KARACHI: Owing to a lack of interest as well as an administrative crisis in its Karachi office, the standard time for the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to verify degrees of Karachi and Sindh's public-sector universities has been unduly extended.
The process of verification, which earlier used to take five days, has now been extended to 25 days. In some cases, the process is taking even longer than a month.
As a result of this delay, thousands of varsity students in Sindh and Karachi are under immense pressure in relation to the verification of their degrees, particularly those who are applying for postgraduate studies abroad and are grappling with looming deadlines.
The delay in the degree verification process has ensued due to the removal of the officer appointed on the post of Karachi regional director. Consequently, the responsibility of degree verification - of both private and public universities - has been assigned to an 18th-grade junior officer who is unable to control the situation.
The Express Tribune has also learnt that instead of improving the existing system, the HEC is starting an urgent degree-verification process against payment of heavy fees which will be a financial burden on students.
Students applying for degree verification on the HEC portal are being granted 25 days or more time for the submission of their documents and degrees are verified after going through a lengthy process.
Although many years have passed since the process of degree verification started in Karachi, at present, the HEC can only verify 120 degrees per day. According to an HEC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the number of students submitting applications for degree verification is much higher but the HEC has failed to verify more than 120 degrees on a daily basis.
At present, there are only 36 staffers working in the HEC Karachi regional office, of whom around 10 staff members work on the process of verifying the degrees. The HEC is currently charging Rs800 for original documents' verification while Rs500 is charged for the verification of photocopies.
There are 52 public and private universities all over Sindh including Karachi and the HEC is responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of these universities together with the verification of degrees of students passing out from these universities.
On being questioned regarding the unnecessary delays in the process of degree verification, the acting regional director of HEC, Hakim Ali Talpur, initially cited the high number of students as the reason for the delay.
He, however, conceded that the HEC was facing issues and would be unable to resolve the problem anytime soon.
"The HEC has decided to start an urgent service for degree verification so that students will be able to get their degrees verified in one day only," said Talpur. "However, an additional fee will be charged for the procedure."
Dismissed from service
The position of director in HEC Karachi regional office - which is a Grade 20 position - has been lying vacant for the last three-and-a-half months. On January 30, the HEC appointed Talpur, a Grade 18 officer, for the position after removing former regional director Javed Memon.
Javed Memon, along with deputy director Mubashir Memon and assistant director Afaq Ahmed, was suspended after the news of a sanitary worker attempting to commit suicide surfaced. The sanitary worker had apparently requested a financial grant to help cover the costs of his child's wedding, but that money had not been released for many months.
Sources at HEC Islamabad told The Express Tribune that an inquiry committee was formed to investigate the matter and, according to the report of the committee, the sanitary worker was held responsible for his actions. As a result, = employment was terminated on the orders of the Executive Director General (Retd) Muhammad Asghar.
The termination letter said that by attempting to commit suicide, the sanitary worker was not only responsible for the criminal act but also for trying to blackmail the institution and affecting its status. His services were, therefore, terminated in March 2019. Despite a month and a half having been passed since, the HEC has not issued any notifications regarding the removal or reinstatement of Javed, Mubashir and Afaq Ahmed.
HEC orders Ilma University students to pass degree verification test
HEC across country
Apart from HEC Islamabad, regional offices in four big cities - Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, and Quetta - verify the degrees. However, in Karachi and Lahore, the positions for Grade 20 officers are held by Grade 18 or 19 officers, while in Peshawar and Quetta Grade 20 officers are appointed as regional directors.
The Express Tribune also learned that for degree verification, the HEC has no record of university students and the degrees are being verified only after seeing the sample degree from the concerned private and public universities. There is no data available with the HEC regarding the enrolment and graduating year of a student from a certain university and instead of contacting the concerned universities to countercheck the authenticity of the degrees, the commission verifies the degree by comparing it with a sample degree. Sources also said that the HEC obtained the degree samples from the concerned universities' websites.
When questioned about the mechanism of degree verification, acting regional director Hakim Ali Talpur said that the HEC has security features provided by concerned universities and verification is carried out on their basis. He, however, admitted that the HEC does not have any kind of data pertaining to university students' enrolment and graduation dates, adding that some private universities have started providing students' data.