment and materials, medical emergencies, psychological problems and counseling, drug abuse and student privacy.

The chairman emphasized the need for arranging psychological counseling to enable students to cope with stress, trauma, cyberbullying or other forms of pressures from their peers as well as seniors. This will need the preparation of clear regulations, awareness creation and capacity building, recruitment of relevant personnel (e.g. medical officers and psychological counselors) on campuses and infrastructure investment.

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