In the USA, the professors of my university, currently where I work, are enjoying lives in their huge mansions with sprawling lawns and tennis courts. In Pakistan, the faculty of my alma mater, where I once worked, the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore, present a dismal picture; having lost the only perk they once enjoyed: a full salary.

Due to the cut imposed by the HEC, non-recovery of student dues and a non-refundable loan from Punjab government related to Rachna College of Engineering & Technology (RCET), UET was facing an immense shortage of funds for disbursement of pay and pension for June 2020.

Consequently, on 1st July 2020, the faculty, administration, pensioners and the campus staff of UET Lahore, received their salaries slashed up to half of its original amount. Disgruntled and aggrieved many resented for not getting their salary at the time they needed the most: in a pandemic. In the blazing heat of July, the literacies and dignitaries of the society are compelled to protest outside the Governor’s house, starting from the July 8th. Whether they get their ‘demands’ fulfilled or meet the fate of doctors demanding PPEs, to stay protected from Covid-19, is yet to be seen.

While this is the first blatant manifestation of ‘drawing room’ policies realizing into the ground realities. The worse is yet to come. The neglect of the financial needs of HEC and the institutes of higher education will have multi-faceted nuisance in the future.

On one hand, the shrinking financial ability of the university will lead to unemployment: several contract employees will lose their jobs and new hiring will halt. On the other hand, the HEC which received Rs29.4 billion under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) 2020-2021 against the demand of Rs42.6 billion will be short of funds for universities, pursuing its research agenda, the start of several new initiatives including NAHE, ETC, HEMIS, PERU, and P-15 Research Universities, funding for the Tenure Track Faculty, funding for the Pakistan Education and Research Network (PERN), and the resources needed to meet Covid-19 related challenges. All these projects will only remain on the paper and will never be materialized due to shortage of funds.

The budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, has not only relegated the HEC to a dummy organization but also has crippled the public sector universities; obscuring the future of research and development, demoralizing the faculty and promoting brain drain. The PhD. scholars who have burned their mid-night oil to obtain a doctorate and post-doc degrees from around the world will be left jobless; pessimistic about their future and regretting their decision of returning to their soil. Many foreign qualified PhDs are already faced with a double challenge in the country; facing ‘reverse’ cultural shock and struggling every day to settle in the country they call home where the research is rudimentary and respect for the academia is extinct.

Additionally, the higher education sector and especially public universities need to expand yearly and update to cater to the demands of the increasing number of students and have state of the art equipment. The government must set its priorities about the future of higher education in Pakistan. The ministry of higher education must realize that research and development is an ongoing process that demands a smooth continuation of the projects, fast flow of funds and consistency in the policies related. Any disruption is catastrophic; as it is seen now.

In a recent talk show, the Minister for Science and Technology has been seen as defending the budget cut on HEC on a pretext of using this number of new projects. One wonders what purpose does it serve to create new projects by savaging the already running projects of HEC and public universities. Perhaps an ‘inauguration ceremony’ gets more media attention than ensuring the smooth running of the previous projects. Sensational news, even hollow inside, makes a better headline.

The government must understand that institutes of higher education and other institutes are based not only on material but on dedication, commitment, and sheer hard work. The teachers in varsities across the country working tirelessly and are taking online courses requiring twice the effort for the same lecture deserves a reward; similar to the employs of Punjab Assembly, Finance Department, Law Department and cabinet wing who are awarded three additional salaries by the chief minister for drafting the budget.