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HEC billions and evil designs

The HEC, its 44 billion and evil designs
Islamabad, April 16: Education is an issue that has been least addressed for years now. Before we would not see further development, but unfortunately our "leaders" now want to set new benchmarks by actually reversing progress that has been made. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) is one of the few institutions that we can be proud of. It is one of the few institutions which have delivered its objectives. It has changed the higher education landscape in the country. It has been pivotal in making 6 of Pakistan's Universities ranked amongst the best 600 in the world. It has established 66 new institutions since its inception. It has increased higher education from a mere 276,274 to 803,507 as of last year. It has awarded more than 8,000 PhD scholarships. It has worked to improve teaching standards and improve quality across the country's universities. Now repeatedly we are seeing attempts to change this, because it has also been responsible to uphold values and point out fake degree holders and ensure the sanctity of our country's academic institutions.

A few days ago, a private "HEC Amendment" Bill was introduced in parliament. It proposes the following changes.

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.
What does this mean?
Essentially it takes all financial powers away from the HEC. The HEC has already undergone cuts over the past few years which not only affected many programmes but also stifled development and scholarships. Now there is an attempt to take away control of the funds that the HEC still has.

Currently, the control over funds lies with the HEC Commission made of 17 members which is chaired by the Chairman HEC. All policymaking and Financial Policy Powers are with this 17-Member Board which consists of Provincial Representatives, Vice Chancellors, Federal Secretaries and eminent Academics. No one person has "control" over this body and the Chairman HEC himself or herself is "not executive".

Under this proposed amendment the control of the proposed 44 Billion funds for HEC in FY 2012/13 will be taken away from the HEC Commission and given to a Federal Secretary. Thus, power of allocation of funds will be taken away from the Provinces previously whose representatives were part of the Commission, and be subject to the same red tape-ism, corruption and political pressures we see so many of our institutions plagued by.

The Impact
Firstly it would put the funds in the control of one person. It would become very easy to appoint a "crony" who would allocate funds as asked, and give a tool to exert political pressure on the academic system. All Vice Chancellors would be forced to pursue the Ministry to which HEC would be attached for allocation and disbursal of all funds. Prior to formation of HEC, the VC used to sit in offices of Section Officers to get files cleared. The dignity of the higher education sector would be destroyed. This could give the minister of the Federal Secretary yet another tool. Demands could be made for non-merit admissions before the release of funds.

It would severely disrupt the HEC's developmental projects and the more than 10,000 scholarships which the HEC is currently handling. It would have a negative impact on many research programmes and grants. Support for new innovation such as incubation centers and different student programmes will cease. The HEC is also the project implementing body for the US$ 300 Million World Bank Loan for uplifting the state of higher education in Pakistan. Without the ability to allocate and distribute funds, entire operation of HEC would essentially come to a halt and the HEC would be forced to withdraw from this programme resulting in huge loss of a concessional loan for the higher education sector of Pakistan.

The Evil Design
To mislead the media and the people the 18th Amendment card is being used. There is a claim that this is part of transferring powers to the provinces. Whereas in fact it is not only absolutely false as the power still remains with federal government but also the opposite of that by removing provincial representation by taking away authority from the commission which has provincial representatives.

It is time that we step up, and especially those in power who have a love for education, raise their voices against this. We all collectively already saved HEC before, and now the time has come for us to do it again. We can bear with load shedding, we can bear with inflation and corruption - we have been. But, what we cannot bear with is a mockery of our education system which will essentially destroy not our future but the future of our children and our country!

(The writer is Youth Ambassador of Geo and Jang Group. Email: am.nawazish@janggroup.com.pk Facebook: facebook.com/ali.moeen.nawazish Twitter: @amNAWAZISH)

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Youth festival
Islamabad: Riphah Youth Festival-2012 organised by Riphah International University concluded at its Rawalpindi and Islamabad campuses on Saturday. The event was organised to bring together people from different walks of life including students, teachers, parents, corporate sector, multinational companies and general public. The youth festival-2012 included games, competitions, poster exhibition and a social evening. The games and competitions for female students were held at Al-Mizan campus, Rawalpindi while for male students these were held at the main campus in I-14 sector Islamabad. The event concluded with a grand spring gala organised by female students at Al-Mizan campus. Prizes and awards were distributed among the winners. The news

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New school year brings extra burden for parents
Islamabad: A large number of private schools in the twin cities have increased their tuition fee with the start of the new academic year, perturbing the parents already worried owing to price-hike, increase in electricity and miscellaneous charges at educational institutions.

There may be some rules and legal provisions for monitoring the affairs of private educational institutions, but students and their parents have been unable to get due relief.

The administrations of private schools always take decisions on their own and increase tuition fee, security and other charges, putting extra burden on parents every year, said the mother of a student, who was forced to pull her son out of school in view of enhanced fee.

She said that several parents had been forced to look for other options, as a number of private educational institutions had increased their fees.

"Parents are not satisfied with schools. The managements have been demanding monthly tuition fees in advance. Now they are asking for payment of tuition and other fees under the new and revised charges," said Khalid Iqbal, the father of a student.

Private schools go for unilateral 20 to 40 percent increase in tuition fees every year, in addition to the charges under various heads, but the regulatory authority never seemed taking action against them.

Be it the collection of fees, observance of academic calendar or holidays, measures by most private schools appear to be a mockery of government rules, said a couple of parents perturbed over the demand by schools that even monthly fees during the summer vacations be paid in advance, otherwise, students would not be allowed to sit in exams or their results would be withheld.

A group of parents said that some renowned private educational institutional of the twin cities had also increased admission fee, despite enhancement in the tuition fee.

On the other hand, admission in good public-sector educational institutions has also become a daunting task for parents. They called for setting up a check-and-balance system to save the future of an estimated 150,000 students, who were getting education in the private schools in the two cities.

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Five-day National Book Festival begins
Islamabad: The Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) will hold the National Book Festival from today (Monday) to revive the diminishing trend of book reading, providing a variety of books on almost every subject.

Addressing a press conference, PAL Chairman Abdul Hameed said that the book fair would be arranged in connection with the National Book Day and the International Book and Copyright Day to fall on April 22 and 23, respectively. The event will showcase a number of other activities, like mushairas, folk music and seminars to enhance the atmosphere of the festivity.

Some leading non-governmental organisations will also set up their stalls at the fair to avail the opportunity to reach a large gathering of educated public from all age groups under one roof. The mushaira will be held tomorrow (Tuesday). The PAL, in collaboration with the Punjabi Adabi Parchar, will hold a folk music event on April 18. app

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