Public universities in Sindh have backed the devolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to provinces after being assured of steady funding by the Sindh government.
“Sindh will establish its own autonomous HEC comprising representatives from all public universities,” said Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah at a meeting with vice-chancellors of public-sector universities in the province held at his residence on Saturday. “In case the federal government does not provide funds, the provincial government will step in.”
The chief minister’s assurances come on the day that the finance ministry released Rs7.7 billion in funds for the HEC that had been withheld, while the fate of the federal higher education regulator was being decided.
“The finance division had blocked the funds for HEC for some time and now we have received a letter from the ministry to draw the money to be used from April to June this year,” said an HEC official.
Finance ministry officials had denied withholding any funds from the HEC earlier this week.
The Sindh chief minister was eager to point out the potential benefits of the devolution for students and universities in Sindh. Of the 10,623 scholarships handed out by the HEC to students every year, only 891 go to students from Sindh, which represents an 8.3 per cent share of the scholarships while the province has a 26 per cent share of the country’s population.
The heads of public universities in the province seemed to be supportive of the provincial government’s position that the HEC should be devolved to the provinces, particularly after the chief minister assured the universities that the provincial government would not intrude on their independence.
“We support the government’s stance,” said Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, vice-chancellor of the University of Karachi.
The devolution of the HEC has come under fire from academics and students who feared that the provinces would not be able to sustain funding for universities and scholarships. The HEC was devolved to the provincial level of government after the passage of the 18th Amendment to the constitution, which made education a provincial matter.
Senator Raza Rabbani, the head of the 18th Amendment Implementation Commission, explained that many of the functions of the current HEC will be retained in a new body, to be known as the Commission for Standard Higher Education (CSHE), which would coordinate standards of university education between the provinces.
On Thursday, the heads of 131 universities had passed a resolution opposing the move to make higher education the domain of provincial governments. Former head of the HEC, Dr Ataur Rehman, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the devolution of the institution.
(With additional reporting by Peer Muhammad in Islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2011.
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