11 - 17, 2011

Showing its deep concern over the devolution of Higher Education Commission (HEC), the US Aid Program has put its $250 million grant for a HEC project on hold while the World Bank, another international donor, has threatened of scrapping its $300 million program. According to the sources, the US Aid officials called on HEC Chairman, Dr. Javed Laghari, in his office and discussed the current scenario in the wake of transfer of key functions of the commission to different federal and provincial institutions. The US Aid was supposed to provide the first installment in the current month, which has been stopped.

Bravely facing consistent pressure to end its independent status in the past, the HEC has finally been axed by the Implementation Commission that decided to devolve its sole authority entrusted to promote and monitor the higher education sector under the 18th Amendment. According to the sources, the HEC made its last effort to protect its independent status during a meeting with the Implementation Commission on Saturday last but could not convince the members of the commission to maintaining the present status of the HEC and so the 8 years journey of progress in technology and research came to an end, commented an official of the HEC.

The chairman HEC, like almost all leading personalities in the field of education, is convinced that devolution of this institution will be great national loss. He tried his best to have a meeting with the Prime Minister to explain to him personally the fatal implications of this decision for the cause of higher education in Pakistan but Mr. Gilani did not oblige him.

This is being alleged in the relevant circles that the PPP government is still smarting from the principled stand taken by the HEC in the matter of fake degrees held by the parliamentarians. In their tiny mindedness and desire for revenge, it seeks to cripple the HEC for exposing their duplicity. The former Chairman of HEC and an educationist of international repute, Dr. Attaur Rahman, in a press interview, said that corrupt politicians having their eyes on Rs40 billion annual budgets of the HEC and prime lands worth billions are out to destroy this highly important national organization. He said that "the devolution of HEC will be a national disaster of horrendous magnitude that will push Pakistan back by 40/50 years," he said adding that "we have already seen the mess in the provinces at the school level education through multiplicity of standards and the same would now happen at the higher education level".

The meeting between the HEC and the Implementation Committee continued for over 3 hours and the Chairman HEC, in his presentation to the Commission, stated that 18th Amendment fully supported the current powers and functions of the HEC. He reiterated that the provinces and the universities have a strong and forceful voice in the HEC and are full participants and decision makers in making development plans and their implementation and policies for promotion of higher education in the country. The chairman and other representatives of the HEC who participated in the meeting gave all possible and convincing arguments. However, the commission under Senator Mian Raza Rabbani appeared determined to devolve it.

Professor Dr. Ataur Rahman, in his press briefing, claimed that discussion with the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had made it clear in the meetings of the Implementation Committee that they do not support the devolution of the higher education to the provinces and according to them higher education is a part of federal list in the 18th Amendment. These provinces are fully satisfied with the HEC performance. He said that the Pakistan government has successfully negotiated $300 million Tertiary Education Support Program with the World Bank that would provide budgetary support to the Finance Ministry. It requires that the HEC structure should not be unilaterally altered by the government during this period. Essentially, the HEC has the creditability and confidence of the international development agencies and were the HEC to be changed, the funding from these agencies would no longer be available, Dr. Ata feared.

There is no disputing of the present Chairman's contention made to the Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination, Mian Raza Rabbani that since the HEC is regulated by certain provisions of the federal legislative list, there is simply no point in devolving it under the 18th amendment. He rightly pointed out that as a result of the dissolution of HEC, the country would lag behind in education for at least 10 years. The Chairman HEC is not the only person who is showing his concern. There has been a barrage of criticism by the country leading educationists on the disaster that will ensue in academia as a result of the commission devolution. There has been almost a unanimous view that the HEC has been able to make impressive strides and indeed has accomplished feats in the field of education as never before in the history of the country. These facts have been acknowledged internationally as well. There is little doubt that with the dissolution of the HEC, this trend will reverse.