Dysfunctional HEC

Published December 21, 2021

IN many ways, the crisis within the Higher Education Commission reflects what is wrong with higher education itself in the country. If the key financial post of the higher education regulatory body, which has a budget in excess of Rs100bn, is being run on an ad hoc basis, how can one hope for improvement in the administrative and academic affairs of Pakistan’s public sector universities, many of which have been similarly functioning without a permanent head ie vice chancellor for several years? According to a news report, the position of a permanent executive director (responsible for looking after HEC’s financial affairs) has not been filled for the past three years. Despite the advertisement of the post four times in the past three years and the submissions of some 50 applications, no appointment has been made. That is not all that plagues the HEC’s administration and functioning. Since the controversial removal of the HEC chairman by the government in March — through an ordinance issued to reduce his secured tenure to two years — the position has remained vacant. However, a new appointment cannot be made on account of a court order following the filing of a case by the ousted chairman against his arbitrary dismissal. In addition to this, other posts related to IT, operations and academics have also been vacant at the HEC.

This chaotic situation raises serious questions about the capabilities of a government-mandated body with a multibillion-rupee budget for overseeing the award of research grants, monitoring the quality of scholarship produced, collaborating with international bodies, and revising curricula in higher educational institutes while providing the latter support. If the government cannot effectively resolve the persisting crisis at the institute that oversees higher education in the country, how can the HEC spearhead decision-making for the overall improvement of higher education institutes which are already in a shambolic state? Unfortunately, by not addressing the problem with the urgency it deserves, the authorities have demonstrated their disdain for the future of thousands of students.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2021

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