LAHORE: The dominant view of those tasked with formulating modalities for the setting up of the Punjab Higher Education Commission is that the body cannot be formed without amending the Higher Education Commission Ordinance 2002 that is protected by the constitutional provisions.
The HEC has not been devolved under the 18th Amendment and a Supreme Court judgment says: “The HEC shall continue discharging its functions and duties as it had been doing in the past unless and until a fresh legislation is promulgated.”
The judgment had also declared March 31, 2001, Cabinet Division notification having no effect on functioning of the HEC.
A vice chancellor, who attended the all Punjab universities’ vice chancellors meeting at the Government College University (GCU) on Thursday, remarked that somebody had given a “wrong suggestion” to the chief minister to set up an independent HEC in Punjab.
Agreeing with this point of view, a Chief Minister’s Vice-Chancellors Committee member told Dawn that he already knew the HEC’s legal status but had to sit in the committee for being nominated by the chief minister.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had approved the establishment of the Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) in a meeting last weekend. He had also constituted a five-member vice-chancellors’ committee, headed by University of Engineering and Technology Vice-Chancellor retired Lt-Gen Muhammad Akram Khan, to formulate modalities for setting up the PHEC.
The other committee members are: GCU VC Prof Dr Kahleequr Rehman, Punjab University VC Prof Dr Mujahid Kamran, University of Gujrat VC Prof Dr Nizamuddin and Fatima Jinnah Women University VC Prof Dr Samina Amin Qadir. The committee had deliberated on Wednesday and invited all Punjab universities’ VCs as well as HEC Executive Director on Thursday.
The marathon meeting on Thursday became reluctant to present a model of an independent HEC in Punjab in the presence of the HEC Ordinance protected by the Constitutional provisions.
Sources said the meeting acknowledged that the Sindh government had established its provincial HEC but later faced embarrassment because it was challenged in the court. They said the committee was now planning to formulate a model of an HEC in Punjab that should not clash with the functions assumed by the HEC at the national level. The committee would propose that the Punjab HEC should create endowments for scholarships, establish universities’ campuses or look after the colleges in the province, they said. The sources, however, admitted that these functions were already with the Punjab Higher Education Department and the chief minister himself was heading the Punjab Educational Endowment Fund to offer scholarships to needy and merited students.
The sources said the VC’s Committee saw the reason after a presentation by HEC Executive Director Prof Dr Mukhtar Ahmad who discussed devolution plan and future role of the commission. They agreed that all the provinces, including Punjab, should first discuss the lessons learnt by the HEC during its past 12 years and then thoroughly discuss the possible plans for setting up commissions at the provincial level.
They said Prof Ahmad had explained HEC’s structure, its functions and lessons learnt while making the commission a world-recognised higher education policy-making body in the country. He also explained the HEC’s functions after the 18th Constitutional Amendment as well as Federal Legislative List Part-I and Part-II and the Supreme Court judgment that protected HEC functions and duties.
The sources said the HEC executive director, however, recognised provinces’ thinking of developing the HECs at the provincial level and suggested that they should not do anything abruptly as it could do more harm than good. Instead, Prof Ahmad said, the respective provincial governments should discuss the University Grants Commission’s transformation into the HEC and its accomplishments as well as failures during the past 12 years. He said the provinces should also take into account the world best practices to maintain the country’s identity in the world.
Prof Ahmad reportedly stated that the HEC should continue doing policy formulation, working on curriculum, quality assurance and research priorities as well as performing activities identified in the Federal Legislative List I and II.
Meanwhile, the sources said, the HEC executive director suggested that the provinces should constitute taskforces to hold series of consultation meetings at the provincial level and synthesized recommendations should be finalised at the federal level. In order to handle the legislative issues, he suggested that recommendations or systems agreed at national level should be taken to the Council of Common Interests for initiating legislation at provinces level.
In order to protect country’s national integrity at international level, Prof Ahmad suggested, that the provinces should constitute commissions but under different names like the Council of Higher Education or Tertiary Higher Education and assume the role of implementation of national policies in respective provinces, monitoring and evaluation and funding to the universities. He also offered commission’s all-out services for the capacity building in the provinces as well as supporting the prospective independent bodies in provinces that should be represented in the HEC and be part of making policies, the sources said.It is learnt that the vice chancellors’ committee will formulate its recommendations on Friday (today) for submission to the chief minister.