ISLAMABAD  - Consultations are under way to draft a unified policy to bind private universities to follow certain guidelines for regulated and fair fee structures.

Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, chairman Higher Education Commission (HEC), briefed media persons Wednesday about developments in the higher education sector, budgetary allocation and a number of other issues related to tertiary education in Pakistan.Though the government universities under the HEC policy cannot increase fees more than 10 per cent, laws are not in place to regulate private degree awarding institutes that charge high fees without following any parameters, he said.

“Initially, to lure the private sector the fee structure of private universities was not regulated but now a percentage would be fixed for the fee structure and raises according to the incurred cost of per student following the mechanism of Pakistan Medical and Dental Council for charging fees from medical students.”

The chairman said that all the universities in public and private sector have been informed to strictly follow quality criteria laid down by HEC, adding that action will be taken against those not maintaining minimum standards.

“We are back on track and things are normalising and stabilising at HEC,” said Mukhtar addressing first press conference after his appointment as chairman in April. To a query he said, Al-Khair University had been given grace period to meet the set criteria of HEC and its Islamabad campus was not recognised. He advised the students and parents ‘to ensure the status of the universities and its campuses from HEC website before seeking admission and not to take admission in those institutions which are not listed on HEC website.’ He said the HEC recognises degrees of 158 universities/institutes from public and private sector in Pakistan along with their approved campuses that has been mentioned on HEC website.

Regarding the National Testing Service (NTS) test, he said after the Lahore High Court’s decision that declared the NTS (a private firm) illegal the HEC has left it up to the universities to decide regarding testing mechanism before admissions.

The court in March this year declaring NTS illegal had directed the HEC not to sponsor or extend patronage to the NTS, as it was not an officially approved national testing service.

The chairman said until HEC does not devise its own mechanism, universities may take tests on their own or hire international firms but test will remain mandatory before the admissions at universities.

To a question, he said the HEC did not stop the process of degree verification of parliamentarians and the employees of various organisations. “But it depends upon the respective organisations or the Election Commission of Pakistan if they want to get the degrees verified as HEC under its law can not ask anyone for verification,” he added.

He said efforts are being made to improve and strengthen the process of online verification of documents and also shared HEC’s initiative to provide attestation facility in all the provincial capitals.

Dr Mukhtar informed that Rs 43 billion have been allocated for HEC’s recurring grant and Rs 20 billion for the development grant, adding that this was the highest budget allocated in the history of HEC. “The allocation shows the confidence of the government in HEC that will be honoured by further strengthening this sector in all regions of Pakistan.”

He said that over 7500 overseas scholarships have been offered for MS and PhD studies till date, of which 3300 scholarship holders have completed studies.

The HEC has been ensuring that upon their return they find enabling environment for research.

He informed the media that HEC and the British Council Pakistan have recently signed a letter of intent to further strengthen existing cooperation between the two organisations in the field of higher education and research. He also mentioned a recent agreement reached between HEC and PTCL for provisioning of free EVO devices, under Prime Minister’s Laptop scheme. And in the first phase the students would be distributed laptops on June 20 by the Prime Minister.

The chairman also announced the launching of web-based television channel, radio and a call centre to facilitate the youth and universities and keep them updated about the new initiatives. He also mentioned about the expected launch of seven smart university campuses on August 14 to make the students IT enable and work without sticking to the campuses.