The devolution of education to the provinces after the passage of the 18th amendment to the constitution came with one large exception: the Higher Education Commission remained under the authority of the federal government and superseded any provincial education authorities. This has long been a bone of contention for provincial governments, which want control over the HEC’s budget and to be responsible for making staffing and curriculum decisions at universities in their provinces. Back in 2011, the federal government had even announced plans to devolve the HEC’s functions but the decision was blocked by the Supreme Court. Now the courts have once again ruled in favour of the HEC, with the Lahore High Court removing acting vice-chancellors at four universities; these VCs were appointed by the Higher Education Department of the Punjab government. This role, said the LHC, properly belongs to the HEC. The HEC will now have one month to appoint permanent VCs. This judgement is in keeping with earlier court rulings arguing that the Higher Education Commission Ordinance of 2002 is the basis of the HEC’s power and that the 18th Amendment did not nullify this ordinance.
Even though the precedent has now been set that higher education will remain a federal responsibility, that does not mean the HEC’s performance has been satisfactory or that it will be any less political than the Punjab government in choosing vice-chancellors. The HEC is among the most well-funded government organisations; in the first six years of its existence its total budget increased by an astounding seven times from its original amount. The fruits of that investment are debatable. The HEC was so focused on producing a certain number of PhDs and research papers that it turned a blind eye to plagiarism, even going so far as to appoint VCs who had credibly been accused of plagiarism. It recommended that universities pay inflated salaries to professors, with tenure-track professors now earning nearly 40 times as much as a school teacher. But it also did some good, particularly in paying for students to study abroad and attracting foreign faculty to teach here. At this point, repealing the HEC is unrealistic since it would create too much confusion and uncertainty. But that does not mean we should close our eyes to the HEC’s failings and stop trying to reform it. The courts may have empowered the HEC but that power needs to be used wisely.
Source: The News
December 4, 2016
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