THERE has been a recent onslaught against the Higher Education Commission by certain vested interest groups which do not wish education to flourish in Pakistan. False allegations are intentionally brought up to tarnish the image of the HEC which has built up the reputation amongst the people and educated youths as being among a few government organisations in Pakistan which work on merit and in a transparent manner.
The HEC is known and respected globally whose team, including the chairman, enjoys an untarnished image as being upright, principled and meritorious.
Most allegations are false, incorrect, done with a malicious intention and are based on a deliberate smear campaign rather than on reality. A very recent one against the chairman was his membership in the Islamabad Club. This was proposed and approved by the board of governors of the HEC, way back in 2009 and is not something approved recently or done in a discretionary way, and has been through various audits as well.
Another onslaught brought out in the parliament recently was the ‘refusal” of the chairman to respond to a call-attention notice and the matter was, therefore, referred to the privileges committee. The chairman, being a former senator, understands and respects parliament and the urgency in responding to call attention notices. However, in this case the notice was not even referred to the HEC before it was discussed on the floor and, therefore, the question of refusal does not even occur. The notice was received later that evening and was responded to immediately.
There are then false allegations of corruption and irregularity in scholarships. The HEC takes pride in its merit-based procedure in which the economically deprived youths and those from the middle class and from underdeveloped areas of Pakistan are able to avail themselves of scholarships, including for PhDs, at some of the leading universities of the world.
Already over 7,500 scholars are pursuing their higher studies, awarded through a National Scholarship Management Committee (constituted by the prime minister and composed of representatives of all provinces) who were interviewed by foreign experts/professors. Also, over 2,200 have already completed their PhDs and joined local universities, institutions and organisations to contribute to the country’s development.
While none in the upper middle class would send their children to public schools, the same would prefer to send them to public universities for their education speaks volumes of the quality, though not the best in the world, that is maintained at the universities.
The HEC has now improved the procedure for hiring a vice chancellor through search committees, though there is still room for improvement. Moreover, it is developing the performance-based evaluation of serving vice-chancellors.
Statutory bodies regularly meet and all appointments of the faculty, as well as admissions, are made on merit. All verification and attestation of degrees is done according to a developed procedure which leaves no room for any irregularities. All these merit-based and above-board procedures are perhaps what the vested interest groups are not able to swallow.
All HEC reforms are now becoming the envy of other countries in the region. While Turkey already has a similar commission, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are in the process of replicating the HEC model, and India is going a step further and establishing a supra-HEC with far-reaching consequences to position itself as a regional leader.
The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report indicators on higher education and training, technology readiness and innovation have shown a consistent improvement over the last three years for Pakistan, much more than many other countries. This is a clear proof that higher education reforms are paying off.
Pakistan has achieved a critical mass and reached a point of take-off. For this phenomenal growth to continue, it is important for the government and other stakeholders to support and further strengthen the HEC as a national institution and protect its autonomy, instead of downgrading it.
If this upward momentum continues for another 10 years, Pakistan is certain to become a global player through a flourishing knowledge economy and a highly literate population. The HEC will continue to work for the youth of Pakistan.
JAVAID LAGHARI Chairman, HEC Islamabad