Friday, 1 April 2011

Devolution of the HEC Editorial in The Express Tribune ( March 31st, 2011)

Devolution of the HEC

One of the unheralded achievements of the previous government was the attention it managed to give to higher-level education in the country in the form of vastly increased funding for the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and its elevation as an autonomous body whose chief answered directly to the prime minister.
True, this funding, some would argue, came partially at the expense of primary education, but even this minor positive is now in danger of being undone as the HEC’s functions are about to be devolved to the provinces. Firstly, it must be noted that devolving education — as has already happened with primary education, which comes under the provinces — is not in itself worthy of criticism. That is because it is good for the federation to have the provinces deciding for themselves how money is to be spent on their social sector development, and it allows for greater accountability and ownership in the way resources are allocated. But the best argument against devolving higher education to the provinces lies in the oft-quoted mantra that there is no need to fix something that isn’t broken. If the government must tamper with the HEC, the best remedy would be to appoint sub-committees at the provincial level that could advice the HEC at the centre of their needs.
A centralised body, such as the HEC as it exists now, would be in the best position to assess the wider needs of academia and the nation. From the need for greater numbers of scientists to being academically competitive with the rest of the world, the HEC’s priorities are dictated by a national perspective, which is better than one that is parochial. It also needs to be asked if the move to devolve higher education is perhaps linked in any manner to the steadfast refusal by the current HEC chief to play along with the government on the issue of fake degrees of several members of parliament. The HEC has been studiously neutral in vetting the academic degrees of parliamentarians, no matter to which party they are affiliated, and this independence needs to be preserved.

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