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Universities in Balochistan

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In the last two decades, the number of universities in Balochistan has grown significantly from one university in the first fifty years of independence to eleven universities and as many campuses as the existing universities. The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan was established in 2002 to enhance the quality of higher education in Pakistan. At the same time, it was instrumental in spreading graduate-level education more evenly across Pakistan.

Balochistan received a significant share of this expansion through three new public sector universities within the first five years of establishing HEC. The federal government granted substantial development projects to these universities. These federally funded development projects not only provided for the construction of academic blocks, hostels, and other infrastructure and equipment, but a significant chunk of these projects also included foreign scholarships for the faculty members of these newly established universities.

Universities such as Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences in Quetta, Lasbela University of Agriculture, Water and Marine Sciences, Uthal, and the University of Turbat have built their infrastructures, hired highly qualified faculty, and have sent their young faculty in dozens of different advanced countries to study in competitive fields. More than 80 young faculty members of only one university – Lasbela University of Agriculture, Water, and Marine Sciences – have since returned with PhDs and master’s degrees from developed countries to teach and conduct research in their university in an otherwise very backward district of Lasbela in Balochistan.

Similar success stories can be seen in other young universities such as Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences in Quetta and the University of Turbat in southern Balochistan. These universities have built their infrastructures, trained their human resources, and created a generation of professionals in areas such as Uthal, Turbat, Awaran, Punjgoor, Gwadar, and in other such districts most of which were deprived of such basic facilities as paved roads and electricity just a decade ago. Now, these cities are vibrant places for higher education for the poorest of the poor in Balochistan province.

Very few people from these areas have ever reached major cities of the country for graduate-level education. Since their establishment, these universities have been providing hostel and transport facilities to the most underprivileged students of these areas of long-forgotten districts of the country where proper graduate-level education had been nonexistent for not long ego.

Established after 2002, these universities were funded entirely by the federal government through the Higher Education Commission and federal PSDP. These universities have achieved a measure of success in educating the students who need access to universities and colleges in major cities because these institutions functioned as autonomous institutions regulated by the HEC.

However, after the 18th Amendment, the federal government started pushing provincial governments to take more responsibilities and share the cost of higher education (higher education in Pakistan mostly means graduate-level education) in the provinces, and rightly so, as education has become a provincial subject. The other provinces took this opportunity not only to spread graduate-level education to each district but they manage and run universities quite efficiently. Similarly, other provinces took charge of health departments. Some provinces revolutionized their health system by making it almost free to treat all the major diseases, and access to health care was spread to every district, just like higher education.

But not so in the most corrupt region of Asia, namely Balochistan. Given the bureaucracy in Balochistan province is notoriously inept and corrupt, any involvement of the Balochistan government in matters of higher education and universities is bound to be a recipe for disaster. At first, the bureaucracy in Balochistan resisted any idea of sharing the financial responsibility of graduate-level education in universities. Meanwhile, the government of Balochistan wasted the financial space they got from the increase of provincial shares in the NFC award without initiating and completing any major project in the province for 10 long years.

However, the Federal Government kept pushing universities in Balochistan to look for alternatives for their financial viability as federal funding started declining since 2014. Most universities` non-development funding remained frozen in 2012 and 2013 level, and development budgets were drastically cut.

The financial breakdown of the universities in Balochistan became apparent in 2015 when the HEC forced most universities to freeze their employees’ salaries despite inflation skyrocketing in recent years. The fact that the HEC’s non-development grants to universities remain frozen at the 2013 level adversely affected. In the last eight to nine years, the quality of education in these universities has declined to a level of dysfunctional colleges in the province, and teachers are either getting poorer each month or looking for other opportunities; many faculty members have switched to border-related businesses. In the last four years in one university, Lasbela University of Agriculture, Water and Marine Sciences, more than 20 highly qualified teachers have left for university positions in other provinces. Many of these teachers have completed their PhDs and MPhil degrees from abroad on HEC and other scholarships.

Universities in the south of Balochistan, historically the most neglected part of the province, once vibrant places in recent years where the male and female student ratio is almost the same, are being deserted by their best teacher and students.

Meanwhile, the seriousness of the Balochistan government can be seen in the maligning campaign on social and news media run by a secretary of the Balochistan government and his many stooges blaming universities for their financial woes. While he has been busy spreading negative campaigns against universities, colleges under his department were dysfunctional.

The Balochistan government and its then finance minister Zahoor Buledi 2018 eventually intervened by creating a University Finance Commission to help out HIEs of the province. However, they allocated a mere Rs as a grant for ten public sector universities. 2.5 billion. Since then, the bureaucracy in Balochistan not only resisted any idea of increasing the grant, but in the last two years, bureaucracy has secured permanent seats in the universities` Syndicates and Senate through Balochistan Universities Act 2021 and in each meeting of these governing bodies of universities, these bureaucrats growl, shout into silence the Vice Chancellors and senior academics of the universities.

In the wake of the 18th Amendment and the 9th NFC award, the Balochistan government received a significant increase in its share from the federal government. For the last 13 years, the Balochistan government and its inept bureaucracy have topped the corruption index for Asia by putting this money into useless projects and taking handsome commissions. The universities in Balochistan have no future, given the way bureaucracy not only taking over their governance but, at the same time, starving these institutions to death.

 

Dolat Khan
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