Withdrawal of minister status from chairman: HEC to lobby with politicians
ISLAMABAD, Jan 26: After the passage of a draft in the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education and Training proposing the withdrawal of federal minister status of chairman Higher Education commission (HEC), the management at HEC has decided to lobby with politicians to gain lost ground.
Out of all the complaints against the HEC, the complaint that the chairman HEC spent Rs1 million of taxpayers’ money to acquire an Islamabad Club membership seems to be the final nail, which gave the standing committee the moral impetus to approve a draft to clip the powers of the HEC.
The draft, if approved in the National Assembly, would deny the chairman ministerial powers and place HEC under a regular ministry, for better, day-to-day accountability.
However in the standing committee meeting on Wednesday (January 23) the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) members supported the HEC.
Therefore according to HEC officials, MQM will be top priority for lobbying because its voters are urban and HEC management for some reason feels that issues regarding education are more closer to the heart of the urban voter.
Second on the list is the PML-N and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI), as both parties have a strong northern Punjab urban base and both parties are vying for the attention of the youth.
PTI has also been active with regard to HEC issues as it had moved a petition in the Islamabad High Court, when former executive director HEC Sohail Naqvi was removed, in November 2012.
HEC will not approach PPP as in the National Assembly standing committee meeting that approved clipping of powers of the HEC chairman, majority of members of PPP supported the draft.
Even though the HEC chairman is known to be a friend of President Zardari, who quit his Senate seat and was, as recompense, awarded the present post.
According to an HEC official: “There were nine members in the meeting of the standing committee on education and training on Wednesday but six of them belonged to PPP. All PPP members spoke against HEC.
Only Noorul Haq Qadri from the tribal areas and members of MQM and PML-N were in favour of HEC. It gives hope that they might raise voice in HEC’s favour.”
HEC officials are also irked by the move of the government to place it under a ministry as it would effect the organisation’s independence as previously it fell under the purview of the prime minister’s secretariat.
HEC claims that educationists and academics are upset with the move of placing HEC under a ministry and the organisation plans to lobby at international forums as well.
Regarding international commitments, HEC officials point to the fact that government of Pakistan has promised the United Nations and other donor agencies that at least four per cent of the GDP will be spent on education and enhancing of quality education.
It is worth mentioning that international donor money and aid could be affected if the current crisis is not resolved in an amicable manner.
Vice Chancellor of Gujrat University Dr Nizamuddin said that placing the HEC under a ministry was part of the 18th amendment but at the time the government could not succeed as the move met with strict criticism and censure.
“But now some politicians are trying to place HEC under the control of the bureaucracy,” Mr Nizamuddin said.
“The minister for education and training seems to be unhappy with the HEC and has been using foul language against it. However, I am sure that those political personalities who think that the commission has brought changes and improved quality of education, will definitely support HEC,” believed Mr Nizamuddin.
“Unfortunately most people do not believe in autonomy of departments, so some may remain silent. If HEC would be placed under a ministry, we will be answerable to section officers for every issue and they will create hurdles,” he added.
An officer of HEC claimed that there were false allegations of corruption and irregularities in scholarships.
“HEC has improved the procedure of VCs hiring which are now done through search committees, though there is still room for improvement. HEC is developing a performance based evaluation of serving VCs,” he said
“All HEC reforms are now becoming the envy of other countries in the region. While Turkey already has a similar commission, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are in the process of replicating the HEC model, and India is going a step further and establishing a supra-HEC with far reaching consequences to position itself as a regional leader,” the official claimed.
Chairman HEC, Dr Javed Leghari said that it is incorrect to say that HEC was constituted by General Pervez Musharraf.
A Steering Committee and a task force constituting the top educationists of Pakistan gave their input, which led to the establishment of HEC. It happened at the time of Musharraf’s tenure is just a chance event, said the chairman.
“If a law is made to limit extensions of VCs and other officers, then no-one will join HEC because who wants to quit one’s job for a three year tenure,” he said.
“Chairman should have status of minister because he has to interact with international organisations and departments,” said the chairman, adding that University Grants Commission is under a ministry but its chairman has the status of a state minister.