Higher education: Punjab HEC plan faces strong opposition from academics

Punjab Higher Education Commission Bill 2014 was introduced in the previous session.

Aroosa Shaukat November 08, 2014

LAHORE: As the Punjab government prepares to take control of higher education in the province by setting up the Punjab Higher Education Commission, it is likely to face strong opposition from academics.

A bill has been proposed for setting up the commission that will ensure “improvement and promotion of higher education, research and development”.

The Punjab Higher Education Commission Bill 2014 was introduced in the Punjab Assembly and later referred to a committee during the recent session of the assembly. It had earlier been promulgated as an ordinance by the governor.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Raja Qamarul Islam, the Punjab Assembly’s Standing Committee on Education chairman, says the legislation was largely a provincial matter even though experience of the federal HEC would pave the way for giving a clearer picture of issues pertaining to higher education. “Their [HEC’s] vast experience and input will be used to help us legislate.”

Meanwhile, the (federal) HEC and the Punjab Higher Education Department (HED) have decided to take the matter forward through consultation.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, HEC spokesperson Ayesha Ikram said that a consultative meeting between the HEC and the HED was being planned to discuss the Ordinance and take the discussion forward. However, no timeframe was given for the meeting.

However, serious opposition and reservations have come to light in the wake of the Punjab government’s decision to legislate the constitution of a provincial HEC.

The Punjab University Academic Staff Association (PUASA) passed a unanimous resolution on October 14, strongly condemning a “bureaucratic” composition of the Punjab HEC as proposed in the bill.

Dr Mahboob Hussain, the spokesperson of the association, said that the commission should include a greater number of educationists than bureaucrats.

“Vice chancellors and educationists should be included,” he said. “Otherwise, the condition of our universities will end up deteriorating like the province’s schools,” he said.

Dr Hussain, an assistant professor at the Department of History and Pakistan Studies at the PU, said that PUASA strongly believed that higher education and the HEC should remain a federal subject. “Universities have a network and a system that coordinates at a federal level,” he says.

“However, if this has become inevitable after the passage of the 18th Amendment, then at least the government should incorporate academic experts in the provincial commission,” he said.

According to the proposed bill of the Punjab HEC, the chief minister will be the controlling authority of the commission. He will also have the authority to appoint the chairperson of the commission.

The secretary of the HED will also be the secretary of the commission. Secretaries of Health, Agriculture and Finance Departments will also be included in the commission.

Dr Attaur Rahman, the former HEC chairman, called the provincial HECs illegal. “A Supreme Court ruling has clearly stated that there can be no other HEC than the federal HEC, owing to the existence of the HEC 2002 Ordinance which applied to the entire country,” he said.

“It will be illegal on part of both Sindh and the Punjab to go ahead with setting up their own HECs which overlap the legal purview of the federal HEC. The federal nature of the HEC has been protected under the 18th Amendment,” Rahman said.

He said that if a body had to be formed at the provincial level, it should not be called an HEC but a higher education department or a higher education council.

“The legal provisions of such a provincial body should not impede the autonomy of universities. Otherwise, there is the danger of corruption at universities, which can be highly detrimental for higher education. We have to oppose this strongly,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2014.


Parvez Amin | 7 years ago | Reply

Decisions on higher education are best taken at the Federal level. If any any individual has advice he considers valuable for improving the quality of higher education, he is free to convey it to the HEC. I have attended HEC meetings and receive a patient hearing. Let us not bicker but start working in ways that consolidate Pakistan, not divide it unneccesarilly.

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