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18th Amendment, HEC and higher education

Academia fears intrusion by the provincial bureaucracy and politicians
Islamabad, April 08: The real issue is not HEC or devolution but the appropriate level of autonomy of the university campus. Academia fears intrusion by the provincial bureaucracy and politicians. There is a need for the creation of an alternate system that addresses this apprehension

The implementation of the 18th Amendment has generated a debate in academic and other interested circles, political as well as non-political, due to its far reaching implications for higher education. This piece attempts to explain the implications, apprehensions and the possible policy responses.

The 18th Amendment abolishes the concurrent list, thus devolving a number of subjects, including higher education, to the federating units. However, it awards the responsibility of standard setting to the federal list. This means the end of the federal education ministry and, more important, the end of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), at least as we know it. It is the implications of the change in HEC that has generated debate in academia. The broader divide is between those who consider the HEC's survival in its present form vital for the growth of quality higher education and those who consider the main issue ensuring the autonomy of the campuses and devising a new system in the light of the 18th Amendment, which will ensure the enhanced funding that was made available through the HEC.

The protagonists of the HEC argue that if it is devolved to the provinces, the increased funding made available to it since 2002 will dry up, resulting in discontinuation of a large number of both indigenous and foreign PhD scholarships and research projects. They further argue that the large number of new universities is a gift of the HEC and also credit increased enrolment, research publications and PhD degree holders to HEC. It has also been argued that the degrees awarded by the Pakistani universities have achieved a better level of recognition as a result of HEC's policies and verification system. A more serious fear is expressed that the devolution of higher education to the provinces will mean loss of autonomy of the universities and a greater level of intrusion from both the provincial bureaucracy and politicians. Thus, it is inferred that if the HEC is wound up or its powers and functions reduced, all the good things that have happened to higher education will come to end.

The question is: how would the surge in funding decline with HEC's end or change in its status? If it was generated by the HEC and belongs to it, then there may be some truth in this. The fact is that the funding to the HEC came from the government directly or because of the government from USAID and the World Bank (WB). International funding has been available to higher education along with other sectors after September 11, 2001. Our international supporters were willing to support the state and the people for reasons well known. The state created a certain system through the establishment of HEC to receive and utilise that fund. The situation that convinced foreign donors has not changed and will not change by the demise of or change in the status of HEC. The provision in the agreement between the WB and the HEC to the effect that "any change in the current HEC status will result in end of funding" simply means that it is giving funds to HEC because of its status and role as an agency made responsible by the state to receive such funds. That provision was not and cannot be interpreted as protecting HEC but rather protecting funding for higher education through the HEC so long as the HEC is responsible for higher education. As such, the funding to HEC will end as it has been reported in the newspapers, but will resume through the alternate mechanism/s created for the purpose. Once funding is assured, there is no reason to fear the termination or suspension of the ongoing projects or scholarships as well as their future continuity.

The increased number of universities, both in the private and public sector, is the result of government policy and has nothing to do with HEC. HEC simply was not, is not, and has never tried to be a university-creating body. It only sets certain standards for an institution to be a university or a degree awarding body. The power to award degrees is granted by the state and not by the HEC. Similarly, if, when and where to create a university are the decisions of the government of the day, not HEC. There is also a question whether this mushrooming of universities is a good policy or not, whether it promotes quality higher education or not. However, the HEC can neither be given credit for it nor accused for the number.

The increased number of PhDs and scholarships is the direct result of more funds being available. If there was no increased funding, scholarships or other projects would not have been possible, HEC or no HEC. The increased number of PhDs is also a result of this becoming a requirement for appointment at senior levels. Again, that requirement was made much earlier than HEC was established. One must acknowledge that HEC has established a good system for evaluation of research journals and research publications. That may need a little rationalisation but overall it is a good contribution. However, that such a system could not have been created without the HEC is not a very strong claim. Now that it is there, the bodies replacing the HEC can keep it, as there may be other contributions of the HEC that may be retained.

International recognition of degrees from Pakistani universities has not been affected at all by the HEC. The level of recognition remains the same as it was. Mostly western universities equate educational qualifications based on the years of education and admissions to various programmes are based on certain tests, like GRE, GMAT, TOEFL or IELTS. A degree attested by the HEC is not given any more credibility than one attested by the university granting it. Rather, the university that has granted a degree is a much better and more authentic authority for verification or attestation than the HEC or any other place. Even if others do it, they have to rely on evidence provided by the degree awarding institution.

The real issue is not HEC or devolution but the appropriate level of autonomy of the university campus. Academia fears intrusion by the provincial bureaucracy and politicians. There is a need for the creation of an alternate system that addresses this apprehension. There has to be an autonomous provincial body, free of the influence of the provincial government. However, it should not be a replication of HEC at the provincial level. It must be remembered that HEC had also curtailed freedom of the campus and had developed the habit of micro-managing universities. The new system must avoid that. The government must act urgently to create an alternative with inputs and consultation of the stakeholders, academics being the central ones, and people with a much better understanding of the needs and requirements of a modern university. The 18th Amendment gives the federation the responsibility for standard setting, which means a restructured HEC or a new body succeeding it at the federal level may continue with the coordination, standard setting, quality enhancement and assurance, accreditation and equivalence functions. The fear that higher education in different provinces will be totally different from one another is not very well founded either. The devolution of higher education as a result of the 18th Amendment provides for a certain level of standardisation along with providing enough room for diversity and freedom.

Our universities may not be ideal and do have a lot of deficiencies, but they are full of highly qualified academics with degrees and work experience in the developed world. In the interim period, the continuity of the ongoing projects and payments of scholarships to those already enrolled as well as those about to proceed must be ensured.

Prof Ijaz Khan - The writer is the chairman of department of International Relations, University of Peshawar

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GCU Career Fair on April 12
Lahore: Government College University Lahore Career Guidance and Placement Center (GCU CGPC) is going to hold one of the biggest career fair for the university students and Old Ravians on April 12 (Tuesday) at the university's campus, says a press release issued on Thursday.

GCU Placement Officer, Waqar Rhanja, said the fair would allow GCU students to explore career opportunities at reputed organisations, besides giving them opportunities to avail foreign scholarships.

As many as 30 well-reputed banks, NGOs and multinational companies, including Allied Bank, WWF Pakistan and Nestle are visiting GCU in search of talented and committed students. "The best part of the fair is that the companies will hold written tests and on-campus interviews and shortlist the candidates on spot," Ranjha said.

The British Council and the United States Education Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP) would also set up their stalls and brief the students on the various available foreign scholarships, including the Fulbright.

Ranjha hoped that this year's fair would be the biggest and Old Ravians, who were still looking for better job opportunities, would benefit from it.

GCU CGPC In charge, Yousaf Bashir, said that the fair was being organised to build a strong foundation for professional career of students, so that they could excel in market. Daily times

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Universities get billions from govt as HEC dies
Islamabad: At a time when Higher Education Commission (HEC) is facing serious threat of abolition on the pretext of devolution, the federal government Thursday approved five development projects with estimated cost of Rs4.5 billion to upgrade different universities.

The Central Development Working Party (CDWP) held its meeting with Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Nadeem Ul Haque here Thursday for approving 64 projects with estimated cost of Rs236 billion that would result into piling up of throw forward by crossing a startling figure of Rs4 trillion mark. Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Nadeem Ul Haque, who always opposed growing throw forward, has remained unable to resist the pressures of PPP led government and relevant ministries to get nod of the CDWP for enhancing the list of Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

However, on the issue of HEC, a senior official of the Planning Commission said that it was wrong impression that the government was going to abandon the HEC altogether as it was envisaged plan to undertake 'restructuring' of the Commission by renaming it to ensure quality education.

"We are approving projects of all those ministries which are being devolved under 18th Constitutional Amendment, and Council of Common Interest (CCI) will take up the issue that whether the Centre or provinces are going to provide funds for completion of development schemes," official sources in Planning Commission confided here Thursday.

The Centre wants to hand over incomplete projects of provincial nature to the federating units by citing that the share of provinces is increased manifold in the context of NFC Award so they should also take responsibilities. But the provinces are reluctant to take projects because it required billions of rupees for completing the multi billion rupee development schemes.

According to the Planning Commission's statement, the CDWP meeting was held under the chairmanship of Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Dr Nadeem Ul Haque. The meeting was attended by the sponsoring agencies and the representatives from provincial governments and special areas.

The CDWP considered 64 projects costing Rs236 billion including foreign aid of Rs107 billion. Of the 64 projects, 37 projects relate to infrastructure sector costing Rs187 billion, 19 projects in social sector costing Rs44 billion and 8 projects costing Rs5.0 billion relate to Food & Agriculture and Industry sector, were approved/recommended by CDWP. The CDWP is authorized to approve projects costing up to Rs1.0 billion.

On Thursday, CDWP recommended 24 projects costing Rs218 billion to Ecnec for consideration / approval. Out of 68 projects, 13 projects have been revised and their net addition in the cost is Rs25 billion. The 15 projects are budgeted in the federal PSDP 2010-11 with an allocation of Rs6.5 billion. Main projects approved/recommended Thursday are as under:

Energy Sector: 11 projects of energy sector costing Rs62 billion were approved/recommended mainly included "Allai Khwar Hydropower Project (121MW) (Revised PC-I) (Rs13 billion)", "Augmentation of 500 / 132 KV & 220 / 132 KV Transformers in NTDC System (Rs4 billion)" and an important project "Natural Gas Efficiency Project costing Rs37 billion". The said project will be implemented with financial assistance of World Bank with main objective to reduce gas losses in the SSGC system through i) Unaccounted for Gas (UFG) Reduction programme, ii) Appliance Efficiency Pilot project and iii) Technical Assistance for improving skills and trainings at SSGCL Gas Training Institute.

Road & Rail Sector: 12 projects of T&C sector costing Rs75 billion were approved / recommended including "Doubling of Track on Shahdara Bagh to Lalamusa (126 KM) (Rs14 billion)", "Doubling of Track from Khanewal to Raiwind (Rs13 billion)", "Doubling of Track on Shahdra Bagh to Faisalabad (Rs11 billion)", etc. The news

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Punjab University, IMS Peshawar win HEC debate contest
Islamabad: University of the Punjab, Lahore and the Institute of Management Sciences (IMS), Peshawar won the 13th Allama Iqbal Shield Debate Contest for Urdu and English categories, respectively held at Higher Education Commission (HEC) secretariat on Thursday.

As many as 30 debaters, six from each region ie Balochistan, Federal (Islamabad, AJK, Gilgit Baltistan, and FATA), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh qualified to participate in the final round of 13th All-Pakistan Inter-University Debate Contest for Award of Allama Iqbal Shield.

National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) Chairperson Nafisa Shah was the chief guest on the occasion. HEC Chairperson Dr Javaid R Laghari was the guest of honour. This annual feature was organised by HEC in collaboration with Ministry of Education.

The individual winners of the contest included (English) Wasim Gohar, IMS Peshawar, Shamaoon Ahmad Shaikh, University of the Punjab, M Afzal Hamayun Khan, IMS Peshawar (Urdu) Ghulam Moyuddin, University of the Punjab, Syed Kashif Ali Shah, Islamia College University, Peshawar and Nafeesa Habib, International Islamic University, Islamabad.

The winning teams (comprising two debaters) along with one overall winner except the members of the winning team, both in Urdu and English, from every region become eligible to contest in the final round in which top teams of the Debate Contests. Both in English and Urdu, were given Allama Iqbal Shield and 1st, 2nd and 3rd position holders (English and Urdu) were given cash prizes of Rs 30,000/-, Rs 25,000/- and Rs 20,000/-, respectively while every contestant was given a certificate and a replica of the shield.

The teams, comprising two debaters from each region, qualified for the final round in English Debate were: Balochistan - Syeda Um-e-Habiba and Shahzad Hassan Jaffar (Iqra University, Quetta); Federal Area -Jawad Ali Shakoor and Muhammad Faisal Fateh (Pakistan Institute of Engineering & Applied Sciences, Islamabad); Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa -. Wasim Gohar and Afzal Humayun Khan (Institute of Management Sciences, Peshawar); Punjab - Syed Shamaoon Ahmad Shah and Umar Riaz (University of the Punjab, Lahore); Sindh -Muhammad Noaman Panhwar and Mansoor Ali Soomrro (University of Sindh, Jamshoro).

The individual winners, one from each region, qualified for the final round in English Debate were: Balochistan -Sania Sabir Qureshi (BUITMS, Quetta); Federal - Sana Shakeel (National University for Computer & Emerging Sciences, Islamabad); Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa - Syed Sibtain Ali Shah Kazmi (Hazara University, Mansehra); Punjab - Mr. Abdul Wahab (University of Engineering & Technology, Taxila); Sindh -Ali Rafiq (Dow University of Health Sciences, Karachi).

The teams, comprising two debaters from each region, qualified for the final round in Urdu Debate were: Balochistan -Zahid Buzdar and Asif Mehmood (BUITEMS, Quetta); Federal Area -Waleed Zafar Rolvi and Nafeesa Habib (International Islamic University, Islamabad); Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa - Syed Farhad Ali and Syed Kashif Ali Shah (Islamia College University, Peshawar); Punjab - Syed Ghulam Mohy Udin and Hamza Hameed Tarrar (University of the Punjab, Lahore); Sindh -Rida Ahsan and Aliyia Naqvi (Jinnah University for Women, Karachi).

The individual winners, one from each region, qualified for the final round in Urdu Debate were: Balochistan -Watan Yar (University of Balochsitan, Quetta); Federal -Uzair Khan (Pakistan Institute of Engineering & Applied Sciences, Islamabad); Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa -Imran Ali (University of Science & Technology, Bannu); Punjab -Syeda Bareeha (Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore); Sindh -Najam-us-Saqulain Leghari (Iqra University, Karachi). Daily times

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