INSTEAD of aiming for a speedy resolution to the benefit of all, the tussle over the post of executive director at the Higher Education Commission has been allowed to drag on — unfortunately, the normal course of affairs in Pakistan. HEC chairperson Dr Javaid Laghari believes that the commission had the right to extend the tenure of Dr Sohail Naqvi as executive director, which it did on Aug 27 this year; the government, however, gave the additional charge of executive director HEC to the secretary, Ministry of Education and Training, Qamar Zaman Chaudhry. Meanwhile, the HEC invited applications for the post of executive director through advertisement, but a day before the Aug 28 deadline, it deferred the recruitment process and extended Dr Naqvi’s contract. According to Dr Laghari, this was because the commission came to know about a ban on new appointments in the management pay scale category, under which the executive director is employed.
In all this, it is the future of the HEC and the spending of billions on higher education that it oversees that is at stake. If quarters within the HEC have concerns that the commission’s autonomy may be undermined, these are not unfounded. The direction in which it is headed has remained confused since it was decided that in the wake of the 18th Amendment, the HEC should be split up into provincial units. In June, the government decided to give administrative and financial control of the commission to the Ministry of Professional and Technical Training. It is true that devolution makes certain demands on several institutions, including the HEC — which the latter is resisting. But while the commission’s detractors may have some fair points, it nevertheless is one of the few institutions with a good track record. While reform is necessary, particularly on the issues of audits, plagiarism and transparency, it should be progressive and participatory, and the government should not tamper with that which works. The country’s concerns about primary and secondary education, quality, etc, notwithstanding — and the state must step up efforts in these contexts — higher education is far too important a sector to demolish merely for a slice of the pie.