After National Assembly’s approval: Universities still look suspect
ISLAMABAD, Feb 14: Establishment of the three private universities in the federal capital approved by the National Assembly in January is doubtful because of legal infirmities.
Sources in the Higher Education Commission (HEC), the final authority in the matter, said the assembly did not follow the standard legislative protocol.
They said the bill for setting up the My University, the Dar-ul-Madina International University and the South Asian Strategic Institute University, moved in the assembly on January 29, and passed the same day, had no in-put from the HEC as required under the 18th Constitution Amendment.
The bill is now lying with the Senate for approval.
MNA Ayaz Amir of the opposition PML-N was present in the January 29 session of the National Assembly when PPP’s Yasmeen Rehman moved the bill.
“They announced that the rules are being suspended for an important bill,” he told Dawn, referring to the standard protocol which dictates that bills be referred first to the appropriate Standing Committee.
Once all the relevant departments and stakeholders have given their input, can a bill be taken up for debate, and approval.
“When I learned that the bill was about these federal universities, I asked for more details – what kind of universities they were, who their owners were – but no one replied. The bill was passed within minutes, without being referred to the standing committee,” he said.
“Especially since it was not emergency legislation, it should have been properly examined,” he added, emphasising that passing the bill in the manner it was made it suspicious.
The lawmakers who tabled the bill have also been the target of allegations of bad faith from other quarters.
According to Justice (retired) Tariq Mehmood, the ordinance that created the HEC in 2002, clearly states that universities cannot be established without their input: The HEC is to advise the government on proposals for all institutions, both public and private, and is responsible for prescribing the conditions under which such institutions can be opened and operated.
By not involving the HEC, Mehmood said, “It seems there are some hidden interests somewhere in this matter.”
The HEC maintains that without their approval, the three new universities cannot be established.
Dr. Javaid Laghari, the Commission’s Chairman, worried about the precedent that passing the bill without HEC input might set: “People will start opening universities in their flats,” he said. “And then, if there’s a complaint, it is the HEC that will become the black sheep.”
Requesting anonymity, an HEC official told Dawn that protocol requires the HEC’s input in order to ensure the quality of education institutions. “It is our responsibility to make sure that people who want to establish universities meet a set of requirements,” he said.
“We have to make sure that they have the proper land arrangements, that they have funds for facilities, and so on. We have to check what kind of faculty they are planning to hire, and if they meet all these requirements, we can suggest that they be given a charter.”
If this bill is passed by the Senate and approved by the President, he continued, “the universities will receive a charter without undergoing any kind of inspection. If they fail to provide facilities to their students, the HEC will become the target of complaints.”
Although its owners attempted to open a new university under a different name – Capital University of Science and Technology – the matter spent a year in the Capital Administration and Development subcommittee as its resources were evaluated. That bill was not sent to the National Assembly for debate until February 2013.
MNA Yasmeen Rehman, who tabled the bill, maintains that her bill fills an important need, and hopes that the Senate and President will approve it. “We need educational institutions for the next generation,” she said. “And these are private universities, which will not receive a single rupee from the government. Because they will be run under trusts, they’ll even be beneficial for the public.”
She claims that the parliament does not need approval from any department or commission to pass legislation.