ISLAMABAD: This is in response to the article “The HEC: Turning scholars into slaves” by Ms Shaheen Ashraf Shah. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) understands that writers are entitled to their opinion, but Ms Shah begins with generalisations about the HEC’s shortcomings and in one breath, creates the impression that all scholars are suffering. Then she brings in her own experience. We will share with you details of her case where she undertook field trips without the prior permission of the commission, or without informing the commission, and hence kept drawing her stipend in foreign currency while she was entitled to stipends in the Pakistani currency.
The HEC is a government organisation and by this account, a custodian of taxpayers’ money. Instead of returning the money used without consent, Ms Shah has used the esteemed pages of your newspaper to pursue a vendetta against the HEC, without paying heed to the fact that she is, in fact, maligning a national organisation while being its defaulter. The case is reproduced below for the benefit of your readers:
Ms Shaheen Ashraf Shah, nee Shaheen Khan Qabooliyo, was awarded scholarship under the project entitled “Overseas Scholarship Programme for MS/MPhil leading to PhD, Phase-II (10%, Batch-2)” for PhD studies at University of Warwick in Sociology and accordingly, joined her studies in September 2008. She was advised to refund the amount of Rs711,100 that she had used during a study tour to Pakistan, for which she had not sought the HEC’s approval. The scholar made four visits to Pakistan in the duration of her studies, also without the HEC’s prior approval. On the scholarship award letter, it is categorically mentioned that all visits outside the country of study for academic or other reasons will require the HEC’s prior approval. Moreover, all scholars are regularly informed about the various policy guidelines, including for field trips, through emails
According to the field trip policy, scholars are expected to inform the HEC about their field trips one month prior for approval, and send along a recommendation from their supervisors and a study plan for the stay in Pakistan. A foreign stipend is allowed if the research duration in Pakistan is of only one month. If the duration (in Pakistan) exceeds one month, the stipend will be paid as per the indigenous PhD scholarship rate, which is Rs13,000. The rate of stipend for scholars under the Overseas Project who conduct field work in Pakistan is fixed at Rs13,000 per month as per decision of the 13th National Scholarship Management Committee meeting. Ms Shah came to Pakistan for a field trip without intimating the HEC’s Project Management Unit and continued taking stipend on the foreign currency rate for 14 months.
The HEC always endeavours its best to facilitate all its scholars and to regularly inform them about different policies and guidelines. On the other hand, as stated previously, Ms Shah undertook a field trip in Pakistan without the HEC’s prior approval, as was clearly mentioned in her award letter and further in terms and conditions. Ms Shah was aware of the policy but she never complied with it. She neither sought the HEC’s permission nor informed it about her field trip and continued receiving her stipend on foreign rates during her stay in Pakistan, as was later revealed by her supervisor. The HEC adjusted these against the future stipends and she was asked to refund the excess amount. Now, instead of refunding the same, she is writing in the press, not giving the full picture of events.
Higher Education Commission
Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2014.