M Murtaza Noor
ON the eve of 50th year of establishment, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, the top ranked university of our country, is facing a number of problems including financial constraints and illegal occupation of its precious land. According to the media reports, in order to minimize more than five hundred million rupees annual deficit, the University Administration has to opt for the non-fulfilment of vacant faculty positions, rising fees and doubling the student’s enrolment to reduce the budget deficit which is affecting provision of quality at this prestigious international seat of higher education learning and advancement.
According to reports, budget figures of the last two years indicate the deficit of millions as in year 2015-16, the total resources of the university were Rs.1684.143 million as compared to the expenditure of Rs 2308.357 million and the budget deficit was Rs 624.214 million; whereas, in year 2016-17 the resources are Rs 2059.553 million and estimated expenditure is Rs 2576.140 million while the budget deficit for present year is still Rs 516.587 million. About 165 out of total 434 budgeted teaching staff posts were vacant in the university last year. According to the experts, on the one side, Federal Government has announced to open at least one campus of any public sector university at district level and on the other side, the problems of the country’s top ranked university, situated in the Federal Capital of Pakistan, are being ignored. A mega development project submitted by the University Administration regarding enhancement of academic and research facilities at QAU is still awaiting approval in spite of four times revision.
We need to learn from the best international experiences and best practices from Asian nations that how they are giving importance to their top universities. Their continuous efforts are aimed at building world-class universities including new schemes concentrating government funding support to develop a few selected universities to compete globally. For instance, China has undertaken Project 985 which aims to transform China’s most elite universities: Peking University and Tsinghua University into “super-elite” world-class institutions. South Korea has recently launched its World Class University initiative to bring higher education institutions in line with international trends to make a significant contribution in knowledge economy. The Singapore city state has established a World Class Universities programme.
As per QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings 2016 , Pakistani higher education system has been ranked at bottom among 50 countries, with 9.2 score as compared to China 83.5, South Korea 80.1, Singapore 62.3, India 60.9, Chile 46.7, Saudi Arabia 36.7, Turkey 26.1, Kazakhstan 25.1, Lebanon 19.8, Ukraine 16.6 , United Arab Emirates 10.9 scores. Pakistan cannot improve its score in higher education sector unless we focus over strengthening the existing top universities and resolving the problems being confronted by these leading institutions on priority basis.
Another important problem being faced by QAU is non-demarcation, illegal occupation of varsity land and the shrinking of its estate on all sides by influential land mafia. According to the recent letter sent by QAU Vice Chancellor to the Federal Cabinet members, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) Land adjacent to QAU, along 3rd Avenue and Diplomatic Enclave Islamabad, has been illegally occupied, despite repeatedly requesting proper action against land grabbing elements; no effective action has been taken by concerned authorities. The letter further states that on October 30, 2016, fresh encroachments were discovered and verified as about 200 acres of QAU land worth of hundreds of millions are under the occupation of various land grabbers. The Vice Chancellor appealed to the Federal Government to help QAU retain possession of its precious land. According to the university officials, in spite of payment for 1,709 acres of land, only 1,507 have been handed over to the varsity in spite of repeated reminders.
This issue has created a lot of resentment among university faculty, student, employees and alumni. The QAU Alumni Association, Academic Staff Association, Employees Welfare Associations and students have already announced to stage protest against the illegal occupation of QAU land on 8th December, 2016 in front of Press Club Islamabsad. All these issue need immediate attention of Federal Government. Following the international best practices in higher education sector, it should be declared a flagship institution along with an announcement of a special bailout package. Let us save QAU, top Federal higher educational institution of the country.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.