Original Articles

Heck, No HEC ! – by Marvi Sirmed

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.


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M Usama Kabbir


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  • Champions of Insaf !
    PTI denounces HEC devolution

    Staff Report
    ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan said that a government that has failed to govern and has let loose forces of destruction is now bent upon taking vindictive action against HEC for pursuing the case of fake degrees of parliamentarians.

    Khan said that a parliament and government formed on bogus votes with a majority of parliamentarians contesting elections on fake degrees is shamelessly pursuing its agenda of controlling all state organisations, particularly those that have the courage to question their legitimacy.

    The PTI chairman said policies framed with malicious intent have proved destructive even though on paper they appear to promote consensus issues such as devolution to the provinces. He said without building the capacity of the provinces with appropriate resource allocations, education and health institutions are being destroyed under the garb of the 18th Amendment.

    The lack of proper planning has led to complete chaos at the federal and provincial level. He said if the present chaos is allowed to persist, vital foreign investment in health, education and energy development would be lost.

    He said chaotic and corrupt governance by the Pakistan People’s Party-led federal government is fast transforming vast areas of the country, particularly in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, into lawless areas without basic governing structures leading to Afghanistan-like conditions. Such conditions would only further breed extremism in the country.

    The PTI chairman said that a country that spends less than two percent of its GDP on education could not afford the destruction of a body that promotes higher education. He said HEC was contributing to higher education by establishing a digital library in the country, tripling university enrollment from 135,000 in the year 2003 to 400,000 in 2008, promoting research, improving the educational standards of public sector universities and by supporting 5,000 PhD students by providing scholarships in technologically advanced countries.


  • khao pio moj urrao
    baba … aik billion ka sawal hai .. itni imdad kaun khaye ga .. the current HEC body wont let u do this so do some thing … dissolve it … piyaray .. made one with ur own cronies sitting on top then khao pio moj urrao …

    and please stop playing sindh card on every issue ….. keep in mind that both of the chairmans of HEC so far are from sindh … Dr. Ata and Javed Laghari …
    so baat kertay huye sharam ker lia karain ..

  • @ALi

    I think your level of stupidity ranges beyond human limitations neither Atta ur Rehman nor Javed Laghari is from Sindh. Atta ur Rehman was tout induced in the higher education by the NAPAK Fauj and latter served as a minister to the dictator.

    Javeed Laghari belongs to Southern Punjab’s village Choti Zareen and is a Punjabi be core.

    As far as your brilliant flash of vision states that PPP wants to place it’s own men on top in HEC I would recommend you to have a look at who Javeed Laghari actually is. If I am not mistaken this man was a Senator on PPP’s ticket in Musharraf regime and served on the opposition benches.

    I think all HEC is up to is producing pseudo intellectuals like you.

  • Acknowledgement: HEC dissolution welcomed
    Published: April 12, 2011

    Finance ministry releases Rs7.7b in funds for the higher education regulator.
    The Sindh Doctors Forum, UK chapter, has welcomed the dissolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and demanded that the Sindh Medical and Dental Council be reinstated.
    At a meeting held in London on Sunday, the SDF demanded that the proposed Sindh HEC should be fully autonomous without any interference from the provincial bureaucracy. “Autonomy of the HEC is of fundamental importance, so that it may perform its duties efficiently without any interference from outside,” said SDF General Secretary Dr Bashir Solangi.
    The SDF executive committee noted that the doctors graduating from medical universities in Sindh faced difficulties having documents verified by the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council in Islamabad and resolved that the Sindh Medical and Dental Council, which existed until the sixties, be reinstated.
    The executive committee also called for concrete steps to be taken to provide financial aid to flood survivors. “Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the last year’s epic floods are still waiting for the promised aid and have been left at the mercy of the natural elements,” said Dr Solangi.
    The SDP also condemned the removal of Dr Zulfiqar Mirza from the Sindh home ministry. Dr Mirza, it said, must be praised for apprehending alleged target killers.
    Welcoming the establishment of new medical universities, the SDF pointed out that careful planning was required and merely upgrading a medical college to university is not desirable. It was observed that in primary care centres there are no ECG machines and necessary life-saving drugs for the cases who suffer from heart attack.

    Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2011.