Sustainable Universities

The limited funding in Pakistan has resulted in slower growth and development within its higher education sector.

Pakistan’s universities are facing a severe financial crisis. With stagnant or low funding for higher education and a high inflation rate, these institutions are struggling to maintain quality, expand infrastructure, and retain qualified faculty. In contrast, other Islamic and South Asian countries have made various strides in higher education funding, showcasing models that Pakistan could learn from. Addressing these financial challenges requires comprehensive reforms, focusing on sustainable funding mechanisms, effective governance, and merit-based appointments.

In Pakistan, the number of recognized universities has increased to 264, with 139 regional campuses across the country. The high inflation, low budget allocations, and fewer incentives have affected the functioning of both public and private sector universities.

The financial woes of Pakistan’s public sector universities stem from several factors. The recurring budget for the higher education sector has remained stagnant over the years, with minimal increases that do not match inflation rates or the growing needs of universities. Operational costs, including salaries, utilities, and maintenance, have escalated without corresponding increases in funding. Public universities largely rely on government grants, with limited income from tuition fees, research grants, and private-sector partnerships.

Pakistan’s spending on education, particularly higher education, has been relatively low compared to other South Asian and Islamic countries. According to the recent Economic Survey of Pakistan, Pakistan allocates about 1.5% of its GDP to education, which is below the recommended 4-6% by UNESCO. In contrast, countries like India and Bangladesh spend approximately 4-5% of their GDP on education. This disparity reflects in the quality and accessibility of education in Pakistan, with challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, insufficient teaching staff, and limited research opportunities being prevalent.

When focusing on higher education, the situation remains concerning. Pakistan’s expenditure on higher education is around 0.25% of its GDP, which is significantly lower than countries like Malaysia and Turkey, which spend approximately 1-1.5% of their GDP. These higher investments in other nations translate into better-equipped universities, more research funding, and improved academic outcomes. The limited funding in Pakistan has resulted in slower growth and development within its higher education sector, impacting the country’s overall educational advancement and economic progress. Due to the severe financial crisis, some of the leading public sector universities are even unable to pay salaries and pensions timely. Most of the recurring budget is being spent on salaries, pensions, and utilities. It is very difficult to spare funding for research. Due to these financial issues, it has become another challenge to retain qualified faculty. Some of the qualified and experienced faculty members have already opted for jobs at foreign universities abroad.

Merit-based appointments through transparent and competitive processes are crucial for the effective functioning and sustainability of higher education institutions, including federal and provincial Higher Education Commissions and universities. Appointing qualified individuals based on merit ensures that leadership and faculty possess the necessary expertise and experience to drive academic excellence and innovation. Merit-based appointments also promote a culture of accountability and transparency, reducing instances of nepotism and favoritism, which can lead to inefficiencies and corruption. During the selection process, weight should also be given to leadership qualities and expertise in fundraising. Ad hoc appointments have also affected the functioning of universities. The earliest appointments of more than sixty-five regular Vice Chancellors, especially in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, should be ensured through a merit-based mechanism.

A significant increase in the higher education budget is required to match inflation and the growing needs of universities. This can be achieved through effective lobbying and highlighting the long-term benefits of investing in higher education. Universities should explore alternative revenue sources and establish endowment funds where alumni and philanthropists can contribute. These funds can be used for scholarships, research, and capital projects.

Policy reforms need to be introduced that prioritize higher education funding and establish frameworks for sustainable financial practices in universities. There is a dire need to review the decision of announcing new universities, especially in the public sector. The new universities should be established under public-private partnerships. The Punjab government, during the recent cabinet meeting, agreed to establish universities under a public-private partnership and facilitate the private sector in this regard. The university faculty should be encouraged to undertake projects with the industry and corporate sector. For enhancing facilities at the university campuses like cafeterias and hostels, the BoT model (build, operate, and transfer) should be encouraged as it has been successfully implemented by COMSATS University Lahore Campus and University of Sargodha. The vast land of public sector universities should be utilized for commercial purposes. As about 88% of recognized universities are provincially chartered, provincial governments should also meet the recurring and development expenditures of the universities. Alumni can be another important source for fundraising, especially establishing endowment funds, offering scholarships, and strengthening existing facilities.

The financial crisis in Pakistan’s universities requires urgent and comprehensive solutions. By increasing government funding, diversifying revenue streams, implementing cost-effective measures, promoting public-private partnerships, and ensuring merit-based appointments, Pakistan can make its universities sustainable and competitive on a global scale. Learning from the experiences of other Islamic and South Asian countries can provide valuable insights into effective higher education funding and governance strategies.

Muhammad Murtaza Noor
The writer is analyst, writer and higher education expert.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt