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ISLAMABAD: The Senate Functional Committee on Devolution on Thursday recommended that the issues surrounding Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) devolution in light of the 18th Amendment be resolved as soon as possible.

The committee met at Parliament House and discussed a public petition filed by the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA).

The petition focuses on the implementation of the 18th Amendment in the higher education sector confining the role of the federal HEC to the formulation of standards and enhancing the legitimate role of provincial governments, particularly in funding and the implementation of higher education policy.

The petitioners have claimed that the HEC is encroaching on their rights since the subject is now devolved and the federal HEC had no right to interfere in their affairs.

‘Although tourism has been devolved, PTDC, as a company, cannot be devolved’

But during the meeting, the vice chancellors of public sector universities such as the University of Punjab, Sindh University, University of Balochistan, Islamia College Peshawar and the International Islamic University Islamabad, refuted the petitioners’ claims and said the HEC had never encroached upon the autonomy of the universities.

They praised the HEC and said universities have been received responses from the commission when they take up their issues with it. They also alleged that various teachers unions were creating obstacles for them while implementing strict decisions on university campuses.

Briefing the meeting earlier, HEC Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed said he had never interfered in the administrative matters of universities, but had taken action against universities that had failed to meet standards and criteria. He added that the 18th Amendment is a realiy, and he would accept whatever decision the government takes.

Discussing the devolution of the HEC, Senate committee member Senator Sassui Palijo said the committee had been discussing the matter for a long time.

“We are going around in circles [on the HEC’s devolution issue],” she said, adding that the matter should have been resolved earlier.

Senator Taj Haider added that the role of the HEC and provincial HECs was very clear after the 18th Amendment.

Federal education and cabinet secretaries briefed the committee on the task force constituted by the Council of Common Interest to work on the HEC devolution issue. The education secretary said that on Dec 28, a meeting of provincial representatives and the federal government would be held to discuss a way out.

Earlier, Senator Usman Khan told the committee that the Frontier Constabulary (FC) is housed at the University of Balochistan, and demanded that the part of the campus being used by the FC be vacated.

Senator Kamil Ali Agha said two wedding halls are operating on land belonging to Punjab University.

The movers of the public petition, association president Prof Dr Kaleemullah Bareach and Dr Shahzad Ashraf also gave the committee their perspective.

During the meeting, the committee also recommended extended the retirement age of university teachers to 65 years, and that teachers be given a 75% tax rebate.

PTDC issue

While discussing another agenda item, the committee said the devolution of the PTDC to the provinces, and the liquidation of its assets among the provinces, not only translates to a violation of the Constitution but also raises questions about the implementation of the 18th Amendment.

The PTDC managing director discussed the background of the situation, while the legal advisor gave a presentation and said that although the subject of tourism was devolved, the PTDC was corporation established in 1971 and registered under the Companies Act.

The legal advisor said a company cannot be devolved, and that the PTDC, being a corporation, is still a federally-owned company and therefore its assets, wherever they are in the country, are still owned by the federal government and their liquidation would create unequal distribution between the provinces.

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2017