ISLAMABAD: The federal government is dragging its feet on the devolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) over the last four years, as it has failed to harness errant provinces support in resolving the matter once and for all.
In addition, the fate of several ministries and bodies has yet to be defined after the 18th Amendment. As a consequence, the higher education sector has suffered the most and this confusion has resulted in sowing the seeds of discord leading to disharmony and mistrust among the federating units.
Without following the proper procedure, the Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) was set up in January 2015, while Sindh opted for an equivalent body in 2013, but both are scrambling to stay put due to bureaucratic, financial and administrative challenges.
In February, during a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), Sindh had submitted an initial draft, defining the HEC’s functions and division of its funds and buildings among the provinces.
The first attempt to devolve the HEC was made in 2010, but the Supreme Court had declared the move as illegal on April 12, 2011. Another petition is pending in the Sindh High Court.
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.”
The issue came to the fore again recently when the HEC challenged the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) verdict in the Supreme Court. The LHC division bench’s judgment of April 27 allows the provinces to develop standards as well as appointments in higher education departments that are situated in their respective locations.
Besides, the court had directed the HEC and the federal government that in the future the HEC will work under the supervision and control of the CCI and any policies or regulations prepared by the HEC shall be routed through the CCI and will only be considered to be legally binding, if approved by the CCI.
The HEC and the PHEC have been at odds with each for several reasons while the federal government cannot take a radical stance due mainly to the fact the government in the province, in addition to its failure to gather the provincial representatives.
The PHEC has been warning its vice chancellors and representatives to avoid interaction and direct correspondence with the HEC at the centre and even denied some VCs foreign academic trips funded by the federal body.
As the issue first reached the CCI, it formed a sub-committee to resolve the issue amicably with the provinces led by Ministry for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal.
Hardly four meetings could be held in the Planning Commission, as according to sources, Punjab and Sindh are least interested in sending their input.
“They send officers of second and third tier who have no say or importance to take or make any decision in the committee,” said an official of the Planning Commission.
In February, Ahsan warned the provincial representatives that the HEC’s funding was from the federal pool and not the share of the provinces and they would get nothing in case of full devolution.
The HEC chairperson could not be contacted but its spokesperson stated that they were waiting for the outcome of the CCI’s sub-committee decision. “We will take measures after whatever the body decides,” she stated.
Sources privy to the development have confirmed that the federal government was not in favour of a complete devolution and diminishing the role of HEC.
“The delay is purposeful and the federal government wants to drag the matter till the elections and making it to linger for the next two years,” said the source.