Universities budgetary cuts & VCs protest

Financial crunch
Islamabad, Sept 20: The vice-chancellors of 71 public universities are threatening to resign and lock up their institutions in protest against drastic budgetary cuts in tertiary education by the government. Ironically, this sector had until recently seen allocations rising from millions to billions of rupees within five years of the constitution of the Higher Education Commission in 2002. But even then there was criticism that the enhancement was made at the expense of primary and secondary education and to the neglect of technical and vocational education. Although the crunch in funding became evident after the current government came into power in 2008, the recent floods have shifted budgetary priorities even more. Increased demands for more effective spending have made it difficult to justify funding this sector on the scale of recent years.

All this, however, is not to sideline the importance of knowledge and the contribution of higher education to Pakistan's development. But with the squeeze in public funding, the HEC ought to look into ways of economising on costs while our universities should consider adopting alternative methods of income generation through, for instance, public-private partnerships as is done in other countries. The government has suggested the formation of a multi-agency committee, which will include vice-chancellors, to find solutions to the financial problems of our universities. Whatever the course of action it decides on, it should not have a negative fallout on the less privileged. Our public universities should continue to remain accessible to the under-privileged. Until these universities can generate most of their income on their own and thus prove less dependent on public grants, it should be the government's responsibility to continue to allocate as much as it can to higher education. The future health and viability of our universities depends on the cooperative effort of all concerned in successfully overcoming the financial crunch.

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Teachers to join VCs protest
Rawalpinid: The Punjab Professors and Lecturers Association on Sunday announced that it would join the protest movement of vice chancellors of public sector universities against the federal government's refusal to allocate needed funds to the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

Association's President M. Ilyas Qureshi in a statement here said teachers' community were shocked over the government's refusal to provide fund to 72 public sector universities, adding the decision would cripple the higher education sector.

Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh at a meeting with the VCs recently refused to provide funds to the higher educational institutions and suggested to them to generate their own sources of income.

"We condemn the attitude of the federal government towards higher education and announce our support to the cause of vice chancellors in the larger interest of students and quality education in the country," the general secretary of the association, Raoof Ahmed Shah said in his statement.

He said on the one hand the provincial government had set up Board of Governors in 26 colleges in Punjab and on the other admissions to graduation programmes in these institutions had been closed.

He asked the Supreme Court to take notice of the issue as it was directly affecting education of hundreds of thousands of students in the country besides aggravating the woes of teachers. Dawn

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VCs pin little hope on six-member committee
Islamabad: Vice chancellors (VCs) of public sector universities have little hope that the issue of higher education sector budget cut would be resolved by the six-member committee constituted by Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani. Many of them also conveyed this to HEC Chairman Dr. Javed Laghari.

According to reliable sources, VCs have expressed their extreme dissatisfaction over the process being adopted to tackle the issue of budget cut through telephone calls and emails to the HEC chairman as according to them there was no difference in the committee which was constituted by Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh during a meeting held on Thursday and the one constituted by the prime minister now.

The committee which has been formed to discuss the funding matters with VCs of public sector universities includes Deputy Chief of the Planning Commission Dr. Nadeemul Haq, Secretary Education Imtiaz Qazi, Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairman Dr. Javed Laghari and three university vice chancellors.

According to sources, it is the HEC chairman who should chair the committee as he enjoys the status of a federal minister. "Deputy Chief of the Planning Commission Dr. Nadeemul Haq has a status equivalent to the minister of state so according to rules, the one who is enjoying the status of a federal minister should be the chairman of the committee, however, it has been mentioned nowhere," they said.

VCs believe that the committee has been constituted in a haphazard manner in which legal and technical aspects have been ignored altogether. "There is not a single representative of the Ministry of Finance in the committee. How come the issue of budget could be discussed without the involvement of the Ministry of Finance," sources said.

According to information, the meeting of the committee constituted by the prime minister would be held today (Monday), however, according to details, many VCs have asked the HEC chairman to reject the idea of constituting the committee which he did not accept. "VCs believe that the government knows very well that future of higher education is at stake so money should be injected immediately in order to save it, but nothing practical has been done so far while the committee would also do nothing good," sources said.

According to details, the committee has been constituted to create a fiscal space for meeting funding requirements for foreign scholarships, 50 per cent increase in salaries and development schemes, which are nearly complete in all major universities as this fiscal year's budgetary allocations for higher education have been slashed by more than 70 per cent.

When contacted, HEC Chairman Javed Laghari expressed the hope that the issue of budget would be resolved, as the prime minister has shown his commitment by forming a committee to deal with the matter. "It is true that our universities are on the verge of bankruptcy and that is why VCs are getting worried but they should trust the government and cooperate with the committee," he said.

When asked about the absence of representatives of the Ministry of Finance in the committee, he said that there should have been representation of the Ministry of Finance but it was very early to say something about it. "I think before making an objection we all should wait for the first meeting of the committee. No one knows the representatives of the Ministry of Finance would also be included at a later stage," he said.

He, however, assured that they would not stretch the matter to weeks and months. "The public sector universities are in urgent need of money so we would try to come to some conclusion within days and not weeks," he said.

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VU students in a fix over papers reschedule
Islamabad: A large number of Virtual University (VU) students are in a fix over rescheduling of their papers which they missed on August 7 and August 8, 2010 owing to problem in the varsity's computer software.

The VU authorities after sending emails to the students shrugged off its responsibility ignoring what would be the case if someone could not receive the email or missed its reading owing to preparation of rest of the exam. It is pertinent to mention here that hundreds of VU students could not appear in different online midterm and final examinations in August this year following failure of the varsity's computer software. The abrupt computer generated error disappointed students who had gone to examination centres in different cities of the country. A number of aggrieved students said they did not even receive the VU email about rescheduling of exams, adding that they had been visiting the online notice board of the VU Learning Management System (LMS) but to no avail.

A student, seeking anonymity, said on telephone contact with Conduct Section (Examinations Department) he was told that his paper was rescheduled for August 22, 2010 and intimation was given on this email address of VU.

"I was not using the VU email account regularly so I could not get information of rescheduling," he said, adding that it was strange that the varsity authorities could not intimate him and many other students like him through SMS or posting the information on the notice board. "Despite repeated attempts I am still unable to know when could I attempt the paper I missed," he regretted.

"Every time fee is due the students are informed through SMS by the VU while information is also posted on the VU LMS notice board," said Rana Tanveer, a VU student, adding "However nothing happened like this to date." He further said neither the students were informed through advertisements in the press about rescheduling of the exam. It is also important to mention here that Virtual University is the Pakistan's first university based completely on modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). One feels that it would have been appropriate on the part of the university to contact the students through SMS or at least put the notice of rescheduling on the notice board but no such thing happened, said another aggrieved student.

The students have demanded the VU authorities to arrange special examination for them so that their precious time might not be wasted further.

VU Rector Dr Naveed A Malik said that students were informed through email and SMS about the rescheduled exam, adding that however it was possible that some could not get the information as it was sent in bulk.

He advised all those students who could not attempt their rescheduled exam to contact him on his email (rector@vu.edu.pk), saying the VU was rescheduling exams once again for those who could not attempt exam owing to floods in different parts of the country. The news

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Last date for admissions at AIOU today
Islamabad: The last date for submission of admission forms with double late fee from Matriculation to MSc/MA level programmess for the semester Autumn, 2010 of the Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) is today (Monday).

This was announced by the AIOU (Admissions) Director, Sohail Nazir Rana. As per details, double late fee of Matric Program is Rs200, Intermediate/BA/PTC programmes is Rs400 while double late fee of MA/MSc programmes is Rs1,000.

He said that the deadline for submission of fee would not be extended in any case while the admission forms and prospectus are available in the main Campus of University at Sector H-8, Islamabad as well as in all its regional campuses/offices across the country. The forms along with the prescribed fee can be submitted in any branch of First Women's Bank, Bank Al-Falah and Allied Bank across the country while in nominated branches of National Bank of Pakistan and Habib Bank of Pakistan. Dawn

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PhD degree awarded
Islamabad: The National University of Modern Languages (NUML) has conferred a PhD degree in Applied Linguistics on an Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) lecturer, Malik Ajmal Gulzar.

Gulzar has been associated with the AIOU's English Language and Applied Linguistics Department for the last 15 years.

Professor Dr. Samina Amin Qadir supervised his thesis, which was titled 'Classroom Discourse in Bilingual Context: Effects of Code-Switching on Language Learning in Pakistani TEFL Classroom'.

Gulzar's external examiners were noted linguistics Dr. Awena Carter from University of Lancaster and Dr. Gill Cressey from University of Birmingham, while other examiners Professor Dr. Saeeda Asadullah Khan and Professor Dr. Rubina Kamran recommended its publication.

According to Gulzar, his work is pioneer in the discipline of Applied Linguistics in Pakistan. He said that he was the second PhD holder in the AIOU English Language and Applied Linguistics Department.

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UK Varsity deputy chief visits IIUI
Islamabad: Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Bedfordshire University, Professor Ashraf Jawaid, Friday visited the International Islamic University (IIU). He called on President IIUI Dr. Anwar Hussain Siddiqui and esteemed his views on academic cooperation between IIUI and his varsity. He also discussed with Dr. Anwar Hussain Siddiqui establishment of linkage between his university and the Islamic University. Professor Ashraf Jawaid also attended a briefing by IIUI deans and directors. The news

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