Rescuing Karakoram Int’I University

By Ashab Baig

Founded almost two decades ago, the Karakorum International University (KIU) is the only institution of higher learning in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). With a vision to provide quality higher education, KIU’s early promise was brimming with huge potential. However, the institution’s growth trajectory is currently slithering on an adverse path. Regrettably, KIU is presently grappling with a severe financial crisis, hindering its ability to meet its commitments, including timely payment of salaries to its faculty and staff. This financial strain is threatening the future of thousands of university’s students marring its capacity to sustain academic performance. For the past several months, employees from various departments have taken to the streets, staging demonstrations to demand their paychecks and salary increases. It is to be noted that KIU is a public university working under the jurisdiction of the federal government, and regulated by the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

At the core of this challenge lies KIU’s huge fiscal deficit, where its expenditures consistently surpass its income. A recent exposé by KIU’s VC revealed that two major sources of the university’s income, funds from HEC and the tuition fee revenue, have either been declining or have remained stagnant. Funds from HEC have only seen marginal increases since the inception of KIU, despite the university’s continued expansion of academic activities. The university used to generate a significant portion of its income by serving as the examination board in GB. This income stream was lost when the government revoked this role from KIU. Moreover, burden of paying salary increments announced in federal annual budgets adds to the financial strain, as there is no corresponding increase in university’s required financial budget. Meanwhile, the university has expanded its outreach beyond its capacity. For any expansion or development plan to succeed, it must be supported by adequate financial resources. However, in the case of KIU, new campuses were established in various districts upon HEC’s insistence, without providing the necessary resources. This has severely impacted the university’s financial liquidity, putting immense strain on its already limited resources. Hence, KIU has been burdened with unfeasible demands without generating the matching supply of requisite resources. All these factors, coupled with the lack of proper financial planning, have contributed to the institution’s current situation.

KIU must adopt a comprehensive strategy to chart a pathway towards stabilization. Firstly, fiscal discipline is crucial. The university should assess and streamline its operations, shedding any unnecessary burdens accumulated over time. It is essential to maintain an optimum level of service provision while focusing on services that are feasible and beneficial to the people. Before embarking on new initiatives, the university must ensure that sufficient resources are available upfront. Secondly, diversification of academic and non-academic revenue sources is key to sustainability. On academic front, KIU can leverage its pool of more than a hundred under-utilized PhDs by introducing innovative educational approaches. For instance, the university should consider offering summer schools, online programs, and continuing/adult education courses to diversify its academic portfolio and enhance service quality, utilizing the expertise of its faculty members effectively. Additionally, prioritizing research capacity is vital for the university’s growth. Both qualitative and quantitative improvements in research endeavors will contribute significantly to KIU’s reputation and long-term stability. On non-academic front, KIU should concentrate on fostering a self-sustaining circular economy. This entails exploring opportunities to offer professional services that are in high demand in the market, thereby bolstering its revenue streams. By strategically extending into these areas, the university can create a positive impact on both its financial sustainability and its relevance in the broader community. The university needs to create an endowment fund and a kitty of its own.  Moreover, funding from different sources should be mobilized and collected in this kitty.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the university needs to undergo a comprehensive rebranding and consider changing its name. The inclusion of the term ‘international’ in its current name sounds a bit amateurish and misleading. Mere labeling does not automatically confer true international status. Institutions like Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge, situated in small towns, have earned their global reputations through centuries of intellectual prowess and significant contributions to human knowledge. To truly become an international institution, KIU must embark on a transformative journey. It requires a rebirth, a fresh direction, and a renewed dedication to address the specific needs and massive challenges faced by GB. This process should focus on elevating the university’s intellectual standing, fostering academic excellence, and making substantial contributions to the advancement of knowledge relevant to the region and beyond. A strategic rebranding and renewed rigor will help KIU position itself as a respected institution that aligns with the unique requirements of GB and earns international recognition for its scholarly achievements.

Finally, the governance system of the university requires revitalization to strengthen its bargaining position with the federal government and HEC, with increasingly greater involvement of local stakeholders. KIU stands as one example of the national apathy towards the education sector. The current situation within the university is alarming, and relying on quick fixes will only address the symptoms temporarily. To effect lasting change and transform KIU into a truly successful center of higher learning and research, a massive overhaul is imperative. By implementing comprehensive governance reforms, the institution can better advocate for its needs, foster accountability, and pave the way for a more promising future in education and research.

The writer is an economic consultant based in Islamabad. He can be reached at asahab.baig@gmail.com.

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