As the sun sets, the quiet campus of Punjabi University in Patiala is buzzing with discussion surrounding the planned visit of party chief ministerial candidate Aam Aadmi Bhagwant Mann to the nearby urban real estate market as well as the the leafy campus. Mann, a two-time congressman, is on entourages across the state seeking support for his party’s candidates. Contrary to student expectations, Mann spoke for 3 minutes and did not talk about the sad situation in state-funded universities. The state, burdened with a debt of Rs 3 lakh crore, is struggling to fund state universities as institutions have repeatedly approached banks for loans to pay salaries. Congress and Akali Dal have yet to release their manifesto.
To begin with, Punjab is home to nine state universities and 47 government colleges. However, Punjab University (Patiala), Punjab University (Chandigarh), Guru Nanak Dev University (Amritsar) and Punjab Agricultural University (Ludhiana) remain the main centers of learning and attract the most large number of students. Even though universities are carrying out academic activities, they are finding it increasingly difficult to manage their operations as the government of Punjab struggles to fund these institutions. Students at Punjabi University Patiala protested a fee hike in November last year when the administration could no longer bear the burden of a Rs 150 crore loan.
Amidst paltry grants, the university asked the Punjab government to waive the Rs 150 crore loan as it was paying a huge interest of Rs 16 crore per annum and increasing the monthly grant to Rs 20 crore to pay the salaries of employees . The university has also pledged the properties worth Rs 30 crore to the bank. Even though students argue that the institution is engaged in groundbreaking scientific research and helps preserve the culture of the state, academic activities are affected as the university struggles to procure books, journals , chemicals and consumables.
Varinder Khurana, a PhD student in the department of Punjabi, said NewsClick that even though Malwa belt remains the largest region in Punjab, the state of higher learning institutions has witnessed constant neglect due to non-funding and disinterest. He said the crisis in higher education was reflected when the Punjab government failed to maintain a steady flow of funds to the University of Punjab even though he knew the institution was not just catering to the greatest number of students, but also to the marginalized sections of society. “There are no funds. When there are no funds, how can we get new books and magazines? The infrastructure is collapsing. Few departments are entirely dedicated to research. How do these departments justify their existence now?
Paramjit Kaur, a PhD student researching education, put the crisis on the mandate of educational institutions. “The mandate of various government programs was to bring students from marginalized sections to these institutions to educate them. When a government does not fund an institution, it does exactly the opposite. I can’t understand if governments allow corporations to run not just banks but waive their loans even when they are fully capable of repaying why can’t they do this with educational institutions !
Balwinder Singh Tiwana, a retired professor of economics from the University of Punjabi, said NewsClick that the crisis of funds was visible across the state where government college teachers had to take to the streets for their salaries. The situation was so worse, he claimed, that staff at the Baba Hira Singh Bhattal Institute of Engineering and Technology run under the patronage of former CM RK Bhattal had not been paid a salary for decades. months now.
“As for the University of Punjab, we are seeing a steady decline in the number of faculty in the absence of new recruitments as the government has not given enough funds to the university. We have a few departments, including botany, physics, chemistry and economics, where the number of teachers is reduced to a third. University researchers now complement the work of teachers. The university experienced constant budget cuts from 1991. In 1991, the university’s budget was about Rs 18 crore, of which Rs 12.10 crore was allocated for payment of salaries and Rs 1.69 crore rupees were collected as student fees. The Punjab government gave Rs 15.15 crore, well above the salary bill. In 2004, the situation changed and 60% of the budget came from tuition fees. Currently, the government gives Rs 114 crores per year, while the contribution received from student fees is Rs 217 crores per year. CM Channi came to the campus and announced that he would forfeit the loan of Rs 150 crore. Until the entry into force of the code of conduct, the university received no funding.
Arvind, Vice Chancellor of Punjabi University said NewsClick that it is possible to recover from the situation and that the university will continue its academic and research activities. Arvind, who took over as head of the university in April 2021, said the university has unique characteristics and if operated properly could become one of the centers of research excellence. and learning, provided the flow of government funds is consistent.
He said the university caters to students from the Malwa belt, the largest region in the state. “The university has made outstanding contributions to research on Punjabi literature including oral history archives and also stores a very rare book collection. Given the presence of a large Punjabi diaspora in the world, he can attract a lot of support. The university also welcomes a large number of students from marginalized sections. If we receive proper support and care, we can do wonders.
Arvind added that “When I joined the university, it was in a complicated situation. The former vice-chancellor had resigned and an interim IAS VC was appointed. During his tenure, all deans and the registrar had resigned. Salaries have not been paid for months. The university had an overdraft of Rs 150 crore and pending payments worth Rs 100 crore. There were ongoing investigations and corruption charges. Now I am not from a state university I am a scientist who first worked in IIT Madras then IISER Mohali My friends told me about the situation in the University Punjabi from Patiala and insisted that the people of Punjab should be involved in the solutions to the problems of the state.So that inspired me to come to Punjabi University and solve the crisis.
“When I observed the situation, I found that we could recover. After analyzing the problems, I convinced the government that they should waive the loan of Rs 150 crore because we were paying huge interest on it. Second, the government should give us 20 crore rupees as monthly subsidy because we have to pay 30 crore rupees per month as salary and we can’t generate so much income. , we can’t update our technology, we can’t buy enough journals, consumables and chemicals, and meet research and teaching needs.
“I would also like to point out that not all problems need money to be solved. The university needed administrative and academic reforms. We are in the process of implementing these reforms. There may be an administrative crisis, but there should not be an academic crisis. Regarding the fees, we revised the fees because they had not increased for a very long time. But again, the government wanted me to bring the fees down to the same as Guru Nanak Dev Amritsar University and Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) Ludhiana. I pointed out that this would set a bad precedent. I have therefore decided that I will revise the fees in proportion to the previous fee structure and not in competition with other universities. The intrinsic nature of the university’s contributions of providing low-cost, high-quality education to marginalized and needy students will not be altered by this fee review, and the university is not seeking a solution to the crisis. financially by raising tuition fees. .”
However, the situation takes a different turn at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, where teachers argue that sustainability requires steadily increasing fees and not recruiting teachers. SS Dhillon, a retired economics professor and former university registrar, said the impact of the debt could be felt by the failure to recruit teachers into government colleges. The state has only 330 faculty against the sanctioned enrollment of 1,873 positions.
Talk to NewsClick, Dhillon said political parties only talk about giveaways because they don’t want to discuss the crisis. “When there’s huge debt and you’re paying a huge amount of money in interest, there’s no capital investment. This is why we do not see any recruitment in primary, secondary and higher education. If we are a welfare state, why should political parties talk like this about providing free stuff? In universities, you constantly pressure VCs to organize funds independently. How would they manage if the government did not give them the subsidy? »
Amarjit Singh Sidhu, a professor at GNDU’s University Business School, said the reckless increase in fees has forced parents of students to pay the fees by mortgaging their jewelry. He said: ‘I met the parents of a student who came to me for a fee relaxation because they were struggling to fund the studies. They had already mortgaged their jewelry. I was appalled. This is not how a university funded by the state government is not run. The general feel of the MBA program at the university is Rs 2 lakh. How would ordinary people finance their children’s education?
Sidhu maintained that the university was facing a faculty shortage where assistant professors were forced to manage up to 8 doctoral researchers. Contract teachers now constitute 40% of the teaching staff. He said: “The travesty is such that the history department which produced historians like JS Grewal was taken over by a science school professor because the department had no professor now.”