ISLAMABAD: The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has decided to convert its fee reimbursement scheme into a need-based scholarship programme.

HEC Executive Director retired Lt Gen Mohammad Asghar told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education that scheme is being converted under the government’s Ehsaas programme.

The fee reimbursement scheme was launched by the last government for MSc and PhD scholars from less-developed areas. Under the scheme, students would deposit their first semester fees with their universities and would later be reimbursed.

Commission reviewing laptop scheme, retired Lt Gen Mohammad Asghar tells NA committee

Mr Asghar told the committee that the HEC is also reviewing the laptop scheme, a signature programme launched by the PML-N government for university students that recently wrapped up after providing laptop computers to the final batch of students.

Sources said the HEC is reviewing the scheme, which could be re-launched if the commission receives funding.

The HEC official also expressed concerns regarding the cuts to the HEC budget for 2019-20, and demanded a supplementary grant. He said the budget cuts could cause an increase in fees.

The committee agreed, and recommended that the government enhance the allocation through a supplementary grant.

The government has allocated Rs88.5 billion to the HEC for development and non-development expenditure, against the HEC’s demand for Rs103bn.

The committee was also briefed by Imtiaz Qureshi, acting chairman of the Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority (Piera). Committee members criticised Piera heavily for, as they said, failing to regulate private schools in the capital.

Islamabad MNA Ali Nawaz Awan said Piera has become dysfunctional. He said the authority has not had a regular chairman for a long time, its rules have been suspended by the courts and it has failed to make any headway on both fronts. He said Piera had also failed to keep a check on private schools’ fees.

Mr Awan said that because of Piera’s poor performance, the Supreme Court had to decide the fee issue. Other committee members made similar criticisms of the authority and its parent ministry.

They expressed concern about the authority’s performance, as students are being charged fees during summer vacations while schoolteachers are not being paid their salaries in accordance with Piera’s rules.

Committee members also said that according to its rules, a chairman and two members make up Piera’s core team and the number of members should be increased to 20, while a regular chairman should be hired as soon as possible.

At the suggestion of MNA Mehnaz Akber Aziz, the committee recommended an external audit of Piera, and suggested that the Ministry of Federal Education provide governance and financing details of the authority to the committee at its next meeting.

While discussing high fees charged by upscale private schools in the city MNA Sadaqat Ali Khan, who runs a chain of private schools, said that the committee should listen to all stakeho0lders before making any legislation.

“I am here as a public representative, not a supporter of schools. But being an educationist, I know how schools are functioning. There are some cases of high profit, but all schools should not be considered high-earning institutions,” he said.

The committee constituted a subcommittee, with Mr Awan as its convenor and Ms Aziz, Mr Khan and Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak as its members, to resolve issues that are affecting the functioning of Piera.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2019

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