11 - 17, 2011

The dissolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) was described as a monumental disaster of a horrendous nature which will undermine the existence of the country and will constitute a step towards its dismemberment as it strikes at the very fabric of a single united Pakistan.

These remarks were made by Dr. Attaur Rahman, President of Pakistan Academy of Sciences, former Chairman HEC and an educationist of international repute.

The drastic action is the reaction against HEC's role in verification of fake degrees held by members of the parliament under the directives of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. As a result of that verification about 50 degrees of the elected representatives in the house of legislation were found invalid, while some 250 degrees held by the parliamentarians have yet to be verified.

He was supported by Barrister Shahida Jamil former minister of education and other senior members of "Save HEC", which is in the process of devolution under 18th amendment of the Constitution.

Regarding verification of the degrees of the parliamentarians, Dr. Attaur Rahman said that HEC had sent three reminders to the election commission of Pakistan for verification of the degree of the remaining parliamentarians. However, no response was received so far. He regretted that instead of appreciating the world class contributions of the HEC for the cause of quality education, this autonomous body is thrown into segmentation which would be stalling growth of higher education in Pakistan.

Dr. Attaure Rahman pointed out that the World Bank and USAID have stopped funding of $300 million and $250 million respectively allocated for higher education scholarships of students completing their PhDs.

Since HEC is an autonomous body its devolution under 18th amendment is illegal and cannot be carried out under political influence hence "We earnestly appeal to President and Prime Minister of the country to intervene and save this internationally recognized autonomous body. Replying to a question, he said since the action is illegal the "Save HEC Committee" would go the court if the government does not take the corrective measures.

In his earnest appeal to the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan, he called for urgent intervention before further damage could be done. He stated that he had consulted the top scientists and academicians of the country before going to the nation and they were of the unanimous opinion that the devolution of HEC would lead to a collapse of the higher education sector, which had made remarkable progress during the last eight years.

In fact, HEC devolution was illegal and unconstitutional, said Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman adding that 18th Amendment through the 4th schedule (Article 70.4, Federal Legislative List, Parts 1 and 2) fully protects the higher education sector which is a federal regulatory authority and an autonomous body reporting directly to the Prime Minister. It is not a department or division of the Ministry of Education and has no legal connection with the Ministry of Education.

The 18th Amendment contains the specific provisions regarding the functions of HEC as a federal body. This includes 3 Items (16, 17, 59) in the Federal Legislative List Part I, and 6 Items in Part II of the Federal Legislative List (#6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 17).

The 18th Amendment specifically added higher education as a Federal Subject. A significant majority of the functions performed by the HEC are constitutionally federal in nature. Research is also a federal subject in the Constitution. 80 per cent of the research in Pakistan occurs in universities which are Pakistan's premier research institutions. Research is interdisciplinary and inter-provincial in nature. This research is supported by the HEC through scholarships, research grants, travel grants, conference supports etc

International Norms: Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman reminded the audience that in most federations around the world, higher education is a federal subject. India has UGC with a Federal Secretary of Higher Education, UK has a Minister for Universities and Research, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, China, all treat higher education as a federal subject. In Korea, they had given the status of a Deputy Prime Minister to their Minister of Higher Education.

Defiance of Supreme Court Decision Regarding Verification of Degrees of Parliamentarians: The Supreme Court of Pakistan had given the responsibilities to Higher Education Commission to verify the degrees of all parliamentarians. With the devolution of the HEC, this body will no longer be able to fulfill the orders of the Supreme Court. It is understood that a new organization (a Commission for Standard Higher Education) is being created under the Cabinet Division for verification of degrees '. This will mean that degree verification will now not be carried out by an independent autonomous body such as HEC, but by an organization working directly under the Cabinet Division. This represents a direct confrontation with the Supreme Court of Pakistan and amounts to a contempt of court.

Opinion of Vice Chancellors of Public Sector Federal and Provincial Universities: All 72 Vice Chancellors of Pakistan's Public Sector Universities unanimously resolved in November 2010 that HEC must continue to function. A similar resolution was passed by the VCs on 7th April 2010 and an appeal made to the President and Prime Minister.

The World Bank had agreed to provide US$300 million to the HEC provided its legal status is not changed. Another US$250 million was to be provided by USAID. Both these commitments amounting to about Rs50 billion are now put on hold and are likely to be withdrawn with the dissolution of HEC. This is a huge national loss.

He said that progress of higher education must not be sabotaged. The HEC has made momentous progress in higher education sector during last decade aiming at building a knowledge based economy. Concrete steps were taken to improve the access and quality of education through faculty development, merit based indigenous and international scholarships offering, curriculum development, research advancement, and university infrastructure development in a holistic manner. The HEC model has been very successful over the last nine years and maintained its credibility, specifically in the context of degree verifications issue. However, now it is punished through fragmentation into pieces in the name of devolution under 18th amendment.