Misunderstood: HEC’s devolution — I

Published: April 7, 2011
The writer is a former chief economist of the Planning Commission and is based in Lahore

The writer is a former chief economist of the Planning Commission and is based in Lahore pervez.tahir@tribune.com.pk

These are interesting times. We just heard the heart-rending narrative on the dismal state of elementary education. Before we could declare the prescribed educational emergency, there are warnings of an impending disaster in higher education if the HEC is devolved to the provinces. The provinces, it is said, have made a mess of elementary education and the fate of higher education will be no different. It is hard to understand the argument involved here. Should all education then be assigned to the federal government? If provinces are nothing but mess makers, why devolve anything to them. The celebration over the unanimous passage of the Eighteenth Amendment was completely uncalled for.

The constitutional position is quite clear though. Before the Amendment, the subject of ‘higher education’ was not mentioned in any of the legislative lists. The federal legislative list, part I, which is the exclusive domain of the federal government, contained entry 16, related to federal agencies and institutes for research, technical training and the promotion of special studies. It also had entry 17, covering Pakistani students abroad and foreign students in Pakistan. These entries have not been touched by the Eighteenth Amendment. This is the only role in education that the federal government has got left after the Eighteenth Amendment.

Entry 32 talked about the planning and coordination of scientific and technological research. This has been moved to the federal legislative list, part II, as entry 7. Part II is the domain of the Council of Common Interests or the federation and not just the federal government. Part II It had no entry related to education before the Eighteenth Amendment. Entry 38 of the concurrent list, allowing both federal and provincial governments to legislate, related to education as a whole. It included “curriculum, syllabus, planning, policy, centres of excellence and standards of education.” With the abolition of the concurrent list, all but one of these functions, along with the organisations performing these functions for the country as a whole, stand devolved. An exception has been made for the important function of standards of education in the case of higher education. A new entry, number 12, “Standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institutions” has been placed under the federal list, part II.

Not only that, but the most important function of the HEC, the standards of higher education, has not been devolved, but it gets specific constitutional recognition for the first time. Maintenance of standards entails quality control, accreditation, degree verification and recognition at national and international levels — all requiring a regulatory role. Like all other regulatory bodies, this function has been assigned to the federal legislative list, Part II. In the presence of a successor, a professional regulatory body, the question of differential national standards or non-recognition of degrees abroad does not arise. It has been presumed, incorrectly, that the successor body is the cabinet division and its generalist deputy secretaries and section officers. Under the rules of business, all federal agencies have to liaise with the cabinet or its committees such as the ECC (economic coordination committee) through a federal division. In the case of regulatory bodies, it is important to keep them away from the divisions with which they have a conflict of interest. For example, Nepra is not with the water and power division, but with the cabinet division. Most regulatory bodies are, therefore, with the cabinet division, which has no direct interest in their business. What has been done in the case of standards of higher education is no different. This commission will also have to have its own law.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Apr 8, 2011 - 12:02AM

    In its haste the federal government has failed to communicate to various stakeholders exactly whats going on, in a manner similar to your explanation. The problem I;m afraid is the manner and motives of the federal government to push through the devolution. Since when have we as a nation cared for the nitty gritty?Recommend

  • Jawad Iqbal Jawad
    Apr 8, 2011 - 10:53AM

    The writer is absolutely right. This HEC is great problem and should immediately devolved, rather shutting it off the problem should be resolved. It made great problems for our “Ruling Degrees”. Recommend

  • Chirag Hussein
    Apr 8, 2011 - 11:07AM

    You are always very good in your analysis.ThanksRecommend

  • Billoo Bhaya
    Apr 8, 2011 - 2:18PM

    You don’t need education to become the President of Pakistan, neither did any of the Ministers. Get rid of HEC and all that it stood for. The Madrassas are there to produce future leaders. Recommend

  • Ali
    Apr 8, 2011 - 2:27PM

    The basic question is how do we allocate scarce resources most effectively?
    The constitution and it’s amendments are no solution to raising the educational standards of the country, they are drawn up by lawyers and politicians, none of whom I would trust in my opinion.
    The people who count are the professors and educationalists, not some politicians elected by a peer-mureedi system and their whims sitting in air conditioned offices opining about things they know nothing about.
    All Paksitan’s best scientists say that this is a bad idea. Foreign educationalits, the Royal Society etc have all praised the HEC.
    By devolving to the provinces will these resources be allocated to the best candidates, or is this task better achieved by having the HEC at a federal level, as far as politicians as is humanly possible?
    Is it better to divide scarce resources by province or is it better to just choose the best candidates based on merits? I think merit based awards regardless of ethnicity are the way to go.
    In the current set up every dime is accounted for. It goes where it is meant to go – to professors’ salaries, student fees etc.
    In the provincial set up, where politicans of the caliber we have today are involved – where will all the money go and how can we check?Recommend

  • Umair Khan
    Apr 8, 2011 - 2:33PM

    Dr Parvez Tahir has provided the legal and constitutional point of view which has been almost missing in this debate. Recommend

  • bemused rana
    Apr 8, 2011 - 7:39PM

    This is an excellent article that clarifies everything with respect to the 18th amendment. Pakistanis have to come to terms with devolution in general – of which this is one part- simply because it is politically irrevocable.
    HEC is being billed as one great oasis of excellence in the midst of inefficiency and corruption. Read Parvez Hoodhbhoy in today’s paper and his previous writings for a different view from one who has been part of the system and is one of the most clear headed liberal minds in Pakistan. For one who is an employer of highly qualified graduates, in the last 14 years I have employed only one student out more than 50 who belonged to a public university – the rest were all from private univs or educated abroad. The point it that with all the resources given to this sector there is very little that has changed substantively so far as output is concerned.
    The federal government will have to tweak matters a little bit – in terms of creating a smaller entity which caters for functions stated in Schedule II.

    The sooner we stop talking like old racist ‘Pakistani’ babas the better. The road to Pakistniyat henceforth will be through provincesRecommend

  • Raza
    Apr 18, 2011 - 11:45AM

    Dear Pervez Tahir,

    I am agreed with the arguments. It is not the closing down of HEC but the manner in which it is performed. There are HEC zonal offices in each provinces. Rather scrapping the whole structure, government should initiate an incremental transfer of activities to the regional offices and then autonomize each entity. This process would not hurt students feelings, but also the zonal offices learn from the experiences in the headquarter i.e. Islamabad. There are thousands students preparing their selves for GRE and NTS tests to get admission in higher educational institutes abroad or local with HEC support. Such steps taken by PPP government has made the party less popular and the people supporting government in HEC devolution as corrupt.
    Government should devolve HEC under its own structure rather re-inventing wheels. One can see, that young students are in forefront in resistance. The reason is clear that they are satisfied with HEC programs especially scholarships.
    I hope government should not reduce HEC with a single strike but should improve and devolve its functions within its own frame of functioning.


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