There is no denying a fact that Higher Education got noticeable increase in funding during the tenure of its out-going chairman Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed. Quality and internationally competitive higher education in Pakistan, nonetheless, still remains a dream. Rather, HEC has become a symbol of poor performance, irregularities and inefficiencies, giving a bleeding nose to its controlling authority, that is the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Primarily reposed with the responsibility of improving higher education through finance generation and assisting the varsities in meeting the challenges of rapidly changing world with more than 90 billion budget, the HEC could not play its desired role, lest what to talk about its interventions in socio-economic development of the country. Its focus remained on more and more power grabbing instead of capacity building of the varsities. For the past few years, it was a victim of ad hocism with senior positions being occupied by the blue-eyed with hefty salary packages and foreign junkets on deputation/contract basis. Currently, a number of senior officials on the helm of affairs in HEC including the power dominant departments like: Audit, Quality Assurance, and Chairman Office are hired on contract after superannuation. Violating the various Supreme Court verdicts, the apex education body besought the policy decision through these ad-hoc officials, without any stakes in the system. Interestingly, hardly a few with experience in education.

The financial snares, as reported in Federal Audit Report 2016-17, highlighted that the apex education body failed to utilize 49% of the development funds owing to poor management and weak governance, causing the varsities to remain devoid of critical infrastructures such as new labs, academic blocks, and hostels. In last three years, out of 149 new development projects reflected in annual budget/PSDP, HEC could get only 66 projects approved. Such grave non-utilization of development funds wagered for the first time in 15 years of Higher Education Commission (HEC) in continuity of recent decile in performance of HEC, observed by academia and student bodies at large. Unfortunately, the compliance status of directives of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) remained negligible as 12 directives are stilling pending for compliance.

The ad hocism is evident from the fact that 18 member governing body responsible for policy making has been ineffective and non-functional due to non-appointment of more than 10 regular members. Violating HEC Act, all the important policy decisions were made without approval by HEC governing body or by the Prime Minister, who is the Controlling Authority of HEC, and without consultation with the concerned stakeholders. Current Financial Year budget 2017-18 could not get approval by HEC Board, which is a legal requirement as per its Act. Another legal requirement of the board is to meet twice a year was also not followed.

Ignoring the recommendations of Senate Standing Committee on Education, which stated in its meeting held on September 18, 2014 that “HEC should not unliterary decide who should get what amount”, rather it should devise some formulae for distribution of funds. However, funds were allocated to universities arbitrarily by its powerful elite. The failure still persists as no efforts are in vogue to devise the formulae based on performance or need analysis of the varsities. This malfunctioning infused a sense of deprivations among the universities from under-developed provinces; and seemingly a prime reason for the demand of effective and powerful provincial Higher Education Departments.

The threat to university autonomy has also worsened in recent years as the HEC has started to transform from the role of an advisory and facilitating body into a regulator, rather assumed policemen role to snatch the autonomy and administer all the university activities. The policies about universities were formed without taking into consideration the ground realities and involvement of real stakeholders - the faculty. There have been many such reported cases, including that of federal universities like Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), International Islamic University and Federal Urdu University Karachi.

The functioning of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) with reference to degree attestation has also become doubtful and questionable within last four years – the apex body verified a famous BS International Relations degree of Mr. Abdul Majeed Al-Darweish, the son of President IIUI Dr. Ahmed Yousaf Al-Darweish, a Saudi national despite the fact that his intermediate and other certificates were not equated by the Inter Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC), which is a mandatory condition for attestation of BS degree. Similarly, apex body granted degree equivalence of different nomenclatures to three newly appointed NAB officers, which was not even in its’ purview. During the same time, a number of foreign and local PhD degree holders were affected due to discriminatory policies and delay in attestation, which caused many of these PhD holders to remain destitute of the prospective jobs, while HEC paid a deaf ear to such important issue. The way back in 2010, HEC earned good name due to its transparent degree verification process, especially in case of the parliamentarians despite severe external pressures; however, quite recently when it came to the verification of degrees of influential persons, things were settled magically and a deliberate “change in policy” was made.

HEC has also failed in effective implementation of Prime Minister Laptop Scheme. HCE’s leadership faced allegations of irregularities in Prime Minister’s laptop scheme for talented students, which is now under investigation with the NAB. The Pakistan chapter of the global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International also raised several objections over the process of laptop purchase.

The transparency in the appointments of several Vice-Chancellors/Rectors/ Presidents is under question including the outgoing chairman HEC, whose appointment is under investigation by the NAB. While being chairman HEC, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed remained key player in the appointments of heads of institutions, specifically in federally chartered universities. The one who publicly admits backing of a sitting minister cannot make fair and transparent decisions based on merit for the high-level appointments in Higher Education. Chief Justice of Pakistan also took suo moto notice of such appointments in Punjab and two of the Vice-Chancellors voluntarily resigned owing to timely intervention of his excellency Justice Mian Saqib Nisar during the suo moto proceedings. The fact is when the political government is busy in appointing such incompetent heads of institutions, then the only hope exists in the judiciary under its visionary leadership of the current Chief Justice of Pakistan. The special interest shown by the Chief Justice of Pakistan to address the plights of higher education and health sectors is welcomed by the academia at large and all eyes are on the Chief Justice of Pakistan to save the future of higher education that is at stake and is in the hands of the political and bureaucratic elite.

 

The writer is the elected President of FAPUASA-Islamabad and works as Assistant Professor of Computer Science at International Islamic University Islamabad, Pakistan.