Higher Education in Pakistan: Future Tense

Posted on March 29, 2011
Filed Under >Muhammad Hamid Zaman, Economy & Development, Education
Total Views: 65307


Muhammad Hamid Zaman

Higher Education Commission Pakistan HECThe Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan may soon be dissolved and the authority devolved to the provinces. This move does not bode well for the future of higher education in Pakistan and should be cause for serious concern.

According to The News (March 25):

Implementation Commission has approved the devolution of HEC despite the fact that it exists in the Federal Legislative List (FLL) while under 18th amendment only concurrent list is supposed to be devolved. It has been learnt reliably that the Implementation Commission in its last meeting reviewed the HEC law for almost five hours after which they had decided to devolve it without taking HEC into confidence.

Not only do the provinces have little or no capacity or infrastructure, the loss of autonomy will also be a major setback for implementing and standardizing higher education. HEC not only serves the purpose of developing, supporting and promoting higher education, it is also the main source of research support in the country. The move will mean that provinces, without any existing infrastructure or capacity, will now be in charge of higher education as well as nearly all research funding in the country.

The move, while likely to go ahead, has been widely opposed – and rightly -by academics, university administrators and researchers across the country. According to Express Tribune (March 27):

Vice chancellors (VC) of public universities made a strong but futile attempt to push for the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to retain its current role. VCs from more than 36 public sector universities along with HEC Chairperson Dr Javed Laghari and Executive Director Dr Sohail Naqvi met with the Commission for Implementation of the 18th Amendment on Saturday.

Dr Laghari, in his presentation to the committee, stated that the 18th Amendment fully supported the current powers and functions of the HEC. He said the provinces and universities had a strong and forceful voice in the HEC. “They are full participants and decision makers in the development and implementation of all plans for the promotion of higher education in the country. Therefore [there is no need to devolve the HEC],” he argued.
The vice chancellors unanimously agreed that the HEC had done a great job in the past eight years and its existence in its present shape would only ensure the maintainance of high standards of education in the country. They said the commission must continue to perform all its functions in the same manner as it has been doing to date.

The VCs observed that transferring the higher education system to the provinces would complicate education policies and implementation processes. Smaller provinces would be affected due to their lack of capacity to handle matters pertaining to higher education.

However, implementation commission chairperson Senator Raza Rabbani said HEC has no role in the future except setting standards and regulation of higher education, according to the commission’s interpretation of the 18th Amendment.

While opinions are divided on the successes of HEC over the last eight years, there is little debate on whether or not we need a strong institution to promote and strengthen our higher education and research. Developed and developing countries, across the globe have institutions with a similar mandate and these institutions are almost always centralized with the federal government. Provinces or states have smaller scale institutions that compliment, but never replace the national one.

HEC has not been without its critics. It is important that we continue to discuss and debate the successes and criticize failures of HEC, as this is in the very spirit of nation building. Yet, we should do this while keeping in mind the best interest of quality research and highest standards of education. In a society that is already suffering from an economic and infrastructure meltdown, dissolving what already exists, and creating replicate institutions from scratch, seems far from practical or prudent for nation building.

Prof. Zaman is Assistant Professor at Boston University.

23 Comments on “Higher Education in Pakistan: Future Tense”

  1. Basheer says:
    March 29th, 2011 7:15 am

    What else can we expect from these politicians!

  2. Durrani says:
    March 29th, 2011 7:33 am

    Yeh tou hona he tha! HEC messed with the politicians on the fake degree issue, and this is payback!

  3. Suleman says:
    March 29th, 2011 8:06 am


  4. Omar says:
    March 29th, 2011 2:13 pm

    HEC has already got provincial chapters which facilitate in various administrative tasks of the HEC. On the other hand, the provincial governments also have their own higher-education bodies which facilitate “I don’t know what”.

    Some more points need to be addressed:

    1. What is the say of federal government and respective provincial governments regarding the matter?

    2. Do the provincial governments have the capacity to efficiently run such a department? If yes, then why haven’t they had had any tangible outcome from their respective “provincial” higher education directorates? As an example, these are the functions of the K. Pakhtunkhwa govt. directorate of higher education: http://www.khyberpakhtunkhwa.gov.pk/Departments/HigherEducation/Functions.php A quick glance can reveal that all these functions are already being performed by the Federal “HEC” with visible results.

    3. HEC and most of its tasks by CONSTITUTION falls under federal legislation. These tasks specifically are (a) foreign education projects (b) scholarship holders both in and out of Pakistan (c) education standards enforcement (d) curriculum/syllabus planning. …. In addition, transferring federal subjects to provinces requires the “concurrent list”, which has already been abolished in 18th ammendment. So what is government planning to do? revoke the 18th ammendment ???? or transfer ALL other HEC tasks such as “degree verification” and “accredition”, which are specifically not mentioned in the constitution.

  5. March 29th, 2011 2:29 pm

    Higher Education comission is one of the most authentic bodies here in Islamabad, I personally know a few people there, and I like the work they do and have no idea how will provinces do this work without such experienced people at hand, and how about the international recognition.

  6. Tayyab says:
    March 29th, 2011 2:56 pm

    the first and the worst setback of devolution is the fact that the Higher Education Commission would lose $300 million loan approved by the World Bank (WB) to support its various programmes for the next five years. Devolution may deprive HEC of $300m World Bank loan


    Actually the thing is we are not loyal with our country, with our job or even with ourselves, then what we can expect from these institutions and other government sector that they will play positive role in the development of our country. We need change and also the true leadership which leads us towards success thats it…

  7. Eidee Man says:
    March 29th, 2011 8:38 pm

    HEC has had many problems, but surely no one believes that the provinces can do a better job. HEC has been one of the least politicized department in recent years, hiring mostly professionals with little or no activity in politics. This will definitely change if the provinces get control.

  8. Amir Rashid says:
    March 29th, 2011 10:48 pm

    This is another absurd act of the largely illiterate and corrupt political elite of Pakistan. How do they understand the importance of this institution and its work in lifting the face of higher education not only inside but outside Pakistan as well. They see it as their enemy divulging their secrets on fake and fraudulent degrees and would like to get rid of it as fast as possible.
    The question is what can Pakistan’s educated community especially overseas do to stop this criminal move of the politicians. How can we bring this issue in the lime light of media and start a serious debate on this issue. My suggestion is that every one uses its network of contacts in all kind of media and persuade especially the popular TV channels to initiate a debate immediately. Another possibility is to start a Face-book group to raise a collective voice against this move. Hopefully we as a conscious members of our nation understand that the good quality higher education is key to the evolution of knowledge based societies- the entities with respectable chance of survival in the highly competitive world. We must also understand that it takes years to develop such institutes and its the responsibility of primarily the “educated class” of the country to play an active role in the maintenance and development of these institutes.
    This is high time to act……………so act now!

  9. Anwar says:
    March 29th, 2011 11:26 pm

    It was bound to happen… unfortunately.
    But HEC can still survive by renaming itself as Benazir Commission on Higher Education… or something like that.

  10. sidhas says:
    March 30th, 2011 6:58 am

    HEC did lot to promote research which is lacks in Pakistan. It is a sad news that HEC is being handed down to provinces.

  11. Anwer says:
    March 30th, 2011 8:41 am

    >>This is another absurd act of the largely illiterate and
    >> corrupt political elite of Pakistan. How do they understand
    >> the importance of this institution and its work in lifting the
    >> face of higher education not only inside but outside
    >> Pakistan as well. They see it as their enemy divulging their
    >> secrets on fake and fraudulent degrees and would like to
    >> get rid of it as fast as possible.

    Yes, indeed.

  12. Sehar Tauqeer says:
    March 30th, 2011 12:42 pm

    Great Decision !

    Rs. 70 Arab is needed for Benazir Income Support Programme to get Votes …

    Rs. 30 Billion is needed for Multan Package for FY 2010-2011 to get a ultra new look of Gilani’s city with 6 Fly Overs and Underpasses …

    HEC budget which a “Dictator” brought upto Rs. 34 Billion in 2006-2007 , now is less than Rs.13 Billion

    Not a Single HEC Scholar was sent to abroad for past 2 years due to lack of funds

    Engoy Demcracy and Awamin Hakoomat , my Dear Countrymen !

  13. Yousaf says:
    March 30th, 2011 1:05 pm

    HEC has proven another white elephant like many other departments. They have waisted a lot of money witout achievement of any goal. It is a good decesion of Government to hand over this to provinces. A high level enquiry/audit should be carried out to fix the reesponisbility of this blunder.

  14. Sehar Tauqeer says:
    March 30th, 2011 2:12 pm

    @ Yousaf

    No one is perfect and there is always a room for improvement , a long debate is already there about HEC role but to just add a little in HE sector of Pakistan before 2002 and after that a prestigious university ranking site for the rankings 2010 2 Pak Universities in Top 300 in Engg. & Technology , NUST at 274 and UET Lahore at 281 , first time in history that 2 Pak universities came in top 300 !


  15. Aslam says:
    March 30th, 2011 3:07 pm

    @ Sehar Taquer
    One of the good steps of Musharaf’s government was to provide a lot of funds to the HEC for promoting higher education in Pakistan. It is a bitter fact that HEC failed to achieve its targets. As for as the 274 or 281 position amongst the top 300 universities is concerned, I request to see the list crtically. The said universities are at the bottom of the list with minimum scores. Let us hope the provinces will have a better control and they may lookafter their interests in a better way.

  16. Sehar Tauqeer says:
    March 30th, 2011 3:53 pm

    @ Aslam

    Again no one is saying all is colourful in the spectrum of HE sector of Pakistan , yes , it was a new experience and experiment first time in Pak to give such a massive funding to HE sector and a new experiment always have loopholes with it just like admiring present form of British democracy is different while looking it in 1200 AD ! Before 2002 , there was no one in Top 1000 list , the compilation list is of Top 300 and certainly 281 and 274 would be at the bottom of the list and still with average 2.5% growth in last 3 years,devasting floods, less than 1.4% on education budget and merely 0.4% on HE, one of the lowest in the world , where PSDP for FY 2010-2011 slashed from Rs.450 bn to 150 bn , 73 public sector universities receiving less than Rs 12 bn annually and government is desperately looking towards JICA , WB, ADB, Kerry Luger Bill to bridge the gap fundings to HEC . In the midst of all these , being in top list of 300 is still a Success !

  17. Pakistan Foundation says:
    April 4th, 2011 12:11 am

    HEC is not only white elephant rather a big elephant.

    It has more than 28 director Generals etc.

    They have no records even today to verify the
    degrees but are making money by stamping the
    degrees and making the process of attestation
    lengthy and complicated.

    Entry test which they introduced ( a system over
    system ) and their own presence over the universities
    must be abolished forthwith and staff transferred for
    some productive jobs.

    Although , PPP government is abolishing HEC for
    political reasons as they don’t know about the knitty
    gritty which this white elephant has been doing.

    All concerned , universities should attest their degrees
    because they have the relevant records whereas HEC
    was just making money and bothering students / graduates.

    These angles sitting in HEC should be sent to different
    universities in government pay scales instead of awarding
    them special packages due to their political links with
    Musharraf / Atta ur Rehman ( Atta ur Rehman himself is
    not an educationist – Musharraf just boosted him ).

    Pakistan Foundation

    Note : We are not PPP supporters / opponents. Pro pakistan only.

  18. April 4th, 2011 5:03 pm

    Great, now that it is over, can we come together and make something better.
    All those interested please email me your ideas privately.


    Khawar Nehal

  19. Tonya says:
    April 7th, 2011 3:42 am

    The HEC was not perfect but it was better than everything else. If they did not like it they shoudl be improved it, not destroyed it!

  20. Adil says:
    April 8th, 2011 12:36 am

    What else could be expected from these visionless leaders. I dream about my country ans this is my dream education reforms:
    All the best to my beautiful homeland.


  21. Seemee says:
    April 12th, 2011 9:01 pm

    I am torn on this one because I think more power to provinces IS A GOOD idea. On the other hand I think this really is a move to destroy the HEC and no more. And that is sad.

  22. L.S. says:
    April 15th, 2011 11:26 am

    Prof. Najam, saw you at Harvard today moderating the session with Hafeez Sheikh. You were brilliant. Funny and yet hard hitting on the issues. Unlike our TV anchors you said what needed to be said without bad taste or pettiness and you made him actually answer the questions. Thank you for a great session.

  23. azeem says:
    April 16th, 2011 9:02 pm

    what education in Pakistan? higher, lower or middle….

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