Islamabad (Friday, April 8, 2011): Finance ministry on Friday stopped a Rs7.7 billion installment to the Higher Education Committee (HEC), saying that till the HEC issue has not been resolved as yet, it will not release the funds until it is.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Raza Rabbani told the Senate that the government will replace the HEC with a similar but devolved system called the Commission for Standard Higher Education.
He said that under the 18th amendment, the HEC’s role has changed adding that scholarships will not be affected and that students should not be worried.
However, the HEC said that formal directives for its devolution have not been issued as yet adding that the funds stopped by the Finance Ministry are non-development which are meant to be distributed amongst universities.
Heads of 133 universities oppose HEC devolution
President Asif Ali Zardari promised to personally look into the issue of the devolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) even as the vice chancellors of 133 universities backed the HEC’s demand to be spared from being devolved from the federal level to the provincial level of government.
The president made the commitment to Sindh Governor Ishratul Ibad Khan after the governor called to tell the president of the fierce opposition to the move from public universities in Sindh, the president’s home province.
The federal government had announced late last month that the HEC would cease to be a federal institution and would be devolved to the provincial level as part of the implementation process of the 18th amendment to the constitution, which greatly enhanced the powers of the provincial governments while reducing those of the federal government.
Meanwhile, at a marathon meeting held at HEC headquarters in Islamabad, the vice chancellors of more than 30 public universities formed an action committee, headed by Imtiaz Gilani of the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Peshawar, to keep the HEC a federal institution.
“We are the key stakeholders of the HEC and we should have been consulted before taking any decision in this regard,” said Gilani, flanked by more than 30 heads of public universities at a press conference held after the formation of the action committee.
The HEC was created in 2002 and is widely recognised as a highly successful institution that has been able to revitalise higher education in Pakistan through its regulation of standards at public and private universities as well as securing additional funding for universities as well as scholarships for students, both to local and foreign universities. Nearly 5,000 Pakistani students are currently studying abroad on HEC or HEC-affiliated scholarships. In addition, the HEC finances research and has ensured that academics in Pakistan are well-paid.
Students and educators are fearful that devolving the institution to the provincial level would split resources and reduce funding for both universities as well as scholarships.
A resolution, passed by the heads of 133 universities, acknowledged the HEC’s role: “Our universities are the premier research institutions in Pakistan, and with the support of the HEC through various programs such as the research grant program, conference support, digital library program, indigenous PhD scholarships, travel grants etc., have been able to place Pakistan firmly on the research and innovation map of the world.”
The HEC has actively worked to support the growth of universities in the underserved areas of Pakistan such as Uthal, Malakand, Gilgit, Dera Ghazi Khan and Sukkur. Connected via a state-of-the-art high-speed computer network with video-conferencing systems, every university is now connected to each other and the world.
In addition, students are given scholarships to get PhDs at foreign universities and return to join the faculty at public universities throughout the country.
(Published in “Express Tribune” on April 8, 2011)