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Heck, no HEC Pakistan!

federal cabinet approved the devolution
April 11: Not long ago, academic staff in Sindh and Balochistan staged demonstrations against the HEC for being extremely partial against PhD professors and students from smaller provinces.

Following the decision of the Parliamentary Commission on the Implementation of the Eighteenth Amendment (PCIEA), the federal cabinet approved the devolution of five ministries to the provinces, including the ministry of education. While news anchors started steaming on their pulpits about the 'devolution of the HEC', one was compelled to see the issue with objectivity, setting all politics aside for a moment.

The hoopla has been constructed such that one tends to confuse higher education with the existence of the HEC. A reality check might help in removing this muddle. The HEC was born out of the sperm of a dictatorial regime and the womb of a fund-starved body, the University Grants Commission (UGC), working since 1974. Like all dictators in Pakistan, the last one too was obsessed with a centralised polity - a strong centre with little autonomy to the provinces. This has now been transformed into our collective psyche to undermine coalescing units as is evident from arguments currently given against the HEC's devolution.

The popular arguments against the HEC's devolution range from a concern for higher education in Pakistan, freezing of foreign aid for higher education in the absence of the HEC, halting ongoing scholarships, lack of coordination among and check on universities, etc. One has to admit the successful propaganda machine against the devolution by HEC beneficiaries and planners.

The vice chancellors (VCs) of 133 universities, as claimed by media reports, resolved against the devolution. Look a little closer and you will see and find that only 40 VCs (beneficiaries of the system) present in that particular meeting, out of 133 universities, had actually "expressed concerns over the devolution". Even these 40 did not agree with protesting on the streets against it.

The HEC authorities used the rumour factory to propagate confusion about the issue. Rumours about the freezing of foreign aid for studying abroad were unleashed in the media, which was readily refuted by the biggest HEC donor, USAID, that made clear that their $ 250 million support still stands. The most vicious step that the HEC arbitrarily took was halting ongoing scholarships, just to spread panic and confusion among the students. Sadly, it worked. Without even slight understanding of the issue or any inclination to probe the facts, general opinion tilted in the direction the vested interest group wanted it.

The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Associations (FAPUASA), one of the primary and key stakeholders, however, is still silent on the issue. In fact, many members of FAPUASA in informal discussions have revealed how apt this decision would prove in steering higher education in Pakistan. A professor of economics from Government College University explained how the HEC had been promoting bureaucratic and fascist tendencies by being highly centralised and having a dictatorial authority. Many a time, the academic staff of different universities was seen complaining about the unfair and unjust practices of the HEC that undermined equal opportunities for all.

Not long ago, academic staff in Sindh and Balochistan staged demonstrations against the HEC for being extremely partial against PhD professors and students from smaller provinces. The partiality of the HEC went to the level where PhD holders in Pashto, Sindhi and Balochi were denied the same allowances as for other disciplines. One can see the same arrogance and contempt towards the smaller provinces in the devolution debate undermining the provinces' capability to deal with higher education. Had the HEC not been that self-serving and centralised, it would have built at least some capacity among the provinces over the last eight years.

Some political parties made a bewildering U-turn by quickly jumping onto the populist position. The PCIEA does not mention any strong voice of dissent, refuting all claims of a Punjab-based political party currently insisting on the status quo. It is interesting to note that Punjab is probably the only province that had anticipated the devolution earlier than any other province, and had made its own body on higher education, which has now been working for quite some time and leaves one wondering why the HEC or Punjab government could not strengthen it for performing the HEC's functions at the Punjab level.

Leaving aside politics and coming back to academics, an objective look at the performance of the HEC might give us some clue towards a solution or at least direction. The white elephant, as the HEC is called by leading academicians, has been notorious for softening the system for quantity while compromising the quality of the scholars on the one hand, and disrupting teaching practices in universities on the other. Instead of carrying out their primary responsibilities, i.e. teaching, the academic staff of the universities was funnelled into pursuing peripheral activities like the publication of their papers in international journals that would win them promotions and other incentives. No wonder most supervisors would sign your PhD thesis without even reading it because they have to work on more important things - their own publications.

This emphasis on published papers did not distract only the teachers from their primary responsibility, but also aspiring PhD students. The unfair condition of GRE qualification at the time of degree awarding (not at the time of PhD admission) aside, Pakistan is probably the only country where the condition of at least three publications is imposed for awarding a PhD. You better concentrate on publications instead of your own thesis, says the HEC to PhD students.

Moreover, most senior, accomplished and foreign qualified professors were not certified as PhD supervisors, for not being among 'favourites' or for not pleading before the HEC for it. Many renowned names like Professor Hasan-Askari Rizvi, Professor Ijaz Shafi Gilani, Professor M Islam and many others come into this category. The HEC's obsession with increasing the number of PhD scholars while compromising their quality made the HEC suffer itself, which was seen when it announced the selection criteria for the selection of VCs against recent vacancies that asked for a foreign PhD degree, not one from the HEC.

The assertions that foreign universities would stop recognising Pakistani degrees in the absence of the HEC remain as far from reality as the HEC authorities are from egalitarianism. One wonders if Pakistan did not produce any degree holder and if the world never recognised any Pakistani degree before the HEC or, for that matter, before the UGC. This insistence on being and remaining the only centralised dictatorial body to impose self-serving terms based mostly on whims and caprices of individuals in the HEC has not taken higher education very far - yet devolution is thought incapable of doing any better. Let us learn to respect the provinces and empower them. Let us ask the HEC authorities to go into their respective provinces and steer the devolution process ahead.

All said, it remains a necessity to build an authentic body for not only coordination, but also the rating of universities. More than universities, the departments need to be rated based on their academic records and excellence. Teachers need to be encouraged for applying the best possible teaching practices rather than pursuing selfish objectives of promotions and seeking 'tenure track' at the expense of academic activity. Academics need to sit down with the PCIEA and inter-provincial coordination ministry so as to facilitate and advise the process of devising an effective mechanism to replace a hegemonic HEC. VCs need to stop being politicians and the media needs to sit back, think, learn and then reflect on the subject leaving aside politics and giving way to the kind of objectivity that respects academics.

By Marvi Sirmed - The writer is an independent researcher and human rights activist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at (Daily times)

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FAPUASA to wait for Supreme Court's verdict
Islamabad: The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Associations (FAPUASA) has said that there must be a coordinating agency at federal level to ensure uniformity of higher education in the country, whether Higher Education Commission (HEC) is devolved or not.

The decision taken at the two-day annual general body meeting of the FAPUASA at the Allama Iqbal Open University was made public at a press conference at the National Press Club here on Sunday. Flanked by other office-bearers of the federation, Dr. Fida Mohammad, president of the federation, said that the FAPUASA does not accept the HEC in its present form.

He said that the Supreme Court would decide the status of the HEC. "If the court decides to retain the present status of the HEC, the federation would stress certain reforms in the HEC, which need to be incorporated in consultation with FAPUASA and other stakeholders," he said. He added that if the SC supports devolution, then the new system at provincial level should be gradually established so that there is no chaos and the federation should be involved in deliberations.

Professor Fida said that the autonomy of universities must be restored and respected. He said that in local set-ups, the autonomy of universities should be ensured, which should be free from political as well as bureaucratic influence. He lamented that the demands presented to the HEC in the February 22 meeting are still not implemented. He asked the HEC to address this issue forthwith.

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Finance Ministry assures HEC of release of instalment
Islamabad: The finance ministry assured the Higher Education Commission (HEC) that instalment for the fourth quarter of year 2010-11 would be released in next few days, the sources told this scribe Saturday.

The sources said HEC has yet not received any letter but a high official from the finance ministry made a telephone call to HEC chairman and assured that the instalment would be released at the earliest.

"The finance ministry would release Rs7.7 billion as instalment for recurring budget that would be provided to 71 public sector universities for payment of salaries to their teaching and non-teaching employees," an Higher Education Commission official said.

The official said they tried to contact officials of the finance ministry on Friday to convey their concerns over stoppage of instalment but they failed to talk with any of them.

"Now they have contacted and asked us that there is no need to worry about the

payment of salaries to employees of the universities," he said.

He said it is quite satisfactory that the finance ministry has agreed to release funds, but the issue of devolution of HEC is still a bone of contention among the government and the vice chancellors of the public sector universities.

It is pertinent to mention here that Implementation Commission Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani stated in the Senate that a new commission would be established with the name Commission for Standard Higher Education in the Cabinet Division. But the educational experts have been constantly raising questions about the logic behind establishment of new commission despite the fact that Higher Education Commission has been emerging as an independent and vibrant institution for promotion of higher education in the country.

The official said that members of the Implementation Commission reviewed the HEC law for hours, but they decided in favour of devolution of the Higher Education Commission that is neither itself a federal ministry nor it falls under any other ministry. "No Higher Education Commission's official has ever got involved in any corruption case and instead it has been working to promote transparent mechanism in the financial affairs," he said. Former education minister Sardar Aseff Ahmad Ali told this correspondent that the federal cabinet in its meeting unanimously decided that provision of funds for students studying on foreign scholarships and upgradation of the public sector universities would be made available and there should be no concern about it.

"The decision of the finance ministry to provide instalment for recurring budget is part of the commitment made by the government that devolution would not affect any of the government employee," he said.

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Sports week kicks off at Gordon College
Rawalpindi: The 102nd annual sports week kicked off Saturday at the Gordon College, Rawalpindi. Member National Assembly (MNA) Shakeel Ahmed Awan was the chief guest on the occasion and distributed shields and trophies among the winners. The students enthusiastically participated in relay race, football, basketball, badminton, high jump, discus throw, javelin throw and fancy dress show. Addressing the prize distribution ceremony, MNA Shakeel Ahmed Awan announced special grant for the college including supply of new furniture and construction of a basketball court. Gordon College Principal Professor Dr. Abdul Qayyum Bhatti congratulated the prize winners and appreciated the students who took part in different games. He said that sports activities are very important for all students.

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Spring Festival ends at IIU schools
Rawalpindi: The two-day Spring Festival concluded at the International Islamic University Schools, 6th Road, Satellite Town Campus, here on Sunday.

According to a press release, the Spring Festival was jointly organised by the Jang Cultural Wing and the IIU Schools.

A large number of students and their parents attended the festival. Different stalls and events were organised for students. Magic show, puppet show, talent show, face-painting, handwriting and other competitions were organised for children.

International Islamic University Schools Vice President Professor Gulzar Khwaja was the chief guest at the concluding ceremony of the festival. Speaking on the occasion, he congratulated the Jang Cultural Wing and school management for organising a lively event.

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AIOU students briefed on operations of Rescue 1122
Rawalpindi: A delegation of students of the Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) visited the 'Rescue 1122' office to observe its emergency management system.

District Emergency Officer 'Rescue 1122' Dr. Abdur Rahman briefed the students on the working of the emergency service.

Spokesperson Deeba Shahnaz Akhter also briefed the students.

The rescuers also gave a demonstration on the life-saving equipment in ambulance and a mock exercise of fire-fighting.

The students were told that the Rawalpindi's rescue service has responded to 30,617 emergency calls since its establishment in the district and rescued 33,458 helpless victims of emergencies, including 1,3810 road accidents, 2,132 fire incidents, 32 building collapse incidents, 23 bomb blast incidents, 359 crime incidents, 52 drowning cases, 67 special rescue operations and 14,142 medical emergencies.

The 'Rescue 1122' rescued more than 800,000 victims of different emergencies all over Punjab and won 'Azme Aalishan Award 2011'.

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900 teachers of Beaconhouse awarded
Islamabad: The Beaconhouse Long Service Award ceremony was held here on Friday to honour 900 teachers for their meritorious services for the Beaconhouse School System.

Over 500 Beaconhouse School System staff received their awards from Chairperson Nasreen Kasuri, Chief Executive Kasim Kasuri, Regional Director - Centre Ali Raza, Director HR Ali Nagi, former academic coordinator -North Sadia Mufti, Curriculum Development and Training - Head Office Fareeha Ahmed, and Principal Hyderabad Chapter Tehmina Soomro.

Parents and family of Beaconhouse student, Saad Sadiq Shaheed, whose life was tragically cut short at the Parade Lane attack were present in the ceremony.

Beaconhouse School System Chairperson Nasreen Kasuri paid rich tributes to Saad Sadiq and announced an annual scholarship in memory of Saad for a full two year for the A Level programme. Saad Sadiq's father, Brigadier Sadiq shared touching collection of memories of his children at school and Saad's life at Beaconhouse bringing tears to many eyes.

The hosts for the evening event were Sabrina Khalid and Raja Nadeem of Beaconhouse School Syetem. They were joined by Shanzay and Fatima for the announcements, while BSS students Salik and Feroze who performed the numbers 'Khamaaj', 'Main tenu samjhawan ki' and a rocking performance of the Attahullah hit, 'Aj kala jora pa', which had the audience clapping and singing ' 'Hum dekhain ge'. The entertainment provided by television personality and writer, Beo Zafar, for the ceremony.

Danial Kasuri paid tribute to the staff of the Northern Region. The executive director was joined by Ibrahim Shahid, who set the new world record of 23 A grades in his O level - who paid tributes to all teachers and staff on behalf of the students body at Beaconhouse School System.

Nasreen Kasuri gave away awards to staff for giving more than 25 years of their lives to Beaconhouse Northern Region. They included: Silvat Ali, the longest serving staff member of the region with almost 30 years at Beaconhouse, Zohra Ahmad, Javed Niazi, Mehnoob Khan, David John, Fouzia Ansari, Aurangzeb Khan, Nasreen Bibi, Saeed Rawat, Mir Afzal Khan, Sumera Gulzar, Fatima Dhaukat, Parveen Naz, Farzana Anwar, Zahida Azhar, Sakina Bibi, Ikhtiar Hussain, Niaz Muhammad, Qasim Khan, Rehana Nasir, Warda Salahuddin, Bashir Masih, Aliya Nafisa Khan, Mohammad Saeed and Saeeda Safdar Ali.

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Talent Show on April 17
Islamabad: The Jang Cultural Wing and Asif Public School System (APSS) have organised a Talent Show at the Jinnah Convention Centre here on April 17 (Sunday).

According to a press release issued here on Sunday, PML-N MNA Hamza Shahbaz Sharif will be the chief guest on the occasion.

Asif Public School System Chairman Asif Irshad Satti said that PML-N leader Raja Zafar-ul-Haq would preside over the function. He said that students of all campuses of APSS have made elaborate arrangements for the event. He said that position-holders of the SSC Annual Examination of BISE, Rawalpindi, would be honoured with medals in the Talent Show.

Satti said that invitations for the show have been extended to diplomats, parliamentarians, high officials, scholars and people from different walks of life. He said that colourful items, including fancy dress show, folk songs, tableux and national songs would be presented on the occasion. The news

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