No solution in sight as Panjab University firefights the recurring financial crisis
A deepening financial crunch has not only adversely affected its academic and research activities, it has also come in the way of much-needed infrastructure upgrade.punjab Updated: Dec 05, 2017 14:09 IST
In his customary year-end press conference last year, Panjab University (PU) vice chancellor Prof Arun Kumar Grover had hoped to see the varsity in better financial health in 2017.
But a year later, the varsity continues to gasp for funds. A deepening financial crunch has not only adversely affected its academic and research activities, it has also come in the way of much-needed infrastructure upgrade. So, why is one of the country’s oldest institution in such dire financial straits? Read on.
What caused the PU financial crisis?
PU’s financial woes began with the re-organisation of Punjab in 1966 when a new state of Haryana was carved out and some of its areas were merged into Himachal. Located in Chandigarh that is administratively controlled by the Centre but is also joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, the university has a queer status: it’s neither central university nor a state university.
Withdrawal of grant by Himachal Pradesh and Haryana after they set up their own universities, capping of its share by Punjab and inadequate assistance from University Grants Commission (UGC) since 2014-15 are some of the reasons behind PU’s failing financial health.
In 1976, it was decided to plug the deficit with contribution in 60:40 ratio from the Centre (through Chandigarh administration) and Punjab.
But in 2011-2012, the Punjab government fixed its annual contribution at ₹20 crore (except in 2013-14, when the state released only ₹18.33 crore).
The capping of grant regardless of inflation and the regular pay revisions reduced the actual share of Punjab towards the ‘maintenance deficit’ to much below the determined share of 40%. In 2014-2015, for instance, the fixed contribution of ₹20 crore was only 9.42% of the actual deficit of ₹212 crore.
What does it expect from Punjab, Centre?
PU registrar Col GS Chadha (retd) says the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has agreed to pay the salaries as per the 6th pay commission. However, the varsity needs funds for maintenance, infrastructural changes, research work, and to fill up the vacant posts.
In 2016, the UGC had given ₹197 crore to PU, of which around ₹21 crore was earmarked for 2016-17. In 2017-18, the PU had a deficit of ₹244 crore and it expected ₹222 crore from the UGC.
According to the proposed budget, there is a deficit of ₹17 crore from previous financial years, which is supposed to be met by the government of Punjab as per the directions of MHRD.
Besides seeking ₹220 crore from UGC, PU has also sought ₹100 crore from the Centre to implement the 7th pay commission. Unless it’s wish list is met, there seems no end to its financial crisis.
What are the immediate challenges?
Implementation of the 7th pay commission is the pressing challenge for which it needs ₹100 crore for the pay revision.On November 28, the MHRD told the varsity that it cannot give the revised pay until the Punjab government implements the 7th pay commission in the state.
But, Punjab hasn’t given any such deadline for implementing it. Col Chadha is hopeful. “This will require a little bit of chasing. We have started a dialogue with the Punjab government and spoken to the Chancellor (vice-president of India). We will meet other stakeholders and find a solution. It is a procedural thing…Let us hope it gets sorted out at the earliest.”
What are the points of disagreement between UGC and PU?
UGC wants PU to curtail manpower and bring the ratio between teaching and non-teaching staff to 1:1. But PU says it is not feasible. It conducted a manpower audit and found that the number of teaching posts has fallen from 1,510 to 1,378. At present, the varsity has only 1,089 teachers on its rolls. While 749 of them are regulars, the rest are re-employed, on contract, or guest faculty.
The university has a total of 2,609 non-teaching staff of whom 474 will retire in the next five years. It also plans to dispense with 545 temporary staff members. This implies that in five years, the strength of non-teaching staff will be reduced by 1,019.
The UGC wants PU to keep the deficit stable, but the varsity argues that it is not possible with the constant increase in the salary bill.
What is the way forward?
Satya Pal Jain, a long-time PU senator, says the Punjab and Haryana court has already asked the Punjab government to find out ways to increase its grant. “The main issue is implementation of the 7th pay commission recommendations. If these get implemented, Punjab has to decide by how much they will increase the grant,” he adds.
Jain argues that PU was not alone in its financial crisis.
“Other universities are facing it as well. We have to explore possibilities of generating income from the present structure. Our buildings are by and large free after lunch and can be utilised. There is a guest house, law auditorium, complex etc, which can also be used. The varsity also has to cut down on its wasteful expenditure.”
Most Senators believe the central government has to come forward to help the Panjab University in finding a permanent solution.
Prof Rajesh Gill, president of Panjab University Teachers Association makes the case for a regular academic audit, slash in expenditure, and transparency in finances.
What is the impact of financial crisis?
The varsity has not recruited teachers in the past two years, leading to staff shortage in many departments. Many buildings are also in dire need of repair. Teachers’ flats are in a dilapidated condition. Infrastructure in most department is languishing.
Worse, PU failed to get the ₹20-crore grant under Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) for development of infrastructure. The campus expansion plan for Sarangpur is also lying stuck as UGC has refused to give it ₹235 crore. The shadow of a decline in university’s academic graph is reflected in a steady dip in number of applicants to post-graduate programmes.
“The financial crunch has affected everybody on the campus” says Gill echoing a broader sentiment that’s anything but upbeat.