CDA shoots down PTI's PM House university plans

Says varsity located in Red Zone would present security risk


Safdar Rizvi February 20, 2019
PM house.PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: The much-vaunted plan to establish ‘Islamabad National University’ (INU) in the Prime Minister House building in Islamabad was always a non-starter due to security concerns and other legal hurdles.

The Capital Development Authority (CDA) has now objected to the recommendation to convert PM House into a university because the property is situated within the federal capital’s high-security Red Zone.

Taking note of CDA's objection, the Higher Education Commission has apparently frozen the plan to convert the building into a university.

As an alternative, the HEC is mulling over a higher education institute located on land around half-a-kilometre behind the PM House building.

However, the proposed institution will only be a degree-awarding institute rather than a full-fledged university and will only host three to four research centres.

The change in plan would mean that the prime minister's promise would go unfulfilled and PM House would likely continue to be utilized in its existing role.

Review panel will also look into conversion of PM House

Higher Education Commission Spokesperson Ayesha Ikram confirmed the objection raised by the CDA had been acknowledged and said that HEC is currently waiting for a reply from the civic agency regarding the new proposal.

She said that the HEC has already submitted a PC-1 for the project, while a charter for the proposed university is also awaiting approval.

She added that in order to set up the university, the master plan of Islamabad would have to be amended to allow for the establishment of a university in the PM House building.

Meanwhile, in December 2018, the HEC held a conference titled Emerging Challenges and Opportunities for Pakistan to discuss, among other things, the plan for developing a university at PM House. According to a cautious estimate, the conference incurred an overall cost of Rs40 million and delegations from all over the country and from abroad were invited for the event at government expense.

Now that the CDA has objected, there are attempts to salvage the project with the development of the ‘Institute of Advanced Studies and Research’ on unused land near PM House, for which a purpose-built structure would be set up.

Govt moves ahead with plan to turn PM House into university

According to an education expert who attended the conference, officers of the HEC and dozens of other participants had to cross through three security gates to enter PM House, which illustrates some of the potential difficulties students may face while trying to make their way into the proposed university.

According to sources at the HEC, the commission has kept its silence on the issue ever since the conference as no real progress has been made since the CDA raised its objections.

The HEC sources told Daily Express that there is a little chance to give PM House the status of a university.  After changes in the plan, if the federal government approves the construction of a degree awarding institution near PM House, the HEC would still have to see if it could grant the institution the status of a university as its existing rules require varsities to hold at least 10 acres of land.

It is also unclear if the federal government is even willing to allocate the necessary land. The sources added that the HEC may also review its own rules and regulations.

According to an HEC officer, there are a lot of technical challenges to overcome before any university can be established in, or even near the PM House, due to which HEC has not granted an NOC for any planned university.

“Currently, the land belongs to the government and its title needs to be given to someone before a university is established,” the HEC officer said, adding that a recommendation to grant land near the residential colony for PM House has been submitted.

The source confirmed that instead of a university, the federal education ministry is drafting a charter for a degree awarding institute.

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