ISLAMABAD: Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairperson Mukhtar Ahmed, while addressing a press conference on HEC’s 15th anniversary, said we should refrain from referring to universities as hubs of terrorism. The directions came after the recent terrorist activities associated with Karachi University.
“Please avoid making statements such as varsities are bastion of terrorism and campuses [are] hubs of violence. We have millions of university students and just because a handful of them are deviant, it does not automatically make all of them terrorists,” he said. He followed up by saying that labelling all universities the same would hinder growth towards achieving international standards of education.
He was accompanied by HEC Executive Director Dr Arshad Ali and Vice Chancellors’ Committee Chairperson Dr Masoom Yasinzai. Replying to a question about terrorism on campuses, Ahmed said that vice chancellors (VC) have been notified and they will be looking into the matter by keeping an eye on any suspicious activities.
“I want to ensure that our institutions are the beacons of knowledge and research. I do not believe in handing over information of the suspected students to the police,” he said, criticising the decision taken by KU’s VC following the on-campus violence. “I do not want our varsities to turn into police states.”
When asked about steps taken to curb radicalisation amongst students and staff of different universities, he said that HEC is taking all measures possible to ensure this does not happen. “Although the onus of curbing terrorism lies with each and every one of us, the HEC is coordinating with different university high-ups so that we can play our part.”
Ahmed went on to share that when HEC started it journey there were only 59 universities in the country, a gross enrolment rate of 2.6 per cent, 800 publications, and 3,110 PhDs, adding that the number of higher education institutions has increased to 188 with a nine per cent gross enrolment rate, 12,000 publications, and 11,960 PhDs. He said that the rate of female enrolment has gone up from 32 per cent to 48 per cent.
“So far, HEC has awarded over 251,000 scholarships to Pakistani students that include indigenous, overseas and need-based scholarships as well as the Prime Minister’s fee reimbursement scheme,” Ahmed said.
He added that 41 per cent of HEC’s funding goes towards human resource development, while 33 per cent to ensure that education is accessible to all and 23 per cent towards development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). He added that HEC has allocated funds for construction of 505 academic blocks in universities, of which 357 blocks have been completed and 148 blocks are under construction. “We want to have at least one institution in each district by 2019,” he said.
Describing HEC’s steps for the development of ICT’s infrastructure, Ahmed said that HEC has set up a cloud data centre and connected a large number of universities and colleges under the Pakistan Education and Research Network (PERN).
With regard to the HEC Vision 2025, the Chairman said the HEC envisions that the higher education sector is accessible to all, while maintaining certain standards of university leadership, governance and management.
The chairperson also spoke about the outcomes of establishing Offices of Research, Innovation and Commercialisation (ORICs), business incubation centres, and a Technology Development Fund. He informed the media that the HEC has proposed establishment of a National Institute of Applied Technology.
To a question, he said HEC releases funds to universities without any delays. “No individual can influence the release of funds, as they are released through a formula based funding without any discrimination,” he stated.
Ahmed urged the private sector and philanthropists to play their role in promoting the education sector. “HEC’s Government funding has reached Rs 106 billion, however we cannot entirely rely on the government. Everybody needs to play their part in order to bring our higher education sector on a par with that of the developed world,” he said. Referring to the latest developments, he said HEC has become a part of Washington Accord, adding that negotiations are underway about joining the Sydney Accord as well.