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ISLAMABAD, Dec 31: With the retirement of secretary education on Wednesday another important post has fallen vacant, as the Higher Education Commission (HEC) is still awaiting appointment of its chairperson.

The former HEC Chairman, Dr Attaur Rehman, had submitted his resignation, reportedly on the insistence of the government, some two and half months back, but the government is yet to find a suitable replacement for him.

Similar is the case of Jehangir Bashar, the outgoing secretary education, whose retirement was notified a couple of months ago by the Establishment Division and the government had enough time to find his replacement.

This attitude brings into question the government’s level of commitment towards education.

The government has asked Ms Shehnaz Wazir Ali, Special Assistant to the prime minister on social welfare to take care of day to day official work at the HEC. Similarly, an additional secretary would look after the affairs of secretary’s office.

Some senior officials at the HEC reveal that in the absence of a regular chairperson, the commission had become a rudderless ship. During the tenure Dr Attaur Rehman, there used to be meetings after meetings till midnight. However, since his resignation on October 9, one does not see such activities any more, a non-gazzetted official of the commission told Dawn.

Deep cuts in the budgetary allocations of the commission mainly earmarked for the development activities in the public sector universities of the country in the current financial year have further reduced its (HEC) area of activity.

When asked, a well placed official of the HEC confided to Dawn, “we absolutely don’t know what the government is up to as far as its future plans are concerned regarding the commission.”

There is whole lot of rumors: Autonomous status of the commission is under scrutiny and the government is considering giving it back to the federal education ministry. The government is waiting for the return of an American of Pakistani origin to appoint her next HEC chairperson. She is currently working with the Bush administration which will be officially over on January 20, when new US president takes over the charge, the official said.

It will be a grave mistake on the part of government if it wraps up HEC, which over the last few years had become a dynamic public sector organization which raised the level of university education in the country with scores of new initiatives.

Though education is a provincial subject, the role of federal education ministry is of critical importance; it decides on the curriculum which is taught in the public sector schools and colleges up to intermediate level.

It is the federal education ministry when it comes to liaison between the provincial governments and the federal government, be it the issue of increased funding from the federal pool or changes regarding examination system. Therefore, the presence of secretary education is always of pivotal importance, hence, the government should have taken some decision, knowing the fact, he is retiring December 31, an official from the education said.

“Yes, the government is preoccupied with more important issues right now such as economic melt down and tension with India, but it does not mean, it should leave these important positions vacant,” the official added.