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VCs of the 60 Public-Sector Universities in the Country are meeting on Feb 9 200

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VCs of the 60 Public-Sector Universities in the Country are meeting on Feb 9 2009 under the umbrella of the HEC

VCs to rack up ideas to cure economic ills: HEC meeting on 9th

Lahore: Vice-chancellors of the 60 public-sector universities in the country are meeting on Feb 9 (Monday) under the umbrella of the Higher Education Commission to finalise a strategy to cope with the 'financial crunch' the institutes have been facing for the last several months.

The meeting, scheduled to be held in Islamabad, will be presided over by Vice-Chancellors' Committee chairman Dr Mazharul Haq Siddiqui.

According to a senior official of the HEC, the meeting has only one-point agenda, that is, how to come out of the financial crisis after a substantial cut in the HEC grants by the government. The meeting, he said, would discuss as to how the varsities should explore the possibilities to generate funds from their own resources, especially through self-finance programmes or even fee enhancement, curtailing expenditure, approaching donor community and not initiating any new project.

In the wake of the financial crunch, a number of development projects of the varsities have already come to halt.

Expressing its inability to provide any further funding, the HEC has told the varsities in black and white that the finance ministry had not given any commitment to even release recurring and development funds budgeted for the current financial year.

"For the next financial year we have been asked to tentatively consider a 10 per cent increase in recurring grants and zero per cent in development grants. Therefore, the commission will hardly be in a position to fund the legitimate demands of the varsities," it said.

The HEC maintained that the proposed budget for higher education would reduce the inflation adjusted 'real' funds available to the institutions. "Considering that the universities have been forced to borrow at exorbitant interest rates to meet liabilities in the current financial year, it is clear that tough times lie ahead."

The HEC said: "For the past four years it had been working towards getting a US $300 million (0.5 per cent) 30-year financing from the World Bank for budgetary support. In spite of meeting all technical requirements for the loan demanded due to a lack of release of funds from the government for higher education, this financing has been jeopardised.

"The World Bank has expressed severe reservations in funding a sub-sector of the economy that does not have the required budgetary support of the government."

The commission further informed the varsities that the most crucial task was to protect the investment they had already made in different projects. "Our most precious investment is the faculty development and we have to develop faculty positions on Tenure Track System to the returning scholars. This will be our biggest challenge since it takes five years to develop one PhD level faculty member and if we are unable to absorb them in our varsities then the entire investment would essentially yield no returns to the higher education sector." Dawn