In a crucial meeting held in Islamabad, the vice-chancellors of the five public sector universities of Azad Jammu and Kashmir called on Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, and expressed their concerns regarding financial, administrative, and other pressing issues of the institutions of higher learning in the region.
During the meeting, the vice-chancellors unanimously conveyed to the HEC chairman that implementing the recent federal government budget’s 30 and 35 percent salary increase for employees would be impractical for the universities. Acknowledging challenges faced by the universities, Dr Mukhtar Ahmed assured the vice-chancellors that HEC was committed to addressing these issues as a priority.
He informed the vice-chancellors that the allocation for the recurring budget of higher education in the fiscal year 2023-24 amounts to Rs 67 billion, while an additional Rs 70 billion have been allocated for the development projects. The grant being provided to HEC by the federal government is Rs 67 billion since 2017 while salaries and allowances have increased almost 100 percent over the past six years.
‘Implementing federal budget’s salary increase for employees would be impractical for AJK universities’
Now it has become nearly impossible for the universities to meet their operational expenses with the current allocation. Highlighting the financial difficulties faced by universities nationwide, Dr Mukhtar Ahmed mentioned that on the request of HEC, the Baluchistan government has already provided a grant of four to five billion rupees to support universities in the province.
Similar recommendations have been made to the Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments, urging them to address the financial constraints faced by the universities in their respective provinces. Moreover, HEC has appealed to Punjab and the Azad Kashmir governments to prioritize and allocate resources from their budgets to alleviate the financial burden on universities within their jurisdiction.
Due to the 18th constitutional amendment, the HEC chairman said that the responsibility of funding the higher education sector now lies with the provincial governments. Consequently, the Federal Ministry of Finance is unable to directly provide funding to the universities located other than the federal territory. Letters have been dispatched to the governments of all four provinces, including Azad Kashmir, awaiting their response.
Dr Mukhtar Ahmed emphasized that provincial governments must utilize their budgets to provide financial assistance to the universities within their jurisdiction, as there were no alternative avenues available since the passage of the constitutional amendment. The meeting was attended by Prof Dr Muhamamd Kaleem Abbasi, Dr Muhammad Younis Javed, Prof Dr Zakaria Zakir, and Prof Dr Abdul Hameed.
Azad Jammu and Kashmir has five public sector universities, including University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Muzaffarabad, Mirpur University of Science and Technology in Mirpur, University of Poonch in Rawalkot, and the Women University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Bagh.