Campus diary : Uncertainty surrounds HEC, yet agait
Education is a key for development and decisions on it should be taken judiciously rather on political grounds
The officials of Higher Education Commission (HEC) are in the state of anxiety over reports that the commission is going to be placed under the control of a new ministry, which was created last week in an apparent attempt to accommodate political allies.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani created four new ministries last week under the justification that they would handle departments which have been left with the centre after the devolution of key ministries including education, health, environment, culture, food, etc. For now, the ministry of heritage and national integration portfolio is with former PPP minister Sameena Khalid Gorki and the ministry of food security and research portfolio was given to Baloch minister Senator Israrullah Zehri. The remaining two portfolios have yet to be allocated. Among others, the ministry of national heritage and integration was assigned to look after standards for Higher Education, a cause of worry among HEC officials.
According to some insiders, the HEC is going to be brought under the control of the ministry of heritage and national integration and work on this is already underway.
The HEC already had a narrow escape from being devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, and only after hue and cry was raised by the opposition parties, government allies, vice chancellors of the universities and civil society in favour of keeping it in the centre as an autonomous body to acknowledge its contributions in the field of higher education since its establishment by former president Pervez Musharraf through an Ordinance in 2000. The Supreme Court had also issued its short order in this regard, directing the government not to touch the body without bringing in new legislation.
However, some senior PPP leaders including Senator Raza Rabbani had strongly advocated not only its devolution it to the provinces, but also bringing it under the control of an effective ministry to handle its affairs, particularly its financial matters.
The government is still making efforts to bring different departments under the control of concerned ministries - like turning over financial affairs with donor agencies either to the foreign ministry or the Economic Affairs Division.
For the first time, the HEC created enemies and received criticism from political spheres when it took the bold step of verifying the degrees of parliamentarians, due to which many lawmakers lost their seats and faced serious embarrassment in the public after being exposed as holders of fake degrees and for lying to the people of Pakistan.
Some insiders are of the opinion that these powerful politicians are still making efforts to bring the HEC under any such ministry so that it could be controlled more easily and effectively, especially after realising the fact that it cannot be influenced in its present form.
HEC officials said that the commission has not received any formal correspondence from the government in this regard. However, reports suggest that work is underway to make it a toothless body by bringing key affairs under the control of a ministry. The officials fear that any such step would definitely hinder the activities of the commission. These officials contend that the autonomous status of the commission had helped a lot in strengthening higher education since its establishment and its contribution to higher education during the last decade is higher than the state’s contribution in the first 50-odd years.
The officials further say that different foreign donors have direct commitments and agreements with the HEC for providing assistance to promote higher education and these agreements could lapse if its autonomous status changed and it was not allowed to execute policies independently.
On the other hand, those who support either its devolution to the provinces or bringing it under the control of another department say that since the agreements with donors agencies are signed by the state and not a particular organisation or body, change of status of any organisation would not affect bilateral relations or agreements.
Moreover, they opine that the mandate of the HEC should be formulating policies and it has nothing to do with financial matters. These people claim that some high ups in the commission are propagating the issue for their vested interests, as they don’t want to lose financial and administrative control of the commission at any cost.
Education is a key for development and building nations and decisions on it should be taken judiciously rather on political grounds, keeping the vested interests of temporary beneficiaries in mind. Nations succeed and become competitive only when they sincerely focused on effective educational policies and invested in long term gains, rather than politicking.