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Starved for funds, higher education hits new lows

Harsh lessons: Punjab govt hikes the higher education budget every year, but its percentage share in university finances is going down. Protests by students and teachers are only symptoms of a larger malaise, and authorities are not doing anything to inspire confidence that all will be well.

chandigarh Updated: Dec 14, 2014 17:14 IST
Vishal Rambani
Vishal Rambani
Hindustan Times

Blame it on mixed-up priorities or a larger crunch of funds, the Punjab government is surely not giving a fair deal to state-run universities. At a time when private universities are flourishing, state universities are crying for money. This year’s allocation for higher education for universities is Rs 161 crore, but it’s reveling that Punjabi University alone has a budget deficit of Rs 157 crore, while Punjab Agricultural University hardly gets state funds for research.

Of the 1,840 faculty posts in government colleges, half are vacant.

Indeed every year the state government increases the higher education budget by a few crores, but its percentage share in university budgets is going down as expenditures rise. Punjabi University used to get 80% of its total budget from the government in the 1990s, but now gets only 18%.The situation can be gauged from the fact that staff across the state have been protesting for release of grants to aided colleges.

On paper, ‘development’ has occurred in the sector in the past two decades, particularly after 2005 when the state got its first private university. There are a dozen varsities, nearly 250 general colleges and 475 professional colleges. In 1991, there were four universities and 199 colleges. It must be noted though that 90% of the new institutions are private. Studies say only 4-6% of rural youth make it to higher education.

“Vice-chancellors are like beggars in front of the state government. If they hike fees, students protest. But if they don’t, universities starve for funds. We have no solution. If you have any, do tell us,” comments the V-C of a state university on condition of anonymity. He says only government grants can help universities provide affordable education; otherwise, they have to opt for quantity over quality.

Skilled human resources are the key to growth in the modern world, and Punjab sure must know agriculture cannot sustain an economy and society. Would it be wrong to link this scenario of education with the drug menace that has gripped the state’s youth?

Minister suggests, gives no solution

Punjab govt is batting for a good higher education sector. I am aware of the financial problems of universities, and will soon take up the matter with the chief minister to further increase allocations. The state government will also approach the Centre for increase in funds for higher education. However, universities should curtail expenditure and focus on increasing revenue by bagging central funds. Surjit Singh Rakhra, Punjab higher education minister.

First Published: Dec 14, 2014 07:59 IST