ISLAMABAD – Chairperson of Higher Education Commission (HEC) Dr Javaid R Leghari in a letter written to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who is also controlling authority of HEC, has sought his support in persuading the Members of the National Assembly to have HEC Amendment Bill 2013 withdrawn.The Chairman has feared that proposed legislation will severely impact the growth and progress of the higher education sector in the country. ‘The great advances that Pakistan has made under the HEC, under your guidance as the Controlling Authority, and is now the envy of most developing countries will begin to fall apart if the private members HEC Amendment Bill 2012 is passed by the Parliament’.The private members HEC amendment bill was moved by two MNAs and was discussed in the NA Standing Committee on Education and Training on January 23, 2013 that approved the bill to be presented in the parliament.The letter says that ‘the amendment bill, if passed, will take away the autonomy of the HEC, with the Prime Minister as the controlling authority, and place it under the Ministry of Education and Training as a division, much like the UGC of yesteryears. It will also take away the functions of the HEC which maintain quality at the universities. It will reduce the terms of the Chairman, the Board members and the Executive Director from four years to three, which does not conform to all appointments in the academic community and the universities, like the Vice Chancellors, Members of the Senate and Syndicate, Board of Governors, etc.,  which are all of four years’.The Chairman HEC highlighted the point to the Committee that if the HEC Ordinance is to be amended, then let us not do it piece meal based on two private members bill input, but let there be a national dialogue, and let the Task Force, which the High Powered Committee had already agreed to, meet various stake holders and then propose amendment in the interest of the education sector and the nation, which could then be presented to the Standing Committees. The Minister of Education even volunteered to have the Task Force notified by the PM within a day.‘It is essential that the input of the proposed Prime Minister’s Task Force on Higher Education & Research, which is a national dialogue with the various stakeholders, including the universities, provincial governments, chancellors, etc be also incorporated, presented to the Standing Committees for approval, before the Bill is presented to the Parliament. All NA members had consented to the formation of the Task Force which is already approved by the Prime Minister’s High Powered Committee’.It is therefore pertinent and important that any amendment to the HEC Ordinance should include the recommendations of the proposed Prime Minister’s Task Force in national interest, and the decision of the NA Standing Committee, as was discussed in the meeting, should also reflect this item. The Vice Chancellors of universities, the Faculty associations all over Pakistan, and various professional bodies have already rejected the amendment bill.In his legal opinion over the bill, S M Zafar has expressed that the bill should have been discussed in the Council of Common Interests before its presentation in the parliament, as after devolution provinces are major stakeholders.   ‘Item No. 12 of the Federal List (Part II) fully covers the HEC requiring any Bill to be first considered by Council of Common Interests CCI.  This is supported also by the following judgment of the Supreme Court PLD 2012 SC 224 at Page 240’‘The entry 38 is no longer there but with some changes it has found a place in Entry 12 of Part-II of the Federal Legislative List. It provides for standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institutions. So it is a composite entry and entire issue relating to standard has also not gone to Provinces’.Meanwhile, the Federal Minister for Education and Training Sheikh Waqas Akram talking to media persons after attending the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Pakistan 2012 survey said the bill has nothing to do with the autonomy of the HEC.He maintained that it was a private member bill and not the government’s bill and with  the change of federal minister status autonomy could not be affected. ‘Media is misreporting that the degree issue is behind the move. The condition of degree has been removed so there is no issue of degrees. The real issue is monitoring and accountability. The government has been giving Rs. 38 to 40 billion to the Commission annually so it has every right to monitor its expenditures and functions and the Commission is accountable to the government’. 

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 29-Jan-2013 here.