While the much-debated bill on the Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) was passed by the Punjab Assembly less than a month ago, the issue in itself has been in the limelight for well over a year; and for good reason. With the Punjab government having expressed its resolve to formulate a body much like the HEC at provincial level in 2013, aggressive arguments have come forth from camps both favouring and opposing the formation of the body.
In the wake of the Eighteenth Amendment, while quarters supporting the formation of a provincial HEC have said there was need to redefine the role of the federal body, ie, the HEC, those opposing the idea have said that the subject and the body should remain centralised at the federal level. Issues of funding, overlapping of powers, legalities and even the name itself have been brought up time and again.
Of the many challenges that will manifest themselves in the coming days, if they haven’t already, one would be the clarity of roles of both the HEC and the PHEC, not just for those running it but also for those benefitting from it. The Punjab Higher Education Act in its preamble calls for the establishment of the PHEC to improve and promote higher education, research and development. But then, one wonders what the HEC’s role was and what would it now be when it comes to the promotion of higher education in the province? There has to be a well-thought out plan to reach out to the higher education sector in the province to explain the dynamics of the newly-established commission, along with its working with the federal counterpart. Not to forget that the province also has an operational higher education department as well.
But with the enactment of the law, arguing over the creation of the body is now an exercise in futility. With the passage of the bill, setting up of the commission, with its own chairman, the focus should now shift towards the outcomes of the provincial body, still in its infancy. However, the overarching role of the HEC, despite the formation of the PHEC, is something that the province has acknowledged, even within the PHEC Act. This includes coordination along with formation of guidelines and policies in line with those established by the HEC, besides the inclusion of a representative of the HEC in the 17-member commission.
The real challenge for the PHEC would be to play its role in the higher education sector in Punjab and developing a working relationship with the federal HEC, all the while ensuring that political influence and corruption are kept away from our educational institutions.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2015.
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