After almost eight years since the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the fate of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) has been decided by Council of Common Interests (CCI). The HEC in not being dissolved and the apex education body has been given a green signal to continue playing a key role in the country’s higher education sector.
The issue of devolution of the HEC had been a bone of contention between federal and provincial government for years now. Some provinces, especially Sindh, wanted complete administrative and financial control to run the affairs of higher education. One the other hand, some agreed that a federal body – HEC – should remain intact to set standards and define an overall direction for the sector.
18th Amendment and Higher Education
The 18th Constitutional Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan was enacted in 2010 by the government of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) headed by then president Asif Ali Zardari. Among other things, the 18th Amendment made education a provincial subject, meaning that the provincial governments would be responsible for the sector. However, a confusion persisted about the higher education sector, as HEC, through HEC Ordinance 2002, still remained a legal body.
Following the passage of 18th Amendment, Sindh established the Sindh Higher Education Commission (SHEC) in 2013 and Punjab followed suit in 2015 with its own Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC). An attempt to devolve the federal HEC was first made in 2010. The move was challenged in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which termed the move illegal in 2011 and declared that a fresh legislation was required to move forward on the issue. It also ruled that in case of a conflict, the HEC Ordinance 2002 would take precedence.
The federal HEC resumed work for the cause of higher education in Pakistan after the SC’s 2011 verdict, albeit with frequent conflicts with provincial commissions, with a final decision pending with the CCI.
What is the CCI?
The CCI has been in existence before the 18th Amendment, however, it took a central role once the amendment got passed by the National Assembly. The CCI’s role is to ensure coordination and smooth functioning between the federal and provincial governments as well as to resolve matters of devolution. The CCI has federal as well as provincial representatives.
The matter of the devolution of the HEC has been hotly-contested in the CCI and after eight years, the body has finally decided the fate of the higher education devolution issue. The CCI agreed not to devolve the federal HEC, while it also agreed to let provincial HECs function.
As learned, a middle-of-the-road decision has been taken, where powers and responsibilities have been divided among the federation, HEC and the provinces. According to the agreed upon decision, which still has to be codified formally, the responsibilities and powers have been split into three categories. The first is the roles, powers and responsibilities of the federal HEC. The second is the power granted to the provincial government, although only Punjab and Sindh have functioning provincial HECs. The third relates to the shared roles that are to be conducted through coordination between the federal HEC and provincial HECs.
As before, the federal HEC will still be responsible for devising national policies and standards and at the same time, for setting up minimum standards to be enforced at all higher education institutions. The body will also devise minimum standards for the establishment of institutions of higher education in the country.
Furthermore, the HEC will also formulate curriculum as well as be responsible for equivalence of qualification, recognition and attestation of degrees. The commission will set standards for international collaborations and linkages along with defining national priorities and policy matters for higher education in the country. The body will also be responsible for monitoring the quality of education through its quality assurance cells.
However, some of the roles traditionally carried out by HEC will now become shared with provincial HECs. These include funds allocation, creating fellowships, scholarships and endowment funds. Both federal and provincial bodies will work together for the promotion of research and strengthen industry-academia linkages, as well as for training human resource and faculty, and taking development initiatives. Collection of information and statistics regarding the sector and promoting links between different institutions and collaborative research, personnel exchange and cost sharing will also be shared by the federal and provincial bodies.
The CCI also decided that monitoring and accreditation of institutions would be carried out by both the federal and provinces bodies. A higher education institute, once having received a charter by a provincial government, will be bound to seek a no-objection certificate (NoC) from HEC. Representation of provinces in the governing body of the HEC will also be increased as part of the collaboration.
What Provinces Get
The provincial HECs will be bound to implement the national standards set by HEC in their respective provinces as well as ensure that federal standards are met in institutions in their jurisdiction. The provinces will also implement quality assurance systems in line with the standards set by the federal body. The provincial bodies will play an advisory role for the higher education institutions helping them with policy and management matters, as well as offer assistance in carrying out training programmes. The provincial HECs will also be responsible for carrying out third-party performance audits of the higher education sector. Finally, the provincial bodies will be responsible for colleges operating in their jurisdiction.
Though the decision has still not been written down and formalized, it is a positive move as the federal and provincial bodies can now move on to work for the higher education sector of the country instead of engaging in bickering over their jurisdictions and control of universities in the country. Currently, only two provinces have set up their own higher education commissions, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa planning to do the same in the near future. Balochistan government has also hinted at setting up a similar body. Once the CCI’s decision is formalized, the stage will be set for the remaining federating bodies for establishing their own regulatory commissions.
However there still remains quite a possibility of friction between the two sides once they arrive at the bridge called distribution of financial resources. For all we know, some things are way harder done than written.