Several universities are running campuses on public-private partnership basis without seeking the appropriate permissions from the Higher Education Commission (HEC).
According to the HEC, about 17 such campuses are functioning under public-sector universities, mostly in Punjab.
The need for such campuses arises out of capacity limitations in existing facilities. Partnerships were first suggested in a meeting in Islamabad on June 16, 2014, as officials from HEC and VCs of different varsities deliberated to finalise the term of references for such programmes.
The University of Sargodha (UoS) has sub-campuses in Lahore, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Mianwali, Bhakkar, and Mandi Bahauddin, while Multan-based Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU) and Islamabad-based Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology (FUUAST) both have campuses in Lahore. University of Gujrat has campuses in Sialkot and Lahore, while Government College University Faisalabad has campuses in Layyah, Sahiwal, Sialkot, Rawalpindi, DG Khan and Lahore.
Interestingly, all of these varsities have applied for NOCs — with the exception of FUUAST — but the HEC still has to finalise the guidelines. According to the HEC, proposed partnership guidelines have been circulated nationwide for universities to offer comments and suggestions.
In the 17th VCs Committee meeting in May this year, the proposal was discussed again. The split was quite obvious, as most varsities opposed the idea, with the only VCs in favour being from universities which already had such campuses.
UoS VC Dr Akram Chaudhry told The Express Tribune that the HEC has still not issued an NOC despite three years of requests from the varsity. “I do not know why HEC is doing so. They should visit us instead of sending letters for the NOC,” he commented.
The HEC intends to discuss the issue in its commission or governing body once the recommendations from varsities are received.
The issue became complicated after the partnership plan was announced by the Punjab government a few years ago. The government passed an act of public private partnership for all public sector bodies. The flaw in the act was that there was no mention of NOCs from the HEC. Universities thus went ahead and opened sub-campuses at will, creating a host of new problems.
After the passage of the act, many universities opened sub-campuses without getting NOCs or even approval from their own statuary bodies.
FUUAST’s Lahore campus was opened without the approval of the varsity senate, which caused trouble later. According to its VC, Dr Zafar Iqbal, there was no such campus, but rather an affiliated college, which was teaching subjects which were not even taught at the main campus. “Pharmacy, law and some other disciplines were being taught in violation of rules, so we told the management to shut down such programmes,” he commented.
Meanwhile, as the Punjab government reviews the policy, BZU’s Lahore campus has also come under fire for violations of its own rules, such as failing to get approval from its own statutory body.
According to the HEC, it has repeatedly sent written instructions to the violators to get NOCs, and now penalties will be applied, including non-recognition of degrees issued through these campuses.
HEC chief Dr Mukhtar Ahmed said the main concern is ensuring quality at such campuses. “I am also in contact with Punjab government. The public-private partnership rules will be presented in the upcoming commission meeting for approval, even though it was strongly opposed by VCs,” he admitted.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2015.
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