The future of over 2,600 students of Comsats Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) hangs in the balance over a dual degree programme which was initiated in 2010 without the permission of Higher Education Commission (HEC) and Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC).
As students have gone to courts over the non-issuance of degrees to them, the CIIT, according to sources in PEC, Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training and Ministry of Science and Technology, is trying its best to get a nod for the programme.
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According to sources, during the last few months, the two ministers have tried to convince HEC Chairperson Dr Mukhtar Ahmed to ‘settle the issue’. Ahmed has been invited several times by Science and Technology Minister Rana Tanveer Hussain and Minister of State for Federal Education and Professional Training Balighur Rehman. Both have been persuading the chairperson to resolve the matter even though Ahmed has been adamant that it is not possible in any way.
In an HEC governing body’s meeting on May 27 this year, the issue was discussed on the request of the science and technology secretary. Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences Vice-Chancellor (VC) Ahmed Farooq Bazai commented that the award of dual degree was possible only when students have studied additional credit hours or courses in the partner institution. Education Secretary Imtiaz Tajwar and the VC of University of Engineering and Technology Peshawar, among others also endorsed Bazai’s viewpoint.
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The programme was launched under the direction of the Science and Technology Ministry and the Planning Commission of Pakistan. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed with Lancaster University (LU), UK. The HEC was informed about the programme on October 13 and October 28, 2009. According to the MoU, it was an obligation upon CIIT to obtain approval from the HEC and its respective governing bodies by January 1, 2011 otherwise the agreement would stand null and void.
Since CIIT never took the non-objection certificate from the commission, PEC or its board of governors (BoG), the said MoU stands null and void.
Interestingly, according to the minutes of a special meeting of CIIT’s BoG on October 29, 2009 at the HEC headquarters, five decisions were made including a go-ahead for CIIT for the programme and completion of all legal requirements. The actual launch of the dual degree programme would, however, be subject to fulfilment of conditions, according to the minutes. The important point was that “overall approval of the programme from HEC and PEC for engineering programme” would be necessary.
Despite the HEC’s warning not to enrol further students in the programme, the university went ahead and enrolled students in 2014 and fees in local and foreign currency is being charged from them.
Right after the start of the programme in 2010, despite non-fulfilment of requirements, HEC took up the issue with CIIT in 2011. After series of meetings, a solution was suggested which was to either provide a joint degree of CIIT and LU or one degree of CIIT or LU along with joint transcript dually approved by local and foreign professional accreditation councils on June 2, 2014.
Out of these options, CIIT went for the option of joint transcript and one degree from LU in October 15, 2014.
There are approximately 130 students who have graduated from the dual degree programme and currently over 2,500 are enrolled in the Comsats Lahore campus in business studies, engineering and computing undergraduate degrees.
In 2014, the university issued them the LU degree but not the dual degree. The CIIT claimed that the HEC disallowed them from awarding the dual degree as no law existed in this regard.
CIIT held a convocation ceremony and issued the degrees without getting prior accreditation from PEC and Engineering Council UK. That is when the problem started and till date around 15 students have taken the matter to Lahore High Court and later the provincial ombudsman for the right of dual degrees, for which they were charged during their course duration.
The federal ombudsman’s office in Lahore on June 30 ordered to either award dual degrees to students already enrolled under the programme from 2010 onwards or refund the fee charged for the dual degree. It also directed the HEC to play an ‘active and vigilant role’ so that such situations do not arise in the future.
The HEC in June 2014 promised to announce the policy guideline for dual or joint degree programme but nothing has been done so far. The next hearing of the case in Lahore High Court will be on July 30 where the fate of those students could be decided.
The HEC has also informed that “the absence of any change in local curriculum, experiments, methods of delivery and without value addition and improvisation in such fields, there was no rationale in awarding the degree.”
The PEC is of the view that whether CIIT issues a local degree or a foreign one, both should be accredited from the respective accreditation councils.
The public relations officer of the Science and Technology Ministry, Zahidullah Khan, denied any pressure from CIIT to take a decision to their advantage by pushing the HEC and PEC. “There is no such thing but all stakeholders are looking for an amicable solution to the dispute,” he said.
PEC Additional Registrar Dr Nasir Mahmood said they have suggested simple solutions to CIIT and now the ball is in their court as to what they decide.
The HEC chairperson refused to comment on the issue saying all stakeholders are looking for a way out and hope it happens soon.
CIIT Registrar Izharul Haq accepted that mistakes had been committed while starting the programme but they went ahead because HEC did not object when they sought its approval. He said till June 2014 there was no order from HEC about the programme. “In 2014 we were told dual degrees cannot be issued and we were in hot waters,” Haq added.
He also accepted they do not have any written order about the go-ahead for the programme from HEC. When asked as why the passed out students are yet to be accredited with UK and PEC, he replied that just a few days back they received a letter from the LU for registration of students. He said the programme has been shut down for further enrolment.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2015.