Don’t devolve the HEC
The government’s plan to devolve the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to the provinces as a consequence of the 18th Amendment has come in for widespread criticism.
The government’s justification is that since education already comes under the purview of the provinces, there is no contradiction in this planned measure.
To that end, the chairman of the implementation committee of the 18th amendment, Senator Raza Rabbani, recently said that the ordinance which gave birth to the HEC would be redrafted and that all its powers save a few policy matters would be devolved to the provinces.
He also said that the provinces would be as effective on the issue of higher education as a centre, and this may have been said, perhaps, in response to the criticism that has followed.
The fact of the matter is that the HEC has done a very good job in its eight years of existence of revitalising higher education. It has significantly managed to increase funding that is allocated to higher education institutions under its jurisdiction and successfully managed to initiate scholarship programmes with several reputable foreign universities.
To be fair to the provinces, there is considerable — and well-placed — apprehension that the provinces may lack the capacity to successfully manage higher education, given that they have not done particularly well in the case of primary and secondary education.
Furthermore, the argument goes that if an institution is doing well, then why do anything to tamper with it or change its way of working? If the HEC has been doing a decent enough job — and most lay observers will agree with that assessment — then why devolve it to the provinces?
There are some who think that this proposal may have something to do with the stance the HEC took in the verification of degrees of members of parliament when it seemed to not be yielding to pressure from the government to look the other way. The government must think very carefully before it actually goes ahead with dismantling the HEC since that could have far-reaching repercussions on the state of higher education in the country.