Higher Education In Balochistan Faces A Crippling Shortage Of Funding

Balochistan is faced by thousands of 'ghost' schools and colleges. Activists say it is a testament to the government's failure to prioritise education

Higher Education In Balochistan Faces A Crippling Shortage Of Funding

Hundreds of teachers, officers and employees made their way to celebrate 01 May at the University of Balochistan—one of the mother institutions that is faced with a scarcity of funding and budget for its non-development fund that pays salaries. Reports indicate that salaries spanning four months remain unpaid to faculty and staff, sounding an alarm for the future of a society bereft of higher education.

Despite the global advancement towards development, peace, and progress achieved through the triadic process of learning, unlearning, and relearning, Pakistan finds itself at a crossroads. Education, once hailed as a cornerstone of progress, now languishes as an unattractive pursuit for the nation's elite entrenched in positions of power within the hallowed halls of parliament, the senate, and assemblies—a sobering revelation articulated by speakers on Labor Day within the university auditorium.

Critical thinking emerges as the beacon for national development throughout history, yet Balochistan and the nation's universities face crippling budgetary constraints. Academic Staff Association president at the University of Balochistan Kalimullah Barrech says that the ruling elite's disregard for established international educational norms and protocols has worsened the prevailing crisis.

"The budget for FC and Army is there, but not for universities. While the United Nations clearly calls for spending 4% of the GDP on education, in Pakistan, we see nothing of the sort. Teachers and employees are here without salaries," says Barrech. "The provincial budget is some Rs 750 billion, but out of this, only some Rs 2.5 billion is set aside for 10 universities. This is against the UN-stipulated basic rights for education that all member nations are required to uphold. If the government of Balochistan is not going to pay the salaries, which are the most basic right of the employees, we will keep our agitation going." 

On the 1st of May, he paid “the heartiest red salute and tribute” to the Chicago martyrs who sacrificed their lives for bowing the industrialist structure to accept 8 hours work a day—that used to be 18 hours. "Education is getting privatised and none of the labourers’ children would think about education in the future as the government and its pro-elite structures are privatising higher education. This will lead to selected provision of human rights for the elites and those who have money alone, and not those who are working day and night for the building of this society," Barrech notes.

Last month, university employees protested as the Chief Minister assured via tweet that funds would be allocated for the salaries of University of Balochistan's teachers and employees, along with an investigation into fund misuse. "During a meeting with Vice Chancellors of Balochistan's universities, it was noted that despite the economic crisis, there has been a surge in university recruitments. To optimise student time, it was decided that universities would receive a one-time grant, with subsequent funding contingent on demonstrated progress," he stated.

"We are committed to sending 400 children through the Labour Welfare Fund to top institutions across Pakistan, as every labourer’s child deserves the right to education. We aim to increase this number to 1,000 children," Bugti declared ahead of International Labour Day celebrations on the 1st of May.

Dr Fahim Baloch, with over two decades of teaching experience at the university, expresses dismay at the situation. "Unpaid teachers cannot fully concentrate on their lectures, burdened as they are with utility bills and children's school fees. Research endeavours are stifled when salaries remain unpaid for months, exacerbating the quarterly salary crises." He highlights the province's significant contribution to the federal revenue cake, juxtaposed with the bleak reality faced by its inhabitants. "Many teachers contemplate leaving due to rampant inflation and meagre salaries and facilities. The paltry disbursement of basic salaries evokes a sense of indignity, as if professors and teachers are reduced to begging from government officials," he lamented.

The dire situation of the universities has forced the political parties’ students and youth wings to launch agitation for the creation of provincial Higher Education Commission in the light of the 18th Amendment, 2010, that devolved the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to the provinces. These students’ organisations say that even though 14 years have passed, the Government of Balochistan has yet not upheld the 18th Amendment in letter and spirit.

"Without a focus on education, particularly higher education, where professionals are groomed for their roles in society, and where communities are steered towards development in health, education, infrastructure, and politics, all societal progress emanates from these institutions. If the government neglects these priorities, we are bound to witness backwardness, unrest, and disillusionment across all spheres of life. It is the government's duty to ensure timely payment of salaries to teachers and other employees, yet our university has gone unpaid for the last four months. Under such circumstances, none of the teachers can be expected to fully engage in their classes," states Dr Shahida Habib Alizai, chairperson of the Gender Development Studies Department at the University of Balochistan.

"The University of Balochistan has historically played a pivotal role in societal development through its teaching, research, training, and mentorship, shaping even the current ministers in the Government of Balochistan. If our leadership continues to overlook the significance of this alma mater, it signals a disregard for education and the rights of labourers and all those contributing their energies across various sectors, including education. Where such a path leads our society, only time will tell," she concludes.

Saifullah Khan Kakar, the provincial secretary of Pakhtunkhwa Students Organisation, stands as a prominent student alliance leader in the province, spearheading rallies and agitation campaigns across the region in pursuit of basic education rights. This alliance comprises Pakhtunkhwa Students Organisation, Baloch Students Organisation (M), Baloch Students Organisation (Pujar), and Pashtun Students Federation.

Saifullah emphasises that the youth are compelled to resort to agitation due to the government's misplaced priorities, which neglect essential needs. Balochistan is faced by thousands of 'ghost' schools and colleges, a testament to the government's failure to prioritise education. Despite the precedents set by provincial Higher Education Commissions in Sindh and Punjab, Balochistan's aspirations remain unfulfilled. In his view, the coalition government of the Pakistan Peoples' Party and the Pakistan Muslim League shows a lack of seriousness in addressing public issues, particularly education.

"According to the data from the Balochistan government, 15,000 teachers are ‘ghost teachers.’ Consider the repercussions: countless students suffer, schools shutter, and children are deprived of their basic rights each year. How long must university teachers endure unpaid labour, with no separate budget allocation in the provincial budget?" Kakar asks, underscoring their struggle to compel the government to fulfil its 'duty' in providing education.