ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Federal Education and Professional Training was on Monday told that 428 scholars who were sent abroad by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) for pursuing PhDs and MS leading to PhD have been declared absconders and that action is being initiated against them.

The committee, which met with just three of its 11 members in attendance, could not hold a discussion on this subject due to the lengthy agenda. However, the HEC working paper says that a total of 5,780 overseas scholarships have been awarded till date of which 3,807 students have completed their studies, 1,537 are still studying and 428 have absconded.

According to HEC rules, PhD candidates and research scholars that it finances are to return home after finishing their courses and serve the country for at least five years. All candidates who get HEC scholarships have to sign a bond in this regard.

The HEC offers three oversees scholarships including the overseas scholarship scheme for PhD in selected fields, phase one and two, and the HRDI MS leading to PhD for faculty members of University of Engineering Science and Technology Pakistan.

HEC working paper says 5,780 overseas scholarships awarded till date of which 3,807 students have completed their studies, 1,537 still studying

According to the HEC working paper, 428 of the scholars who received one of the overseas scholarships have been declared absconders by the HEC for various reason such as not completing their PhDs, not completing their doctorates and not returning and completing their degree but returning to the country later, MS completed and enrolled in PhD but not completed the doctorate degree and PhD studies left for medical grounds.

The documents say that of the 428 absconders, the HEC has received the expenses it incurred plus 25pc penalty from 55 of the students and that 11 are in the process of paying the expenses and penalties. There are cases against 116 of the students in the courts and legal action is being initiated against the remaining 338 scholars.

Chaired by Senator Nuzhat Sadiq in the absence of its chairperson, Rahila Magsi, the committee could not hold a discussion on the issue of ‘absconding’ scholars.

Two education bills approved

However, several other education issues were discussed and two important bills related to Islamabad’s education sector were approved as was a proposed budget for the education ministry’s development schemes.

Moved by PPP Senator Sehar Kamran, the National Civic Education Commission Bill calls for the setting up of a commission in Islamabad to provide and promote civic education and create awareness about the fundamental rights and obligations of citizens. It calls for including the importance of democracy and civic responsibilities in school curriculums in the Islamabad Capital Territory.

Federal education minister Balighur Rehman supported the bill from the opposition lawmaker, which was also unanimously approved by the committee and the HEC chairman, ignoring the law ministry’s objections.

The law ministry said the proposed bill suggests that the commission include Senators, MNAs and a member each from the provincial assembles who will be members of the board of governors. A representative of the law ministry said education is a devolved subject and there could be issues with having provincial representatives.

The education minister said financial implications are involved in the setting up of the proposed commission and that support of the federal cabinet and parliament will be required in having the bill passed.

National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) Chairperson Razeena Alam said NCHD is already working in civic education areas and that it should be given the task of further work in the area.

The committee also approved a bill calling for the establishment of a National Skills University in the capital city to provide skills based education based on the German education model.

The bill was moved by the education minister who stressed on the need for establishing more public and private sector universities.

He said the National Institute of Sciences and Technology will be upgraded into the National Skills University and that skills based education will help the youth take advantage of the opportunities arising from the China Pakistan Economic Corridor projects.

He said the National Assembly has already passed the bill and that HEC also has the budget for upgrading NISTE into a university.

The HEC chairman told the committee that the new university will also offer PhDs. The bill was passed by the committee unanimously.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2018

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