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Frustration grows as PU fails to release research funds

Khalid Khattak
Monday, Dec 04, 2023

LAHORE:Several members of Punjab University's key statutory bodies, such as the Senate and elected representatives from the Academic Staff Association (ASA), have collaboratively penned a joint communication to the acting Vice Chancellor, highlighting serious concern regarding the delay in releasing the eagerly anticipated research funds.

According to the letter, a copy available with The News, despite the allocation occurring almost three months ago and over five months passing in the fiscal year 2023-24, the promised budget remains unreleased for critical components like the Performance Evaluation Award, Incentive Award, Grants for Research Projects, and Paper Publication Fee Reimbursements.

The teachers argue that these funds, crucial for various facets of academic research, not only motivate faculty but also sustain the momentum of scholarly pursuits. Their concerns also stem from a notable discrepancy between the varsity's proclaimed action and its practical implementation. This year the varsity proudly boasted about a significant increase in the allocation of funds, a commendable Rs 40 million augmentation compared to the previous allocation. However, the delay in actually disbursing these funds contradicts the varsity’s declared commitment and proactive stance toward supporting research initiatives.

“In the Senate meeting, held on, September 5, 2023, it was proudly declared by the Treasurer that the allocated amount for research had been increased to Rs 265.493 million, Rs 40 million more than the last year,” the letter reads.

This discrepancy between rhetoric and action has caused unease among the faculty members and they expressed the same in their joint letter. This discrepancy has created a sense of disillusionment among the teachers who were hopeful about the varsity's increased investment in research. Previously, prior to 2021, the release of research funds lacked a structured timetable. However, negotiations between the ASA and the former Vice-Chancellor led to the establishment of a formal schedule, referenced as D/97/Tr. dated 10-3-2021. This schedule mandated the annual invitation for Performance Evaluation Award/Incentive Award applications commencing on July 1st, with disbursement scheduled for the last week of September.

This timeline was effectively adhered to during the fiscal year 2021-22. However, as per the letter for the fiscal year 2023-24, the university has deviated from this established schedule, causing concern among the faculty.

Talking to The News, Dr. Amjad Magsi, Secretary ASA said last year timely invitations for research project applications and Incentive Awards on Publications allowed for fund allocation by December 2022. However, in contrast, this year, even by the first week of December, applications for research projects and Incentive Awards have yet to be solicited. Moreover, the process for Performance Evaluation Awards has remained stagnant for the past three years. Dr Magsi further says that the allocation of funds for research falls notably short, particularly when measured against the escalating inflation rates. Moreover, the research funds mostly remain underutilised due to cumbersome utilisation processes by the university authorities, he maintains. This scenario fails to foster an encouraging atmosphere for nurturing a robust research culture within the institution.

The ASA secretary further said before June 2023, the reallocation of research funds to transport funds indicated the priorities of the current administration, diverting attention away from research priorities. It is pertinent to mention here that PU administration had re-appropriated research funds amounting to Rs 30 million to the university’s Transport Wing for the payment of POL bills of student buses in May 2023.

“The delay in the processing of research funds this year has sparked significant concerns among faculty members, necessitating immediate attention and resolution to address these apprehensions,” Dr Magsi added.

When contacted Acting VC Prof Dr Khalid Mahmood explained that the delay occurred due to numerous faculty members requesting extensions. Their research projects were ongoing, and they faced challenges in utilising funds. He mentioned that the university opted against advertising new projects as reports from the previous year's research projects were still pending.