A parliamentary panel on Friday raised questions over the Comsats Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) Lahore campus’s dual degree and NTS programmes.
As part of a four-point agenda, the Senate Standing Committee on Science and Technology, chaired by Osman Saifullah, looked into CIIT’s dual degree programme, started in 2010 in collaboration with Lancaster University (LU), UK, without having sought prior permission from the Higher Education Commission (HEC).
It was an obligation upon the CIIT to obtain approval from the HEC before starting the programme, but it never sought a no-objection certificate and continued to enroll students till 2014, despite HEC warnings. There are currently over 2,500 enrolled in the Comsats Lahore campus in various undergraduate programmes. In 2014, the university issued them with LU degrees rather than dual degrees. CIIT claimed that the HEC did not let them award dual degrees as no relevant law existed to allow for it.
CIIT Rector Junaid Zaidi gave an introductory presentation about the university’s functions and other related matters. He said that even though they started the dual degree programme in 2010, the HEC only raised objections in 2014. He claimed that they had been given a verbal go-ahead by the HEC.
When Zaidi said the university did not get development funds from the HEC this year, Saifullah asked if this could be attributed to the varsity’s lacklustre performance in research and its declining in international ranking.
Zahid also told the panel that due to some technical reasons, they did not make it to the international rankings, but that the HEC ranked them fourth locally.
Federal Minister for Science and Technology Rana Tanveer, who has been attempting to resolve the issue, said that a mistake has been made in the past by not following proper rules.
“But there should be a policy as a pre-condition for such programmes, and such a policy has yet to be prepared by the HEC,” he said.
When Senator Mian Muhammad Ateeq asked why CIIT went ahead with the dual degree programme without fulfilling basic requirements, the minister replied that “it was done in good faith and who knew such complexities would arise”. He agreed that the HEC’s had a genuine objection — that retroactive legalisation would set a precedent and open the floodgates for other institutes to manipulate permission for such programmes.
The committee chairperson said that the HEC should bring in a proper policy for such issues. Members of the panel recommended that those have passed out or are currently enrolled should be awarded dual degrees.
Senator Gen (retd) Abdul Qayyum suggested that the HEC should also be invited to offer its views on the issue and provide more clarity.
When the standing committee chairman asked as how the NTS works and who owns it, the CIIT rector claimed that it was a non-profit national body. When pressed further on who were the shareholders, members and decision makers, Zaidi admitted that he was among the members.
He claimed that most of the revenue it generates goes towards university scholarships. To this, the federal minister for science and technology admitted that he had only learnt that Comsats was operating NTS earlier on the same day.
Saifullah also asked what name and ownership NTS was registered under with the Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan and of its legal status. Khan also asked who sets the fees for testing and is responsible for other decisions.
Senator Qayyum suggested a comprehensive meeting on the NTS issue as the rector could not satisfy them.
“We have to discuss it in the next meeting as I am also not satisfied with answers,” the committee chair added.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2015.
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