The government has decided to dissolve the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and replace it with the Commission for Standard Higher Education (CSHE), said Senator Raza Rabbani on Friday, even as finance ministry officials denied suspending Rs7 billion in funding for the HEC.
After the HEC’s devolution to the provinces, a new commission is being created at the federal level to maintain standards for higher education, said Senator Rabbani, who is the chairman of the 18th Amendment Implementation Commission, to a session of the upper house of Parliament.
Meanwhile, senior finance ministry officials denied any steps to withhold funding for the HEC, a rumour that had been circulating earlier in the day in some sections of the media.
The 18th Amendment to the constitution expands the powers of the provinces and makes education a provincial subject. However, Rabbani, the primary author of the amendment, said that the constitution provides for the establishment of an authority at the federal level to monitor the standards of higher education in the country.
The devolution of the HEC has been met with protests by academics and students. On Thursday, the heads of 131 universities passed a resolution opposing the move to make higher education the domain of provincial governments.
The HEC has been responsible for managing the funding for most public universities, as well as government grants to private universities. It also manages scholarships for students to study at both local and foreign universities. Some students and academics have been worried about the effect that the devolution process would have on the funding of universities and scholarships.
Rabbani addressed those concerns by saying that the existing HEC scholarships would not be affected by the decision and the federal
government would continue to fund these till completion of their tenures.
“The government is funding the scholarships,” he said. “Some elements having vested interests created the wrong impression that the ongoing scholarship programmes of HEC would be affected after the devolution.”
“USAID has already given clarification that it was not going to stop its funds,” he said, referring to the United States Agency for International Development, which operates one of its largest scholarship programs in the world for students from Pakistan to study in the US.
The HEC chairman and the vice chancellors of 12 universities were invited to the implementation commission to help address some of their concerns. The commission explained to them that many of the current features of the HEC would be retained in its successor institution.
Rabbani told the delegation that their input would be taken into consideration while creating the framework for the new CSHE. He stated that, after the implementation of the 18th Amendment, the provinces would allocate funds to universities, based on decisions taken at the National Finance Commission.
“The standard of the higher education and accreditation would remain at the same level as of today,” Rabbani added.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2011.
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