Govt criticised for clipping powers of HEC chairman, minister defends move

Published February 9, 2022
Dr A.H. Nayyar speaks at a press conference at the National Press Club on Tuesday. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Mosharraf Zaidi and Farhatullah Babar are also present. — White Star
Dr A.H. Nayyar speaks at a press conference at the National Press Club on Tuesday. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Mosharraf Zaidi and Farhatullah Babar are also present. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: While educationists and a former senator on Tuesday criticised the government’s decision to clip powers of Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri, Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood defended the move and said the commission with a majority of votes had revoked the powers of the HEC head.

In light of the decision taken by the commission of the higher education body on Monday, powers of the HEC chairman have been delegated to the commission’s executive director (ED).

The commission passed a resolution moved in this regard by Education Secretary Naheed S. Durrani.

The HEC on Tuesday also notified delegation of the chairperson’s powers to ED.

Addressing a press conference at the National Press Club, educationists A.H. Nayyar, Pervez Hoodbhoy, columnist Mosharraf Zaidi and former senator Farhatullah Babar said the government action against the HEC chairman was aimed at undermining the autonomy of the higher education regulatory body.

They said the government had been targeting the HEC chairman, affecting the higher education sector.

Educationists say action aimed at undermining autonomy of higher education regulatory body; Shafqat Mahmood claims HEC members unhappy with performance of chairman

Mr Nayyar said the resolution floated by the federal secretary for stripping powers of the HEC chairman, who was recently restored by the Islamabad High Court (IHC), was a violation of the court orders.

PPP leader Farhatullah Babar said the HEC was an autonomous organisation which was supposed to regulate universities. However, he said the government had removed the HEC chairman last year through a presidential ordinance but he was restored by the IHC last month.

The PPP leader said now instead of implementing the IHC orders, the government was making efforts to remove the HEC chairman.

Educationist Pervez Hoodbhoy said it seemed the government through such steps wanted to avoid accountability of someone. He said during the war on terror, HEC had received massive funding and there was a need for a proper audit of the funds the commission has received so far.

The government last year had removed the HEC chairman after reducing his four-year term to two years by amending HEC’s ordinance 2002. However, last month, the IHC restored him.

Subsequently, the federal government challenged the IHC decision in the Supreme Court.

Last week, the ministry of federal education and ministry of science and technology openly opposed the selection board of HEC, which was recomposed by Dr Banuri for appointment of the HEC executive director.

In the resolution, the commission termed the selection board illegal and approved extension in the tenure of ED Dr Shaista Suhail till the appointment of a new chairperson.

The said the ED had joined HEC in 2020 on deputation basis and retired in August last year after reaching the age of superannuation.

However, she was given several extensions to continue working as there was no regular ED, the principal accounting officer of HEC.

With new decision of the commission, she has been given powers of the HEC chairman and more extension till appointment of the new chairperson.

According to the education ministry, the resolution was passed with 14 members in its favour and seven against it.

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood on Tuesday said the HEC members with a clear majority expressed their concern over the performance of the HEC chairman and the commission revoked his powers.

Talking to mediapersons at Lok Virsa, he said the purpose of amending the HEC ordinance reducing the term of the chairman from four to two years was to test the performance of the commission’s head after every two years.

He said the government could not take chance of waiting for four years to ascertain if the chairman could deliver or not.

To a query regarding Dr Banuri, he said it was not a matter of just one individual rather the government was serious to mitigate the shortcomings of the entire higher education sector.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2022

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