HEC struggles to fix attestation division

The division accredits varsities, approves charters, attests degrees and issues NOCs

Riazul Haq April 11, 2016
PHOTO: fb.com/Higher-Education-Commission-Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Recent transfers and postings at the Higher Education Commission (HEC) have made one point evident - that the current management has failed to address the issues pertaining to one of its most important sections; the accreditation and attestation division (AAD).

Considered one of the most important divisions, AAD accredits higher education institutes, attests and equate degrees, issues no objection certificates, and approves university charters.

The challenge can be gauged from the fact that these so-called “measures”, taken during in last two years, are not bearing the desired results. The measures have included transferring the division’s director-general three times. Muhammad Raza Chohan was recently transferred from the division, the second time in less than a year, and the second time the official was moved the same year.

The devil is in the details regarding why the transfers were made in such a short span of time; the most important, and sensitive, is the attestation of dubious degrees by certain officials at the division. The delay in attestation and verification of degrees and their equivalence is another challenge. The section has also become a headache for many.

When contacted, the media section of the HEC had no clear answer to questions about the prevailing scenario, as well as ongoing investigations against some employees terming. The section termed recent events a “routine matter”.

An inquiry against former AAD DG Farmanullah Anjum has been underway for the last eight months, yet the HEC has yet to fix responsibility as to who attested degrees of Newports Institute of Communications and Economics, Karachi. One of the staffers of the division has been suspended, but nothing substantive has come of these “efforts”, which many term mere eyewash.

Earlier this year, the HEC was told about alleged fake degrees from Al-Khair University being attested by the commission, of which some, available with The Express Tribune, carry registration numbers similar to students with different names. The issue was brought to the notice of higher ups at the division, but the only thing they could do was ban attestation and verification of degrees from the university.

No action has been taken against anyone involved in this serious crime. The HEC said the claims were “unfair, without proofs, and if factual evidence is provided, those involved will be dealt with severely.” Interestingly, one of the students who brought matter of the degrees to the HEC is now allegedly being harassed by officials and agents of the university.

To stop the public from bringing fake degrees for attestation or verification, the HEC last year announced that such documents would be confiscated, and their cases would be forwarded to the Federal Investigation Agency. Not a single case till date has been initiated against any individual in this regard.

Interestingly, the new AAD DG is Tahir Abbas Zaidi, who had been appointed to a management position (MP) scale position looking after foreign scholarships at the HEC. MP scale is a specialised post, and any person hired against it must have expertise in the specific area. His appointment is ironic, as to how such a person could be given a regular post. The same mistake was made in 2013, when an officer hired as DG services was transferred as DG academics, and within a month the HEC reverted the decision.

Further, the post for quality assurance agency managing director has been vacant for the last three years, while the HEC claims the post was twice advertised for, but that a suitable candidate could not be selected.

There are over 160 higher education institutes in the country without an NOC, but the state of affairs of such important department within the HEC leaves much to be desired. This has an impact not only on the quality of education, but also lasting impacts on the credibility of the HEC.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th,  2016.

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