The issue will be resolved in the coming days because the government in the past has come out of similar situations with the help of parliament: PM Gilani.—APP photo

ISLAMABAD: With an increasing number of protests being held across the country against the proposed devolution of Higher Education Commission to the provinces, the Prime Minister's Secretariat seems to have put off the move for the time being.

An official in the PM's Secretariat told Dawn the prime minister might be briefed on the subject this week to allay concerns raised by relevant quarters.

Talking to newsmen after addressing the inaugural session of a three-day energy conference here on Sunday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the issue would be resolved in the coming days because the government in the past had come out of similar situations with the help of parliament.

Mr Gilani didn't say in clear terms whether the government was going to stick to its plan to devolve the commission to the provinces.

The Vice-Chancellors' Committee, a representative body of over 130 public and private degree-awarding institutions, wrote recently to the president and the prime minister, urging them to refrain from transferring the functions of the HEC to the provinces.

Sources said the media hype over the issue had put the government on the back foot. Therefore, it wanted to take some time before moving ahead with its planned devolution.

Sources in the cabinet division, which is being given the charge of the commission that will replace HEC after its devolution, said it was just a matter of time that the government would announce setting up of the new body.

The division was actively working on the terms of reference of the new commission, the main role of which would be to ensure standardisation and quality assurance of higher education sector in the country, they said.

The sources said the new body would have nothing to do with the funding of universities which the HEC had been doing since 2002 because this responsibility had been transferred to the provinces under the 18th Amendment.

Therefore, they said, the moment the prime minister secretariat would direct the cabinet division for issuance of a formal notification for the new commission, “we will do that”.

A couple of petitioners have moved the Supreme Court challenging the proposed devolution of the HEC to the provinces. The apex court will take up the case on Monday.

Office-bearers of the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Associations have linked its stance on the HEC's devolution to the ruling of the Supreme Court.

They said in a statement: “If the court decides to retain the present status of the HEC, the FAPUASA will demand certain reforms in its working after due consultation with all stakeholders. And if the apex court upholds the government position, the FAPUASA would want the commission devolved gradually.”

However, sources said the federation had failed to take a firm stand so far because its Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan chapters were in favour of HEC's devolution, while Punjab, AJK and Islamabad had opposed the move. Therefore, its office-bearers had decided to wait for the Supreme Court's ruling, they said.

Senator Raza Rabbani has said on various occasions that except for the funding of universities, other HEC functions would remain intact with the new commission.

In a related development, the Sindh government is persuading vice chancellors in the province to support HEC's devolution.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has set up a special committee to take a decision on the subject. The Punjab government is keeping mum so far.