If a list of things –in the life of any nation– is compiled that should be kept away from politicisation education will be on the top of any such list. However, Pakistan proves an exception even in that case as well. In a notification issued by the Punjab Higher Education Department (HED), the vice-chancellors were instructed not to attend the meeting that was due yesterday.

The agenda of the meeting was not a subversive one at all that the provincial government felt the need to bar the VCs of the public sector universities from attending the moot. Even the nature of the conference, as it was called a moot, suggests that its aim was mere consultation. The barring of VC or any university representative from attending any such meeting is not only problematic but also lacks any such legislation that backs the move of the provincial government.

If allowed to attend the meeting, the VCs of the varsities of Khyber Pukhtunkhawa and Balochistan would have got a chance to interact with their counterparts in Sindh and Punjab. This would have given them an opportunity to put pressure on their respective governments to fast-track the process of provincial higher education commissions. There is, however, no such legal provision that bars the federal HEC from convening any such meeting.

Indeed, the 18th amendment to the constitution of the country has made higher education a provincial subject and post-amendment the provincial governments have all the rights to develop policies they deem fit; however, federal HEC should not be shut out of the process altogether. Even at this point when powers are not completely transferred to the provinces regarding higher education, it is an unnecessary invitation to a conflict.

The redefined roles of the federal and provincial governments in higher education have brought new challenges as well as opportunities at both tiers. The provincial higher education department should not have barred the concerned persons as it would have helped them to understand the post 18th amendment scenario better.

Given the issue of Islamised syllabuses, especially in KP, fake degree holders occupying key positions in universities and prevailing intolerance and extremism on campuses, the federal HEC can play a useful role of assisting the provincial HEDs. All higher education institutions across the country have these issues to deal with; therefore, it is important to allow the HEC to play the role of a watchdog. Instead of delving into disputes over authority and control of resources it will benefit the country if these two departments work together to improve the quality of education at university level.