ISLAMABAD: Sindh has taken a radical position by asking the federal government to restrict the powers of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in the context of devolution, and divide its funds among all federating units.
Sindh and Punjab, in particular, were very proactive in forming the provincial higher education bodies without proper groundwork, besides defining its working in tandem with its federal entity.
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During a recent meeting of the subcommittee of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), Sindh called for confining the federal HEC’s role to an advisory body without any power to intervene.
According to sources privy to the development, Sindh even submitted an initial draft, defining HEC’s functions and division of its funds and buildings among provinces. Currently, there are three higher education bodies – one at federal level and one each operating in Sindh and Punjab.
The Punjab Higher Education Commission was set up in January 2015 while Sindh opted for an equivalent body in 2013.
Some quarters accuse Sindh of copying the federal HEC ordinance while formulating the legal framework for its own higher education body.
Ahsan Iqbal, according to a source, told Sindh’s Secretary Higher Education Commission Navid Ahmad Shaikh that this attitude was unproductive.
The federal government has sanctioned nearly Rs90 billion for the HEC in the budget for the ongoing fiscal year.
Sources quoted Iqbal as asking Shaikh how the federal HEC was obstructing the functioning of the Sindh higher education body. The federal minister warned members that HEC’s funding was from the federal pool and not the share of provinces and they would get nothing in case of full devolution.
Recently, Sindh urged its higher education body to withdraw its representation from all HEC bodies for Sindh universities.
This prompted the HEC to write a letter to Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, telling him that by law, all of Pakistan was under its purview and “it would not be appropriate to circumvent the functions and powers of HEC in any manner.” He warned that such efforts would be thwarted.
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An official of the Sindh higher education body said that Sindh had made up its mind on limiting the federal HEC’s role.
Everyone in Sindh, he said, believed that higher education should be controlled by the province. “Even in the CCI, we will not backtrack,” the official said.
Punjab submitted that it was ready to work in coordination with the federal HEC.
Balochistan’s Education Minister Abdul Rahim Khan Ziaratwal stated that he would submit a reply after discussing it with his government.
The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government said that although the province did not want a body at provincial level, a Higher Education Regulatory Authority would be set up to focus on college education.
The sub-committee, whose deliberations remained inconclusive, decided that provinces would furnish their replies in 15 days to the secretary of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training.
Later, CCI would hold discussion on the issue before arriving at a final decision.
The first attempt to devolve the HEC was made in 2010 but the Supreme Court declared the move to be illegal on April 12, 2011. Another petition is still pending in the Sindh High Court.
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In its decision, the Supreme Court stated: “The HEC shall continue its functions … until a fresh legislation is promulgated … In case of any conflict/ inconsistency, the (HEC) ordinance shall prevail.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2017.
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