Financial woes haunt varsities, says VC
Hyderabad, June 21: Financial constraints being faced by Sindh's public sector universities is likely to force their administrations to seek an overdraft of Rs4 billion in the current fiscal, besides the huge sums these owe since last couple of years for running their affairs.
The government has been asked to exempt education sector from the General Sales Tax and other levies.
The overdraft amount would help in meeting increase in salaries, medical allowance and pension during 2010-11. Other than this, universities also need finances to complete their pending development works.
A meeting of all vice-chancellors was held on Saturday at the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, Jamshoro. It was held under chairmanship of Dr Prizada Qasim, Vice-Chancellor of the Karachi University on the directives of Sindh governor as a follow up to June 16, Karachi meeting.
Briefing journalists, Dr Pirzada said that issues such as adequate grants, overdue promotions of faculty members, financial constraints and fallouts, if funding was not allowed, came under discussion.
He said universities urgently need funds for increasing salaries, pensions and other allowances, reminding journalists that such an announcement in 2007-08 was also met through an overdraft facility. However, other proposals were also discussed which would be put before the governor on June 21, meeting, he said.
Grants are provided for development and recurring expenditure. Development funds had been frozen but the government was being persuaded to assist at least the ongoing projects as these were delayed because of escalation cost, he added.
"We realize that the government was confronted with a host of economic issues but then there are always priorities to every agenda," he said adding that universities in last fiscal received half of the announced allocation but still a decision have been made not to hike tuition fee for meeting increasing expenditures.
Standards of projects funded by the Higher Education Commission have improved considerably because of the procurement of equipment and instruments and upgrading libraries on scientific lines, he said.
He expressed concern over teacher-student ratio and announced of increasing salaries of employees from August 1.
The meeting was attended by the vice-chancellors of Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, University of Sindh, Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences, Quaid-i-Awam University, Sindh Agriculture University, Shah Abdul Latif University, NED University, Director Sukkur IBA and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Dow University.
KU research centres fate uncertain
Karachi: While a massive cut in the Higher Education Commission (HEC) budget has raised serious concern at public sector varsities across the country, the utility of costly research facilities is also being questioned. Operation of such facilities set up on campuses requires huge funds, which are neither forthcoming from the HEC nor available with the universities.
According to senior teachers, the research facilities, which have been developed without adequate homework, are now a burden on cash-starved public sector educational institutions. They also criticise the HEC, which, they say, provided billions of rupees to varsities without giving much thought to the viability of development projects.
Two major examples cited in this regard are the National Centre for Proteomics and the Institute for Sustainable Halophyte Utilisation (ISHU) at Karachi University, which need recurring grants of Rs55.621 million and Rs51.271 million, respectively. Requests for the funds have been forwarded to the HEC.
According to budget documents, the university spent around Rs50 million on chemical and glassware and Rs54 million for research and survey during the financial year 2009-10.
This means that the university has to ignore the research needs of all its other departments in order to make the two research centres fully functional next year. While the amount required for the ISHU has been mentioned under a separate head in the budget documents, there is no specific reference to the amount required by the centre for proteomics.
The research facilities also draw criticism on the grounds that they are taking away the funds required for other departments of basic sciences, which had been ignored in development projects over the years for some unspecified reasons.
Giving HEC's perspective on the issue, HEC member for operation and planning Dr Mukhtar Ahmed said that the institutes were part of Karachi University and the latter had to make them operational from its own resources.
"The responsibility to run a viable and sustainable project rests with universities. The HEC's job is only to facilitate this. On our part, we have always told them not to expand their liabilities for the sake of expansion," he said.
Currently, he pointed out, there were two major issues confronting universities; firstly, a huge cut in development grant and secondly, the adjustment of 50 per cent raise in salaries of their staff from their own resources as per government instructions.
"Adjusting a 50 per cent raise in salaries is no small issue. While institutions as old as the KU might be able to manage the situation, it will be extremely difficult for the newer institutions to do that."
Besides, he said, despite a request made for the grant of Rs30 billion for development, the government committed Rs15.8 billion only during the new fiscal year in a situation when the HEC was already facing a deficit of Rs11 billion.
"This will affect not only the 250 development projects, which are already in progress, at various universities across the country, but also around 9,000 students, who are studying here and in other countries on scholarships," he said, adding that the HEC spent Rs10 billion solely on scholarships.
To sort out the issue, he said that a meeting would soon be convened with the vice-chancellors of various universities. He explained: "We will prioritise development projects and focus only those that are near completion. The pace of work on the remaining projects would be slowed down. Universities might have to face the problem of delayed payments to contractors," he added.
Initiated in September 2004, the National Centre for Proteomics (the term is a blend of protein and genome) was expected to be completed in September 2006. However, the project, developed under the Public Sector Development Programme, is still unfinished and its completion date has been extended to December 2010. The total amount approved by the HEC is Rs169.5 million.
So far, an amount of Rs113 million has been spent on costly equipment and building that is almost complete. The project was inaugurated in 2008. No meeting of the boards of studies and governors has so far been called and a coursework for MS programme is yet to be approved, according to its director Prof (Dr) Shamshad Zarina.
When asked about the causes of delay in project's completion, Dr Zarina said that the delay was not unusual in government settings and was due to water and power problems. "We have the most modern equipment available for protein analysis at the centre for which we require an uninterrupted supply of electricity. This has been possible only this year. However, we are very much on the move despite these constraints. Three people contracted under the project are being sent abroad for training while a student has already completed her PhD in Sweden. Researchers have also come from other countries to train people here."
In reply to a query about the logic of introducing a new discipline and whether expertise on the subject is available, she said proteomics had gained popularity in recent years and become a competitive field of research. "If we want to compete with the world, we will have to venture into new fields. Though proteins are involved everywhere, we are focusing on the role of protein in health and disease."
"I have a competent team and I myself have done researches on related subjects. The meetings of the boards of studies and governors will soon be called once the coursework of masters' programme is prepared," she said, adding that the centre required time and money to establish itself before start generating income for the university.
She expressed the hope that the required funds would be made available.
Loss of public money?
Established with an investment of about Rs36 million in the first phase, the ISHU has achieved certain successes in research over the last few years and has been chosen to be the first chair on halophytes by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). Trials at the institute have shown the recovery of edible oil from certain halophytic species and also their successful use as fodder.
The institute has been facing lack of finances over the past years and efforts are being made to seek monetary support from local and foreign agencies.
The second phase of the ISHU project has been pending because of lack of funds.
ISHU project director Dr Ajmal Khan said: "We have been waiting for a response to our request regarding funds from the HEC for the last three years. Whatever little recurring grant is being provided by the KU is absolutely not enough to run the institute even at half of its capacity. The operation and repair of the state-of-the-art equipment installed here require a lot of money. The entire investment will go down the drain if the government doesn't provide any immediate support."
Regarding the university's priorities in expenditures, KU pro vice chancellor Dr Shahana Urooj Kazmi said that the university would first fulfil the requirements of departments of basic sciences. "These institutes have limited research funding from the HEC for small projects and they are also trying to explore alternative sources for monetary support. But, yes, for a bigger amount, there are problems. I believe, good planning is vital for the success of any project," she said when asked whether any prior planning was done before the launch of these projects.
'No botanical survey ever done in country'
Karachi: Pakistan is losing its flora at an alarming rate. It has the second highest rate of deforestation in the world, and studies suggest it would lose all naturally grown trees within 15 years if no mass-scale conservation efforts were put in place.The awareness of plant significance in government circles may be gauged from the fact that there is no department in the country that works for plant protection. Hence, no botanical survey has ever been carried out in the country's history.
An authentic red data book on plants has never been produced and no importance has ever been attached to plant conservation while declaring an area protected.
These were some of the important points highlighted by noted botanist Prof Dr Mohammad Qaiser at a seminar on conservation of biodiversity held in the arts auditorium of Karachi University on Thursday.
Dr Qaiser is the vice-chancellor of the Federal Urdu University for Arts, Science and Technology and also the co-editor of Flora of Pakistan. The book carrying scientific details of all the indigenous flowering plant species of the country is the first comprehensive work on the subject.
Giving his presentation on floral diversity of Pakistan, Dr Qaiser said the country blessed with some of the highest peaks in the world, glaciers and a 1,050-kilometre-long coastline was a land of contrasts in many respects. This diversity in geographical conditions had given birth to a huge variety in flora and fauna.
A numerical analysis of Pakistan's flora, he said, had shown that there were 221 flowering families and 5,700 flowering species. Of them, 65 per cent families were represented by fewer than 10 per cent species and about 405 species were endemic.
"The country could be divided into four regions according to the geographic distribution of plant species of which the most rich in terms of floral biodiversity is the Irano-Turanian region that include Gilgit-Baltistan, parts of Kashmir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. It has the bulk of floral species, that is, 45.6 per cent of the total floral species," he said.
Referring to deforestation, he said Pakistan had the second highest rate of deforestation after Brazil in the world and it was annually losing four to six per cent of woody biomass.
"It is claimed that 4.5 to 4.7 per cent of the total land mass in the country is covered by forests. But there is no ground survey to support that claim. Studies, however, suggest that Pakistan with this current rate of forest depletion would lose all its naturally grown trees in 10 to 15 years," he said.
Regarding strategies for plant conservation, he said there was a dire need to carry out a botanical survey of the whole country to determine the actual status of all plant species.
"Priority should be given to endemic species in conservation. Researches have shown that a majority of the over 50 endemic species found in the northern areas and Sindh are critically endangered. There is a dire need to protect these plants and carry out monitoring of vegetation," he said.
No conservation effort, however, could be successful if local communities were not involved and a sustainable solution to their financial problems was not found, he added.
Speaking on the impact of climate change, Dr Moazzam Ali Khan of the Institute of Environmental Studies said the impact of the phenomenon would be severe in coming years on Pakistan, already facing a number of challenges.
Giving some statistics on Sindh, he said: "The 1996-2000 data has shown that the average rainfall has declined 10 to 15 per cent and the frequency of draught has increased. The underground and surface water resources are depleting fast with the increasing pollution.
There has been 50 per cent reduction in crop yield over the years in Sindh and farmers have been forced to change crop pattern. About 5,670,000 hectares have been lost to sea. The 17 major creeks have virtually turned into saline creeks as there has been drastic decline in freshwater release over the years. The freshwater flow downstream the Kotri barrage has decreased from 150 million acres feet in 1955 to less than 2MAF."
These conditions, he said, would get severe in coming years and had already started creating socio-economic problems.
"The poor are facing numerous hardships, many of whom have been forced to migrate to urban areas. Studies have shown that wheat consumption has gone down in Pakistan as people earlier taking three meals a day are now surviving on two meals."
Prof Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, the KU vice-chancellor; Prof Shahana Urooj Kazmi, pro-vice-chancellor; Dr Pirzada Jamal Siddiqui and Dr Anjum Perveen also spoke.
The Centre for Plant Conservation, the Centre of Excellence in Marine Biology, the Institute of Environmental Studies, the Institute of Marine Sciences and the departments of marine sciences, microbiology and zoology had jointly organised the event. Dawn
Promotions and postings in Education Department
Karachi: In a notification issued on Saturday, Chief Secretary Sindh Fazal-ur-Rehman ordered promotion of a number bureaucrats at the Education Department.
According to the notification NoSOI(SGA&D)-1/8/2010 (20) dated on June 17, Deputy District Officer Education, SEMIS and Planning, Abu Nasir Abro has been promoted to grade-19.
He has also been transferred and posted as the District Officer (DO), Education, SEMIS and Planning CDGK. The notification further said that the former DO, Hamid Karim, has been transferred and directed to report at the Education and Literacy Department.
Meanwhile, Shakeel Ahmed Shaikh, Deputy Director, Directorate of Planning and Development, Education and Literacy Department, after being promoted to grade-19, has been given the post of Additional Director at the same office.
Moreover, former Additional Director of the said office, Dilawar Ali Mangi, has been transferred and posted as District Officer, Education, SEMIS and Planning, District Government Tando Allah Yar, against a post that had been vacant previously.
The notification further said that Tahseen Ahmed Soomro (BS-19), Deputy DO, Education, SEMIS and Planning, District Government Sukkur, has been transferred and posted as DO, Education, at the same office. The post had also been vacant prior to Soomro's positing.
Furthermore, Additional Director, Directorate of Literacy and Non-formal Education, Education and Literacy Department, Ghulam Muhammad Pathan (BS-19), has been transferred and posted as DO, Education, SEMIS and Planning, District Government, Hyderabad.
Guiding students towards better education options
Karachi: On Saturday, scores of students availed the opportunity of applying to universities and receiving career counseling by visiting The News Education Expo organised by the Jang Media Group.
The two-day event which is being held at the Expo Centre will culminate on Sunday. A number of the country's major universities and colleges have participated, including Preston University, Iqra University, Fast-NU, Hamdard University and Baqai University.
According to Sadiq Abbas, an official of The News, around 40 educational institutes have set up their stalls.
The exhibition hall buzzed with excitement as students and their parents made way to various booths and acquired information about programmes being offered.
Wahaj Ahmed, who was moving from one booth to another, reading pamphlets and brochures felt lucky to be part of the event. "For intermediate and other graduate students like me, this is a great opportunity to get information and guidance about different universities. I want to do my bachelors in engineering. Here I have obtained the admission form of a private university," he said, grinning from ear to ear.
Meanwhile, universities representatives provided on spot counseling to the students and discussed future prospects and scope of various careers.
A lecturer of Preston University, Zeeshan Shaikh, said that the occasion is serving the purpose of guiding students towards the right path. While talking about the fields that are being preferred by the students, he said that more and more students are now opting for business administration followed by telecommunication.
On the other hand, Kashif Ikram of the Baqai University felt that the number of students who are choosing medicine has declined. "Youngsters have become materialistic and only seem to care for money which is why students are approaching business programmes. Also, a lot of students are clueless as to what to do with their lives and the lack of counseling at school and college level make things more difficult for them."
Apart from universities, a bevy of students was seen at the consultancy booths, where people inquired about foreign universities. Muhammad Sulaiman, an ACCA student had already made his mind to apply for Queens Mary University in United Kingdom. "I want to go abroad for further studies as a foreign degree would strengthen my chance of getting a job along with a handsome salary. In Pakistan, getting employment has become extremely difficult as people who graduate from elite universities are the only ones who are employed."
An intermediate student, Muhammad Ali concurred and said that once he gets admission to an international university, he will not return back. "My friends and I have decided to go abroad as we believe that after studying in a foreign country; we would be able to get a decent job and would be justly treated."
HR Consultants where Ali was enthusiastically looking for his university was providing admissions on the spot to different foreign universities, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States and United Kingdom.
"We are handing down admissions to those applicants who submit required documents along with the forms. A large number of students are heading for internationally universities and since the last couple of years; the number of applicants has risen from 10,000 to 14,000 every year. Majority of the students opt for United Kingdom because of the variety of programmes which are available,' said Shahid Saeed Regional Manager of HR consultants.
Meanwhile, students also showed great interest towards finance programmes and courses. Sadiq Rameez, a student of Chiniot Islamic College said that students are opting for finance programmes as there is no saturation point for such students. "There was one time universities was churning out doctors and engineers but now trends have changed. The field of finance has broadened and people are now studying new things."
Zahida, a housewife, praised the event and said that such events should be held on frequent basis to guide students. "When I was a student, there were only limited fields but now every discipline has so many new courses. Therefore a student tends to get confused. I have brought my son here so that he can get awareness about different universities, know the criteria and then decide which professional line he wants to study."
Meanwhile, at the Iqra University stall, two media sciences students Zohaib Waqar and Mahrukh Khan briefed students about the popular media sciences field. "Media sciences are emerging as one of the sought studies. People get excited when they hear the word media and think that it's all about acting and anchoring. But over here, we are representing our university and clearing out concepts in peoples mind about this field."
Also, the booths tuition centers and aptitude test centers had a rush of people at their stalls. At Wahaj Hussain, a center for tuitions and aptitude test, people were giving vocabulary tests as part of a competition. "I am very happy to be part of this, I been to various stalls and feel very informative," said Hira Khan, an intermediate student. The news