HEC and devolution: Getting the third degree

Published: December 9, 2012
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The move to unseat the executive director of the commission is only the latest battle in the war for the control of Pakistan’s higher education body.

The move to unseat the executive director of the commission is only the latest battle in the war for the control of Pakistan’s higher education body.

The political history of the HEC. The move to unseat the executive director of the commission is only the latest battle in the war for the control of Pakistan’s higher education body. The move to unseat the executive director of the commission is only the latest battle in the war for the control of Pakistan’s higher education body.
ISLAMABAD: 

The Higher Education Commission, formed under General Pervez Musharraf in 2002, rode the crest of spectacular autonomy and generous funding for the first six years of its existence. Its bank balance started at Rs4 billion and was increased five-fold to Rs21.5 billion by 2007.

It suffered a reversal of fortune in 2008, however, when the government changed and with it the agenda. HEC’s funds were immediately slashed, stranding students on scholarships abroad without stipends. There was also talk of putting the commission under the control of the ministry of professional and technical training. Founding chairman, Dr Attaur Rehman, resigned in protest over the moves.

Though officially not with the HEC any more, Dr Rehman is still deeply concerned with the way it is run. Speaking at a press conference earlier this week, he alleged that the government was out to systematically wipe out the HEC’s achievements and destroy it just as it had done with two key institutions, the National Commission of Nanotechnology and the National Commission on Biotechnology.

The bad blood, he believes, was borne partly out of “wrath of the 51 parliamentarians whose degrees were proved [to be] fake”. “[This has been] unbearable for them,” he told The Express Tribune. Indeed, the timing matches up.

“The crackdown on the HEC started right after the degree-verification issue which expos[ed] the corrupt legislators who deceived the nation,” adds HEC executive director Dr Sohail Naqvi, the man who is at the heart of the controversy.

The problem dates to July 2010, when the Supreme Court ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan to verify the educational degrees of legislators after a Pakistan Muslim League-N MPA Punjab was disqualified for having forged his degree. This opened the floodgates, as 51 legislators stood disqualified. Almost 250 other legislators would have also been disqualified had the verification process continued, maintains Dr Rehman. Small wonder then, that parliamentarians stiffly resisted the ECP’s attempts to verify their degrees again this year when it was checking for dual nationalities.

HEC insiders confirm that legislators put pressure on the commission, including its chairman Javaid R Leghari, during the degree verification process. For his part, however, Leghari denied this during a Senate hearing on December 5. There was pressure, but Leghari was not deterred by it, explains a high-ranking HEC official. It has been reported that Leghari received multiple threats, including to his life, and his younger brother, Farooq Leghari, a bureaucrat, was also arrested by the Sindh government in July 2010.

This was not the only nastiness that bogged down the HEC. It was slotted for devolution after the 18th Amendment was passed in 2011. The government was preparing ways to make education a provincial subject as decided under the new law. But then, students and faculty from universities across Pakistan vehemently protested the move and launched a ‘Save HEC’ movement with Dr Rehman leading the charge. Petitions were filed and in April 2011, the Supreme Court ruled against handing the HEC to the provinces in an interim order.

Dr Sohail Naqvi

But that was not the end of that saga. In June this year, yet another attempt was made to devolve the HEC whose independent status was revoked. It was put under the ministry of professional and technical training (now renamed ministry of education and training). But here too, the Sindh High Court suspended the decision on July 18.

Now the government has made a move again, but this time not to devolve the HEC but to control it by appointing its executive director. The HEC has been told by the establishment division that the prime minister appoints its management officials. This has been disputed by lawyer Salman Akram Raja. “The 17-member board appointed by the PM is the only authority that can appoint the executive director,” he says. Raja should know, he was a member of the committee that drafted the HEC Ordinance, the law that governs it. He puts this “new found craving for the HEC” down to the government’s desire to control HEC’s purse strings. “The government has moved from shunning the HEC to wanting to completely control it,” he said.

For HEC Executive Director Dr Naqvi, there are multiple reasons for this new push to remove him – the main one being money. The HEC’s annual budget is Rs48 billion and it gives over 15,000 scholarships on merit. “These politicians and bureaucrats cannot see their kith and kin not enjoying this opportunity,” remarked Dr Rehman.

Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy

On the flip side, though, the HEC also has 48 billion reasons to want to control its funding. “Where does the HEC get its funds from in the first place?” points out Dr Mohammad Waseem, a professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. “It gets these funds from the government which allocates funds to the HEC.” He argues that the HEC has to be accountable to some institution outside itself, which is the government. This tug of war is, for him, rooted in the political context of a government committed to devolution.

In the end, though, devolution of the HEC means that there would be no central body setting a higher education agenda, an agenda many have argued was not entirely on the right track to begin with. Dr Bashir Ahmad Khan, who is the dean of the school of management at the Forman Christian College, Lahore, and who researches management of higher education, puts it simple: “Despite the criticisms of the HEC, of which there are many, I don’t want to see it go. It is essential that there be an independent monitor and a central organisation, that shouldn’t be shut down or politicised.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Khanzada
    Dec 9, 2012 - 2:23PM

    HEC has bias people from Sindh (all ethnicities). Just compare the no. of scholarships given to candidates from Sindh and Punjab. Even travel grants aren’t allocated fairly.

    HEC is a few thousand KM away from people of Sindh’s largest city i.e. karachi.

    Therefore devolution is necessary.

    Recommend

  • PTI Mardan
    Dec 9, 2012 - 4:02PM

    Anyone else sick of the “sindh card”?

    The truth is our corrupt political elite doesnt want common people getting world class education.It is a clear case of conflict of interest.They want to keep the masses ignorant and impovrished so that they keep voting for the status quo parties.

    They d rather use the money on their luxeries than to do something meaningful for this country.Recommend

  • Khanzada
    Dec 9, 2012 - 4:16PM

    @PTI Mardan: In Sindh we have Sindhi, New-Sindhis, Punjabis, Baloch, Pashtuns etc. It has got nothing to do with Sindh card

    Devolution of HEC will be good for people of Sindh as a whole. Islamabad is too far away for us.

    Recommend

  • PTI Mardan
    Dec 9, 2012 - 4:46PM

    @Khanzada:
    So I guess what you mean is a satellite office of HEC ,because once HEC loses its autonomy it ll be no different than wapda,railways,PIA etcRecommend

  • Ali Tipu
    Dec 9, 2012 - 5:23PM

    @Khanzada : What do you mean Islamabad is too far away from us? Please try to get out of this pathetic victimization policy for once and actually do something to prove that you are no less hard-worker than the people from other parts of Pakistan. The truth is you guys openly cheat in the exams specially in interior Sindh, be it matriculation or to get into Jamshoro university or whatever you call it. A report about this was shown in Kamran Khan show with all the video evidences. I have been an HEC scholar myself and I didn’t have anyone to offer me the scholarship and won it only on merit.There are many HEC scholars from Karachi also who are studying and carrying out research in world class institutes. First deserve and then desire. You obviously dont deserve and on top of that you are cribbing !

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  • Kanwal
    Dec 9, 2012 - 5:45PM

    @Khanzada
    When HEC was formed, a director from your very province was chosen as the founding chairman. It worked out fine for everybody though. May be a lot can be improved in HEC but one thing i know: a huge number of my fellow students from the middle and lower middle classes of so many diffferent cities of Sind went abroad or obtained fellowships here. I personally know more than 15 of them. And i personally also know at least 25 people who are abroad from ALL OVER pakistan because they obtained fellowships for a higher education from Oxford to Harvard that they could never ever afford to even dream about otherwise. They all had to only pass the criterion set by HEC to obtain those funds. Thats it.
    Pls stop playing the sindh mazloomiat card and come in open competition. your argument only shows incompetency right now.
    @PTI mardan
    I agree

    Recommend

  • Khanzada
    Dec 9, 2012 - 6:21PM

    I am from Karachi and not interior. You people won’t understand the problems.

    Recommend

  • F.A.Baloch
    Dec 11, 2012 - 11:41AM

    @Khanzada: First fix your primary, secondary, higher secondary and college education system of sindh. I myself studied from France, where I’ve seen the highest dropout ratio for sindhi sholars. what a pity. why can’t you people compete on open merit basis ?

    Recommend

  • Ajab Gul
    Dec 11, 2012 - 11:50AM

    Fake degree holder politicians striving for quota in HEC vs Right of common people for higher education on merit

    Recommend

  • Saqiib
    Dec 11, 2012 - 4:26PM

    I am in totally support of khanzada you people cant understand the miseries of sindhis created from centralist competition and in name of open merit and FA BALOCH from your message wording i cant think that you are studied from France any one dropped either it is Punjabis or any other ethnicity i have e also proved ,copy cultural also in Punjab as well but it is never highlighted like your UET Lahore and Punjab university they are creatures of jihadis which are currently known as terrorist from 70up to 90 era But this is never highlighted we don’t have sindhi Taliban et be realistic when starts thinking then put in your mind some ground realities what kind of we are facing from 68 years

    Recommend

  • Dec 14, 2012 - 11:50PM

    Asslam-o-alakium
    Sir can I verif of my degrees on line it is posible Please send me mail id
    ThanksRecommend

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