The 35th meeting of Council of Common Interests CCI was recently held at Islamabad under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Among the 11 points agenda items, the meeting was also briefed about matters pertaining to higher education and other similar bodies in the post-18th Amendment scenario. As per the official statement, the CCI noted that as per the constitution, formulation of standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institution is the responsibility of the federal government. It was agreed that both the federal and provincial governments would undertake monitoring, evaluation and accreditation of such institutes. The CCI also directed the Federal Ministry of Education to work on a proposal in consultation with all stakeholders for the establishment of a national level testing body for unified assessment standards across the country. It was decided that among the seven members – all prominent educationists –being appointed by the prime minister, representation of all the provinces will be ensured.
Earlier, the Senate of Pakistan unanimously adopted the report of the Functional Committee on Devolution regarding implementation of 18th Constitutional Amendment in the higher education sector confining role of the federal HEC to formulation of standards and enhancing legitimate role of the provinces in funding and implementation of higher education policy. The important recommendation of the report was to amend Federal HEC Ordinance 2002 in order to ensure the functions of the commission devolved vide the 18th Constitutional Amendment should be transferred to the provinces.
Prior to 18th Constitutional Amendment (2010) education under the entry No. 38 “Curriculum, Syllabus, Planning, Policy, Centers of Excellence and Standards of Education” was in the concurrent legislative list and it remained as a joint function of federal and provincial governments. Federal government regulated higher education through Federal HEC for which HEC Ordinance 2002 was enacted. With the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, education was shifted to the legislative and executive jurisdiction of the provinces. Meanwhile, a new entry at No.12 of Federal Legislative-II was inserted into the constitution i.e “Standards in Institutions for Higher Education and research, scientific and technical Institutions.” which falls under the purview and domain of Council of Common Interests (CCI) as joint/shared responsibility of both the federal and provincial governments.
Over the recommendations of the multi-party 10-members Implementation Commission constituted under Article 270, the CCI during its meeting held on 28th April, 2011 decided that “a limited extent body would continue to work as Commission for standards in institutions of Higher Education in the light of Entry No. 12 of Part-II of Federal Legislative List i.e. Standard in Institutions of Higher Education and research, scientific and Technical Institutions”.
During this meeting of CCI, Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, Chairman Implementation Commission clarified ambiguity on question of devolution of HEC and stated that the implementation Commission in the light of the 18th constitutional amendment had decided to devolve the HEC. Even after the passage of 8 years, these decisions could not be implemented which resulted in tussle between federal and provincial entities over regulation of higher education.
In the light of 18th Constitutional Amendment, it is now the responsibility of respective provincial governments to manage and provide financial, technical and logistical resources for improving quality, enhancing access and ensuring relevance of research & development at par with national and international standards.
The working group on higher education reforms, comprising of senior academicians, higher education experts and elected office bearers of Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) also demanded that as per decision of Lahore High Court and Entry 12 of Federal Legislative List Part II, standards in higher education should be formulated and reviewed in consultation with the concerned stakeholders especially provincial governments and elected representatives of university faculty. The provincial governments should undertake the financial responsibility of provincial universities through respective autonomous bodies led by senior academicians i.e provincial Higher Education Commissions (PHECs) which have already been established by two large provinces.
In Pakistan, out of total 187 recognized public and private sector universities, less than 20% i.e 35 higher education institutes are federally charted remaining more than 80% are under the legislative and administrative control of provincial governments. As a federal country having central and provincial governments, Pakistan also needs to learn from other federations’ experiences. As per the QS ranking 2016, among the top five countries with strongest higher education systems in the world, four countries are federations with the effective role of federating units in higher education sector. According to study titled “Post-Secondary Education in 12 Federations” conducted by the Forum of Federation, a Canada-based institute, in most of the federal countries (10 out of 12), primary responsibility for governing, funding of public sector HEIs and approval of new academic programs lie with federating units.
Without empowering provinces in higher education sector as per 18th Constitutional Amendment, desired results of improving higher education could not be achieved. All the provincial nominees in Federal HEC should be directly nominated by the provincial governments/provincial HECs in order to ensure genuine representation of the provinces in formulation of standards. Following Punjab and Sindh, the remaining two provinces should also establish autonomous higher education bodies led by higher education experts and academicians to cater the growing needs of the provinces in higher education sector. The appointment of leadership in higher education sector should be ensured through transparent and merit based mechanism by independent search committee comprising of relevant experts and senior academicians. The funding in higher education should be transferred to the provincial governments which should also add more financial provincial resources to promote culture of quality teaching and research at the universities. The federal quota policy should be implemented in all the key appointments at federal HEC even the appointment of HEC chief should also be rotated among the provinces on tenure basis.
The writer is a freelance columnist associated with the development and education sector.