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Govt sticks to HEC devolution plan


The government has refused to listen to the increasing voices against devolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) under the 18th amendment, although the institution had played a major role in improving university education over the last one decade.
Since the announcement of the HEC`s devolution plan by the Chairman, Parliamentary Commission on the Implementation of 18th amendment, Senator Raza Rabbani in the last week of March, the academicians have largely been opposing the decision.
Besides protest demonstrations by the HEC scholars and students of local universities against the government decision, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) also joined the chorus, asking the ruling PPP to take back its earlier verdict on the future of the commission.
According to the HEC officials, the status of the commission which is an autonomous body is very much protected under the 18th amendment in its fourth schedule. Officials of the HEC say key provisions covered under the federal legislative list of the new amendment have direct link to the higher education sector of the country. Hence the HEC could not be devolved to provinces as announced by Senator Rabbani.
These key provisions are: (a) all regulatory authorities established under a federal law (b) national planning and national economic coordination of scientific and technological research (c) legal, medical and other professions (d) standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institutions (e) inter-provincial matters and coordination.
Whereas, according to Rabbani, under the 18th amendment, HEC stands dissolved to the provinces and it is a just matter of a formal issuance of the notification to this effect.
He said the HEC act would be revisited and reframed in the aftermath of the 18th amendment.
The 18th amendment has given the eight-member implementation commission the powers to issue orders, undertake proceedings and make amendments to regulations, enactments, notifications, rules or orders as may be necessary.
According to Senator Rabbani, a separate commission would be constituted under the cabinet division to look after verifications of degrees with no role of whatsoever as a funding agency, like the HEC had been doing in the past.
Talking to Dawn, HEC`s top bosses said when first news about the HEC`s devolution under the new amendment broke, they had a detailed discussion with the authorities concerned who assured that the commission would not be disturbed.
They said, of late, when they came to know about the implementation commission`s final decision on the status of the HEC, they had another meeting with Mr Raza Rabbani led commission and again briefed them about perils that would entail for university education in the country following HEC removal from the national scene.
However, they said, despite best efforts, they failed to convince Senator Rabbani led commission about the importance of the HEC in improving the level of university`s education.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Ahsan Iqbal, chief spokesperson for the PML-N termed the decision of devolving the HEC as an irreparable loss to the university education and research in the country. “It the federal government does not take back its decision, people will perceive it a revengeful act by the ruling party against the commission for taking an independent stand on the issue of verification of lawmakers` degrees”, said Mr Iqbal.
Mr Iqbal, who was also member of the 27-member parliamentary committee which recommended 18th Amendment, said the PML-N had submitted a dissent note on the issue of devolution of education ministry to the provinces. He said in all federations of the world, education remained a centralized department therefore the government should reconsider its decision of HEC`s devolution.
In the Senate on Tuesday, opposition leader, Senator Wasim Sajjad of the PML-Q while moving a bill for the amendment to bring back education ministry under the federal control, said every wrong could be rectified. “If we have made a mistake in devolving education ministry to the provinces, it can definitely be rectified,” said Senator Sajjad.

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