ISLAMABAD - The parliamentarians, academicians, representatives of civil society, faculty associations and student organisations have called for transparent and merit-based appointment of chairman Higher Education Commission (HEC), sole regulatory authority of higher education in Pakistan, in order to resolve the increasing higher education issues.

They also demanded for consideration of highly educated and qualified academician of international eminence as permanent chairman HEC in accordance of eligibility criteria laid down in HEC Act and court orders. The participants expressed these views during a dialogue titled 'Current Challenges for Higher Education Sector in Pakistan' organised by Muslim Hands International.

Sahibzada Syed Zia-ul-Noor, country manager Muslim Hands Pakistan, informed that the main objective of the event was to deliberate on the current problems being confronted by higher education sector of Pakistan.

Prof Dr Attaur Rahman, founder chairman Higher Education Commission and president Pakistan Academy of Sciences Pakistan, in his written message said that HEC Ordinance required that chairman HEC must be a person of "international eminence" but according to press reports attempts were being made to defy the HEC Ordinance by ignoring this aspect of the law. He demanded immediate appointment of a person of international eminence as Chairman HEC.

Tahir Naeem Malik from National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad, was of the view that non-appointment of HEC chief was badly affecting day-to-day affairs of universities as well. He emphasised over revision of university curriculum as per requirements of the country. Adnan Rafiq, director of Oxford Institute and former president of Oxford University Pakistan Society, said that only capable and competent leadership in higher education sector could take up the challenges.

Naeem Sarfraz, chairman Fazaldad Human Rights Institute Pakistan, suggested that the research work at the Pakistani universities should be focused over addressing the socio-economic problems of the country. In post-18th amendment scenario, the provincial governments should also undertake efforts for improving higher education.

Dr Waheed Chaudhry, president Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA), termed faculty as important pillar of higher education sector. The university faculty is facing a lot of difficulties in their appointments on tenure track system due to delay at HEC. The autonomy of universities should be respected and the federal government and HEC administration should pay special attention to address financial problems of higher education sector. He also demanded bailout package for universities of Balochistan.

Khurshid Nadeem, executive director Organisation for Research & Education Pakistan, said that access to higher education in Pakistan was below as compared to international standards. He stressed upon the promotion of critical and independent thinking and values of tolerance, peace and coexistence at higher education institutions of Pakistan.

Moshin Kiyani, president Islamabad High Court Bar Association, said that affairs of higher education sector should be run as per existing rules and respective acts. He informed that 64 organisations were working without permanent heads and the federal government should pay special attention towards addressing this issue through appointment of qualified and experienced persons.

MNA Ali Rashid of MQM said that without prioritising education and respect for merit and transparency, Pakistan could not make headway. He emphasised over collaborative efforts for improving standards in higher education sector and increase in budget for education.

Muhammad Rehan Hashmi, member National Assembly Standing Committee on Education, Trainings and Standards in Higher Education and member subcommittee on HEC, said that higher education should remain a federal subject and uniform policy might be introduced. He emphasised over promotion of research culture in Pakistani universities at par with international standards. He also assured that recommendations and suggestions by the participants would be raised at the National Assembly and NA standing committee on education.