It all started with a tweet. Sardar Akhtar Mengal, President of Balochistan National Party (BNP) and former Chief Minister (CM) of Balochistan tweeted on 30th April 2015 that he is willing to donate 100 acres of land for establishment of a university in his native town of Wadh which has a population of over 50,000. The very next day, Ahsan Iqbal Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms replied in a tweet that he will provide full support to the desired university.

Higher Education Commission (HEC) officials visited Wadh and met with representatives of Akhtar Mengal and after that he transferred 100 acres of land to HEC. However, later it was alleged by Sardar Akhtar Mengal, again through a tweet, that Governor Balochistan, Mohammad Khan Achakzai, has blocked the establishment of University in Wadh.

He explained that Governor Balochistan opposed the establishment of Wadh University on the grounds that universities are already established in Khuzdar city and Uthal city which are situated at a distance of 80 KM and 200 Km from Wadh respectively.

Background

Balochistan the largest province of Pakistan in terms of area has a population of 13.16 million according to the house listing census of 2011. There are just 8 HEC recognized Universities in Balochistan which are proving to be too less to cater to the higher education needs of the province. Sindh province with a population of 55.25 million has 50 Universities, as per HEC.

Therefore, both provincial and federal government felt the need to establish more universities in the province. As a part of the vision 2025 plan of Federal Government a university campus would be established in every district of Balochistan.

Obstacles

Federal government has approved universities and sub-campuses for Balochistan, but they are not turning into reality, allegedly due to not receiving the nod from Governor Balochistan who is still the Chancellor of all provincially charted Universities in Balochistan.

A source in Higher Education setup of Balochistan said that University of Balochistan (UOB) had proposed establishment of new campuses in Khuzdar, Dera Murad Jamali and Pishin City.  All three of the campuses were part of Vision 2025. However, these ideas were dropped by the University administration because Governor of Balochistan expressed his displeasure on these projects claimed the source who wishes to be anonymous.

Another interesting case is that of proposed Chakar Khan University in Sibi district University. The PC-1 of this project has been approved by HEC but reportedly Governor of Balochistan is again blocking the charter of the university which has to be initiated by the Governor Secretariat.

The project for the establishment of this university has been approved by CDWP in its meeting held on 29th October 2015 at a cost of Rs. 550.240 million. Government has allotted 250 acres land, free of cost, for the proposed university.

HEC spokesperson told The Nation that HEC has already vetted the draft charter of Sibi University and issued the required NOC in this regard.

It’s alleged that the Governor is not willing to give go ahead to the university because it’s named after Chakar Khan Rind, a famous Baloch historical figure. Governor Balochistan is the brother of Mehmood Khan Achakzai the chairman of Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). Being a Pashtun nationalist party, PkMAP claims that Sibi is historically a Pashtun land and therefore any university in this city can’t be established with the name of a Baloch historical figure. This allegation has been repeatedly made by BNP and other Baloch nationalists and the Governor House has not denied it.

Few months back, members of PkMAP in provincial cabinet objected on the name of Chakar Khan Rind for Sibi University. A participant of that meeting told this scribe that PkMAP members exchanged heated arguments and vowed to never allow the establishment of Sibi University if it’s named after Chakar Khan Rind. In that meeting only name of the University was discussed and not the contents of the bill.

Another related issue is that of establishment of Bolan University of Health Sciences. Bolan Medical College (BMC), the only operational Medical College of Balochistan, is affiliated with UOB which is a general University. Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) have asked BMC to either upgrade to a medical university or else it will be derecognized by the council.

In that backdrop, Bolan University of Health Sciences was proposed by Health department on the model of University of Health Sciences, Lahore. Therefore it would be under the control of Chief Minister rather than Governor. The draft was approved by Health Department in February this year, and Article 13 (2) of the draft states the VC would be appointed by the Provincial Government.

Sources in Health department have claimed that Governor Secretariat is again not allowing the draft of Bolan University of Health Sciences to pass further to Balochistan assembly because it wants to have the control over the university as opposed to the Chief Minister.

Politicizing Higher Education

A source in Higher Education department told this scribe that HEC officials joke in the meetings that every project they approve in Baloch areas has to be replicated in Pashtun areas as well or else it will be blocked.

Agha Hassan Baloch Advocate is the Spokesman of BNP. He told The Nation that the “governor exercising control on universities after 18th Amendment is unconstitutional.”

He demanded that Provincial Higher Education Commission be established in Balochistan like Punjab and Sindh, where powers of Higher Education are transferred to Chief Minister of Balochistan.

Both Governor House and PkMAP were not available for comment despite the repeated efforts made by The Nation to get a comment.

Provincial Higher Education Commission

Dr. Mansoor Akbar Kundi, former executive Director of HEC who taught in University of Balochistan for more than 3 decades, believes that the only way to solve the higher education woes of Balochistan is to develop a provincial Higher Education Commission.

“HEC is overburdened now and can’t regulate all the universities across the country and therefore every province including Balochistan must have its own provincial HEC,” said Dr. Kundi.

18th Constitutional Amendment, amongst other things abolished the 38th point in the concurrent which was "Curriculum, Syllabus, Planning, Policy, Centers of Excellence, and Standards of Education.” This effectively devolved the Higher Education regulation in the country and left it to the provincial legislatures to draft their own laws to take control of higher education.

Punjab and Sindh have passed their higher education legislation have formed their respective provincial higher education commissions.

Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) was formed through an assembly act in January 2015. The 16 member PHEC is now responsible for managing the provincially chartered Universities in Punjab province. Sindh Government also passed Sindh Higher Education Commission Act in February 2013 that would serve as the regulating body of the higher education institutes in the province.

In case of both Punjab and Sindh, control of Universities has been taken back from the Governor and put in charge of Chief Minister of those provinces.

In this context another important point is the allegation that HEC has underprovided Balochistan in all of its resources. Former Chairman of HEC, Dr. Javaid Leghari, has written in a report that Balochistan has been under-represented by HEC. He claims that out of 3,618 PhD foreign scholarships Balochistan has just got 70 which is 2% share. Report further says that during the period 2002 to 2013, 5,344 PhDs were produced from Pakistan and only 34 of them were from Balochistan which is just 0.6 percent of the total.

HEC spokesperson however contends these claims. “HEC has got approved 9 development projects for Higher Education Sector in Balochistan at a cost of Rs.6.833 billion during last three years of the present government in accordance with Vision 2025,” said the spokesperson.

Muhammad Murtaza Noor, National Coordinator for Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences (IUCPSS) says that non-establishment of provincial HEC at Balochistan would continue current practices of injustices with Balochistan and higher education in the largest province of Pakistan cannot be promoted in view of claims made by Dr. Javaid Laghari.”

National Party PkMAP, two out of the three ruling parties in Balochistan, committed to establishment of provincial HECs in their election manifestos. However, they have not made any effort in last 3 years to even start debate on the idea of establishing a provincial HEC.

“Political parties especially from smaller provinces were strong supporter of 18th constitutional amendment which granted more powers to provinces. But when these political parties come to power, they, unfortunately, do not want to implement the constitution which results in the people of smaller provinces remain devoid of real fruits of decentralization,” added Mr. Noor.

A source in Provincial government who requested not to be named claimed that Balochistan does not want to establish its own HEC because it wants to continue receiving federal funding for Universities in Balochistan which would be stopped when provincial HEC is established.

Until and unless Balochistan government forms its own provincial HEC, higher education woes of the province are expected to linger on.