The first attack which was launched against the Higher Education Commission was last year around the same time. The real reason the federal government put pressure on the HEC was to grab its funds for corrupt purposes and to safeguard the parliamentary fake degrees, which were to be uncovered by the HEC. The warped logic given by the PPP then was that since 18th Amendment had been passed, there was no reason for the HEC to exist and it must be devolved to the provinces.
On April 11, 2011, we presented a resolution to the National Assembly, which was worded as follows:
1). We do not appreciate government ministers misleading the public that they have devolved HEC to provinces; whereas, in fact,
• they can’t do so under the 18th Amendment, since the parliamentarians have signed 18th Amendment to have the HEC functions fall under the Federal Legislative List Part 1 clause 16, 17, 32 and Part 2 clause 6, 7, 11, 12 and 13.
• government has not devolved HEC since as per Cabinet decision March 28, 2011. Four functions, namely external examination, education in the capital, welfare of Pakistani students abroad and international exchange of students and teachers, have been given to federal not
provincial control namely commission for standards for higher education, new division for ICT, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IPC respectively.
2). We do not appreciate government ministers confusing the public about the different legal status of education and higher education.
3). We wish to abide by the 18th Amendment and devolve education to provinces and not devolve and dissolve HEC.
4). We understand that HEC is being dissolved due to political vendetta against it for its role in the parliamentarians’ fake degree cases.
5). We do not appreciate double speak of government ministers on the floor of Senate and National Assembly on whether HEC is devolved or not.
6). We want the PM to give verbal assurance on the floor of the house and written instructions to his Cabinet that HEC functionalities will not be changed failing which we reserve the right to take further action against the government.
Interestingly, the most senior and respected members of the PPP chose to indulge in this doublespeak and break the Constitution. We managed to stop this violation of the Constitution by going to the Supreme Court, who gave a judgment in the favour of 18th Amendment and thus the HEC continuing its role in its federal capacity. It was the most blatant violation of the Constitution being done by respected senior members of Parliament to favour corruption versus the future knowledge economy. The students of the universities of HEC put up a courageous fight to stop this breaking of the Constitution. In the provinces, the PPP-led coalition tried to play the Sindh card to mislead the public about the HEC. However, that didn’t work either.
Now one year later, the same campaign has been taken up since the federal government is short of funds and wishes to pilfer our future and students’ futures. A Private member bill called the HEC Amendment Bill has been introduced a few days back to take financial powers away from the HEC. It is a one-page document that proposes the following:
1). Removal of power of the 17-member HEC Board (including one member nominated by each province) to “allocate” funds to universities. This power would then be transferred to the Secretary of the Division with which HEC would be attached.
2). Removal of power of the 17-member HEC Board (including one member nominated by each province) to approve and provide recurring and development funds to universities. It would now become a “recommending” body to the Secretary of the attached Ministry.
3). Removal of status of Chairman HEC as Federal Minister.
One must understand that the HEC is a body in which governance and management are clearly separated. Governance is in the hands of the HEC Commission, consisting of 17 members and chaired by the Chairman HEC. All policy making and financial policy powers are with a 17-member board that is headed by the Chairman and consists of provincial representatives, Vice Chancellors, Federal Secretaries and eminent Academics. No one person has “control” over this body and the Chairman HEC is non-executive. The management of the HEC is done by the Secretariat, headed by the Executive Director. All members of the Commission are appointed for a fixed four-year term and cannot be removed. This bifurcation allows the HEC to resist all political pressures and take decisions on merit alone. No funds are granted under political pressure. The impact of the proposed amendment would be as follows:
1). There appears to be only one purpose of this bill and that is the control of Rs44 billion of funds proposed for the HEC for FY 2012-13.
2). The power of allocation of funds would be taken away from the provinces whose representative along with the other members of the HEC who belong to all regions of Pakistan, and given to a Federal Secretary. Thus, this would be a disservice to the provincial autonomy the same PPP government boasts of.
3). This would severely disrupt all development projects, since HEC deals with more than 10,000 people on scholarship whose needs and requirements change constantly. The funding flow from the government is extremely erratic and without flexibility of allocation of funds the future of Pakistani scholars would be bleak.
4). HEC manages the entire research programme of all universities providing 1,500 research grants, hundreds of grants for conference attendance, hundreds of grants to PhD students to collaborate with foreign universities. HEC operates the Pakistan Research Network. This is the primary reason for the spectacular growth in research publications.
5). HEC is the primary driver of innovation in Pakistan. Without funding authority the programmes for set up of Business Incubation Centres, support of business plan competitions, and support of small companies, all would be lost.
6). HEC is the project implementing body for the $300 million World Bank loan for the uplift of higher education in Pakistan. Without the ability to allocate and distribute funds, the entire operation of HEC would essentially come to a halt and the HEC would be forced to withdraw from this programme resulting in a huge loss of concessional loan for the higher education sector of Pakistan.
7). All Vice Chancellors would be forced to pursue the Ministry to which HEC would be attached for the allocation and disbursal of all funds. Prior to formation of HEC, the Vice Chancellors used to sit in offices of Section Officers to get the files cleared. The dignity of the higher education sector would be destroyed.
The proposed amendment has nothing to do with the 18th Amendment, since the funding would not be transferred to the provinces and, in fact, would be transferred to a Ministry. So, the fake claims of the PPP continue that they are giving HEC to the provinces; whereas, in fact, they are keeping it with the federation but under their corrupt control. This move would single-handedly destroy the higher education sector of Pakistan and ruin the future of our children.
As such the following issue needs to be noticed by all those Pakistanis, who claim to be in favour of knowledge-driven economy, provincial autonomy, higher education and are anti-corruption. I hope that just like we functioned as one team and saved the HEC from the PPP’s corrupt designs in 2011, so will we do the same in 2012.
The writer is a former Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan.