The HEC hoopla – by Fawad Manzoor

New media hoopla over HEC and political parties is tantamount to taking the mileage out of nonsense issue. Same people who voted for 18th amendment cried foul when media and judges came crying over the appointment of new judges. All parties gathered under the wings of media and spared no stone unturned to criticize PPP government. It was surprising to see all the parties who were in the committee for constitutional amendments voted unanimously for the changes but then no one knows what happened all of sudden. This 18th amendment has been voted for almost over six months ago, how come this storm all of a sudden!

It is eye opening to see PML-Q, PML-N, JI, JUI, and other tom dick and harry speaking against this HEC devolution. They voted for it and they got it, problem is now they cant digest it. It is same hue and cry we always heard that provinces are stupid, dumb wits they can’t handle education same words that were used against Bengalis. And please everybody knows Mr. Ataur Rehman is no angel either, he is just another droplet of Musharraf’s blessings on this nation.

It is very clear all the political rag tag parties PML (A-Z), MQM, ANP, or religious parties JUI(A-Z), JI, even PTI don’t set the agenda, it is set by the media. What a pity!

EDITORIAL: The HEC controversy
Daily Times, 10 April, 2011

Much noise and fury has been expended regarding the perceived ‘dissolution’ of the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Vice Chancellors, academics and students have all given voice (and in some cases rallies) to the apprehension that the HEC’s ‘demise’ would sound the death knell for higher education and in the process undo all the good work the HEC has achieved since it was set up under the Musharraf regime in 2002. The whole hullaballoo was punctured by the chairman of the Implementation Commission on the 18th Amendment, Mian Raza Rabbani, when he informed the Senate that a new commission is being evolved at the federal level to maintain higher education standards. Some of the erstwhile functions of the HEC, especially curriculum, syllabus, policy and planning are being devolved to the provinces. Perhaps some of the fears of the move’s critics are rooted in the fact that it is not yet clear how the provinces will handle these new responsibilities, through what administrative means, etc. The undeniable fact is that after the 18th Amendment, education has been devolved to the provinces. If the provinces at present lack the capacity to manage the new arrangements, this is not an argument for not proceeding along the perfectly desirable path of provincial autonomy, but cause for caution, thought and a systematic approach to the creation of the new structures and means to be put in place at the provincial level.

The HEC replaced its predecessor, the University Grants Commission, and because its first chairman, Dr Atta-ur-Rahman was the blue-eyed boy of Musharraf, the HEC incrementally expanded its role in the growth of universities and funding for postgraduate studies and research. But it also began to invite criticism from academics for micro-managing the universities, arguably going beyond its mandate and in the process eroding the autonomy of the universities. The pell-mell rush towards mushrooming quantitative growth of new universities (including in the private sector) and increased postgraduate studies (PhDs, etc) and research took no account of how the academic requirements of these new institutions and programmes would be met in the absence of a pool of qualified academic manpower and whether the sudden spurt could come up to the desired standard. In other words, the HEC concentrated more on quantity than quality, to the detriment, arguably, of higher education standards in the country. As to the doomsday scenarios being painted of the collapse of all the postgraduate programmes of the HEC because of funding cut-offs, Raza Rabbani has pointed out that all ongoing programmes will continue, funding from federal sources (the Finance Ministry has just released the Rs 7.7 billion allegedly ‘held back’ from the HEC) and foreign donors would be available (confirmed by USAID), and the new Commission for Standard Higher Education would oversee standards and act as a coordinating centre for the functions devolved to the provincial level.

While the caution to proceed step by step down the devolution path to ensure as little disruption as possible is well taken, the devolution thrust of the 18th Amendment must be seen as a historic turn for the country. Those predicting the death of ‘national unity’ because of the perceived threat from the provinces ‘going their own way’ in curriculum, etc, seems premature and exaggerated. In any case, this bemoaned ‘national unity’ has been a false, imposed one in our short history, one that attempted to steamroller over the historically evolved ethnic, linguistic and cultural identities in a multi-national state. No, Dr Atta-ur-Rahman, national integrity will not be “crushed” by devolution; what has been crushed so far has been precisely the identities highlighted above. National integration from above, in the name of a spurious national oneness has not worked. Arguably, it is time to allow the evolution of a real national integrity through the voluntary efforts of the federating units, an effort helped by the recognition of their ancient identities that predate the emergence of Pakistan. Does that mean each unit will become a ‘universe unto itself’? Not if the experience of democratic federations (and their opposite) is taken into account. A Pakistan of federating units confident in their (finally) established identities that binds the peoples of the disparate provinces through free and voluntary association, shared history, culture and interests will be a far more stable state than anything we have so far seen in the last 64 years. *



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