ISLAMABAD: Coming down hard on the Higher Education Commission (HEC) for its ‘continuous interference’ in universities at the provincial level, a Senate panel on Thursday urged that the authority’s role be confined to the federal level in view of the 18th Amendment of the Constitution.
Members of the panel also criticised the Centre for dragging its feet on the question of implementing the 18th amendment in letter and spirit and ignoring calls for giving autonomy to provinces.
The Senate’s Functional Committee on Devolution, chaired by Senator Mir Kabeer Ahmed, was discussing amendments to the HEC Ordinance 2002 in the wake of devolution.
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It was the first such meeting on the issue and the members used the opportunity to let off their steam against the HEC and the federal government for what they called ‘trampling on rights of the people’.
“After the 18th amendment, the federal HEC’s ordinance was one of those subjects which were put in Part II of the federal legislative list and later it was also decided that the commission will continue until the amendment is made to its ordinance,” HEC Chairperson Mukhtar Ahmed told the members.
Ahmed said following establishment of higher education bodies in Punjab and Sindh, confusion was created about role and function of the federal HEC.
“So the matter was referred to the CCI [Council of Common Interest] which made a sub-committee headed by the then minister for planning and development, Ahsan Iqbal, to discuss the issue meticulously with provinces and come up with an amicable way forward.
“After working for three years, the committee finalised its recommendations on July 28 and forwarded them to the CCI which would discuss it on Friday (today),” he said.
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However, PPP’s Senator Taj Haider asked how the CCI could decide about any such act or ordinance as it was not superior to parliament. He said the Part II of the legislative list talked about formulation of standards in higher education at the federal level.
“But the HEC is holding the funds which should be given to provinces,” he said, adding that the CCI has no right to violate the constitutional consent of parliament.
Senator Usman Khan Kakar said insincerity was evident from the attitude of the government with regard to provincial autonomy as all matters of education should have been handed over to provinces after devolution. “The issue of the HEC should be resolved through parliament,” he recommended.
The HEC chief said after devolution a taskforce, headed by the current Leader of Opposition Khursheed Shah, was agreed upon but it was never notified and the CCI was following up on it.
Sassui Palijo called the CCI a dormant body, saying that under Article 154 of the Constitution, it should meet at least once in three months, “but it hardly happens”.
Senator Murtaza Wahab, a special invitee to the committee, said the HEC was overstepping its jurisdiction and must not intervene in provincial education matters.
The HEC chief, however, said they never interfered, but in matters of standards and quality. “You can’t enforce your jurisdiction on provinces after the devolution,” Wahab responded.
The committee agreed that the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, which is the line ministry of the HEC, should propose amendments to the committee in the light of 18th amendment. “Later we will discuss and decide what to do with it,” said chairperson of the committee.
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