ISLAMABAD, Dec 12: In another episode of the HEC saga, chairperson Higher Education Commission (HEC) Dr Javaid R Laghari on Wednesday went back on his words given to the Senate Standing Committee on December 5, and withdrew his notification regarding appointment of Qamar Zaman as executive director HEC.

In a letter Mr Lagahri stated that a number of HEC members had expressed their concern over the earlier correspondence, which was issued without their approval, and requested that it be withdrawn.

“So after seeking legal counsel, it has been decided that the letter will be called back, and decision of the commission meeting regarding extension of Dr Sohail Naqvi stands valid,” he wrote.

Another meeting has been called on December 14, and by the looks of it, the controversies won’t come to an end any time soon.

What is the real issue?

In conversations with Dawn, eminent scientists, legal experts and other stakeholders all agreed that money and funds are the core issue in the tussle between the HEC and Ministry of Education and Training (MET).

Both HEC and MET want their man to be on the post of the executive director because the main administrative powers lie with him and not the chairman.

Around six months back too MET had tried to get financial and administrative control of HEC but because of Sindh High Court’s stay could not succeed.

Dr Atta-ur-Rehman, founder chairman of HEC, has been writing and addressing the public at local platforms on the issue.

“The MET has been trying to have control on Rs48 billion budget of HEC and that is why it has been interfering in HEC’s affairs,” he said at a press conference, and added: “The HEC is totally independent and its autonomy cannot be disturbed without proper legislation.”

Renowned educationist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy too agrees that the HEC has had “a huge pot of money at its disposal for nearly ten years.”

“Obviously Dr Sohail Naqvi would like to keep control of this, but now there are other contenders. What we are seeing is a power struggle, not a battle of ideas about the future of higher education,” he added.

So who has the final say on the appointment of the executive director?

Legal expert Advocate Riasat Ali Azad told Dawn that in the law it is clearly mentioned that only the HEC members can appoint the executive director, and this cannot be overruled in any case.

Hence, even if Dr Sohail Naqvi’s appointment in August did not fulfill the criteria or if new people did not apply, the prime minister could not have brought in Major (retd) Qamar Zaman.

“When Mr Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister in 90s, during a visit to Faisalabad he saw that sewerage water was entering local houses.

He instructed the police to apply handcuffs to WASA officials, but the Lahore High Court observed that the law does not give any power to the PM to give orders to arrest anyone,” he said to explain his point that the prime minister’s powers are not all-encompassing.

Similarly, former senator and member HEC Rozina Alam Khan said that members of the commission are conscious of the fact that all steps should be taken in accordance with the law.

“The commission has the authority to extend Dr Naqvi’s tenure, and there is no disagreement between commission members on that issue,” she said.

It is worth mentioning here that there is no rule about the maximum tenure for the executive director.

Is Mr Naqvi truly indispensable?

When asked for his opinion on whether the quality of education would be affected with Dr Naqvi’s departure, Dr Hoodbhoy replied: “Dr. Naqvi’s removal will have little effect either way. The HEC has been making wildly exaggerated claims and playing the numbers game but the quality of our higher education is poor. It is far below that considered acceptable in the West, or even in India or China. Of course, putting in a military man in his place is absolutely no solution.”

Indeed, the issue has been thrust more into the limelight because of substantial doubts about the competency and priorities of Maj (retd) Qamar Zaman, a bureaucrat who within 10 days of coming to the HEC transferred at least six officers.

HEC employees confided to this scribe that even when he was out of the country on an official visit, officers were being transferred on his instruction.

His highhanded approach and clear polarisation of the commission had not won any fans in the education community.

On the other hand, Dr Naqvi did build his reputation over the years.

“We know that regular employees feel that no one is indispensable and there is a system within the HEC, which ideally should not be affected with the replacement of any person, but Dr Naqvi has vision and he has delivered for HEC so he should continue,” said a contractual HEC employee in a recent interview. “We think that Mr Naqvi should continue his work in the best interest of the education sector.”

Talking about the solution Dr Hoodbhoy said that the higher education sector needs realistic and sustainable growth, with emphasis being placed upon the development of colleges rather than universities. In the universities the meaning of quality has to be understood very differently.

“Much more emphasis is needed on making university teachers competent in their subjects. Money has to be put in exactly at the right places,” he said.

Updated Dec 12, 2012 10:15pm

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