Monday, 4 April 2011

Politicised ministries, departments to take over HEC jobs

(By Umar Cheema, The News, April 4- 2011)


As the government is about to declare the Higher Education Commission (HEC) dead and is preparing to bury it, the role assigned to HEC will be delegated to highly politicised departments known for their pathetic performance where only favouritism reigns supreme.

More importantly, no roadmap has been devised how to step into the shoes of the HEC dealing with academic matters of significant nature, especially when the departments being assigned this task have no experience of dealing with education.

A recent cabinet meeting has decided to pass on the HEC’s functions to the Cabinet Division, Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), Ministry for Inter-Provincial Coordination and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said officials privy to the cabinet decision. The HEC is being dismembered at a time when neighbouring India is creating such a regulatory body.

The cabinet division, according to ill-devised scheme of things, will take care of the issues relating to the standard of education. Among them come the affairs relating to the equivalence of degrees, verification of degrees, standards of doctorate etc. Similarly the process of degree verification of lawmakers and public servants will now be handled by the cabinet division.

Likewise, the universities situated in Islamabad and its vicinity would be looked after by Islamabad Capital Territory for the first time in history. The schools and colleges in the federal area will come under the administrative control of the ICT. These decisions have been taken despite warnings by vice chancellors of universities who have been kept in the dark and their words of advice have fallen on deaf ears.

Foreign scholarships, another domain of HEC, will now be administered by the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination. The experts fear that handing over this grant issue to the ministry would increase undue political interference, and students with humble background would be deprived of opportunities.

Similarly, the issues relating to the welfare of students on scholarship abroad will be looked after by the foreign ministry, raising suspicions regarding the ministry’s performance in this respect, especially when it is notorious for not attending to the needs and problems of the expatriate Pakistani community. Ironically, the government has decided to dismember HEC under the guise of the devolution plan despite the fact that higher education is not included in the concurrent list.

The government’s decision in this respect is in sharp contrast with repeated calls for declaring an educational emergency. Instead of paying heed to this demand, a blind eye has been turned to the devolution and fragmentation of the only institution that has brought recognition to Pakistani academics.

In less than a decade, HEC established merit-based education system and set a standard of education, which for the first time in six decades, elevated at least three Pakistani universities to the league of world’s top 500 universities, said an expert.

It was for the first time in our history that less privileged were able to get access to funds and opportunities for higher education, an academician said. The research base of the country was strengthened and standards were established for hiring and promotion of university faculty, which further enhanced the standard of research and teaching in the country.

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