ISLAMABAD, June 23: The Higher Education Commission, which was described during the Musharraf rule as an ‘engine of change’ and harbinger of a ‘knowledge-based economy’, is in dire straits, having had to curtail several programmes because of a cash crunch and facing what can be described as an existential threat.
However, the HEC has decided to fight its way out of the crisis.
The HEC will write a letter to the cabinet division, saying a notification putting the commission under the Ministry of Professional and Technical Training should be withdrawn because it violates the law and Supreme Court’s orders, says the commission’s Chairman Dr Javaid R. Laghari.
Talking to Dawn, he said the finance minister had failed to honour his promise to pay a recurring amount of Rs6 billion during current fiscal year due to which public sector universities had been facing a host of problems.
According to an official, work on over 100 development projects at the universities has been stopped because of lack of funds.
Dr Laghari said the HEC had come into being through an act of parliament and its status could not be changed through notification of any ministry.
“We faced the same issue in 2010 when the HEC was devolved through a notification but the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered on April 13, 2011, that an act of parliament cannot be amended through a notification. So we have decided to send a letter to the cabinet division to withdraw this notification because it has no worth,” he said.
An HEC official said the finance minister had pledged in writing in December last year that the recurring amount of Rs6 billion would be paid during the current fiscal year due to which universities had borrowed money from banks and paid their dues but now they were facing severe problems because they are not able to return the loans. “Salaries and pensions of university employees, utility bills and day-to-day essential requirements of the public sector universities are covered through recurring grants. The situation is more serious for the newly established universities in the remote areas that are dependent more than 90 per cent on the grants,” he said.
“Development grant (about Rs6 billion) also could not be released since April due to which no payment has been made to the scholars (for tuition fees, stipends, book allowances and other expenditures),” he said.
“Over 100 projects, including infrastructure development, new labs, hostels, class rooms, buildings and campus requirements, which are 70 per cent complete have been stopped because of non-release of funds, as contractors have refused to do the remaining work,” he said.
Another officer said: “About 600 scholars who have been awarded oversees scholarships are waiting for the funds to study at leading institutions in academically advanced countries, including Germany, Korea, Italy and China. About 700 scholars selected under local scholarship schemes are also waiting for funds.
“About 2,200 foreign and 4,000 local scholars, including scholarship holders from Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, have been considering discontinuing their studies because they are not getting any money.”
Zafarullah Khan, executive director of the Centre for Civic Education, Pakistan, said it had been decided during a meeting of the Council of Common Interests that until the announcement of the next National Finance Commission (NFC) award in 2014 the federal government would fund the universities but it appeared that the education sector was not in the rulers’ priorities.
“The HEC cannot be placed under any ministry but some elements have been targeting the HEC due to which the sector has been begging money from different departments. The federal government has been wasting money on different irrelevant projects but does not seem willing to honour its commitments regarding the education sector, he said.
Dr Laghari said that finance minister had assured a vice-chancellors’ conference (last year) that the recurring amount would be released, due to which universities had borrowed money from banks but now they were unable to return the loans.
“The VCs will hold a meeting on Monday where we will decide our line of action,” he said.
Former minister for professional and technical training, Riaz Pirzada, told this reporter that there were lots of confusions regarding the HEC and even foreign donors were confused as to whom aid should be given. So it was decided to put the HEC under the ministry and (on June 11) a notification was issued, he said.