The decision of the government to attach the Higher Education Commission (HEC) with the Ministry of Professional and Technical Training has raised serious questions regarding its autonomous status which has served the HEC well in performing its basic task of promoting and facilitating higher education in the country.
In the last nine years, the Pakistani universities have produced more PhDs (3,280) than in the first 55 years (3,000). Research output has grown eight folds since 2002 (from 815 in 2002 to 6,200 in 2011). Around 80% of these research publications are coming from higher education institutions.
The output has more than doubled just in the last three years and is expected to double again in the next three years. Nearly 5,000 scholars from Pakistan have been facilitated to present their research work in leading conferences of the world.
In a meeting of vice chancellors from public universities organised in the capital recently, the issue was the focus of discussion along with the problem of dearth of funds for higher education institutions.
Sources told ‘The News’ VCs were unanimous of the opinion that the autonomous status was the main factor that helped the HEC in achieving its targets. They said that making it subservient to any government office would mean political influence on the decision-making at every level in the HEC.
“It was the control on political interference within the HEC which led to transparency in all its projects and there was not a single complaint against the decisions of the HEC in last nine years. All decisions were talent and merit based,” said sources adding that the decision would definitely affect the performance of HEC in future.
The VCs urged the relevant authorities to first hold discussion on the decision so that they don’t regret the decision after five years. “They said that universities are creative organisations and this freedom of creativity requires non-political environment and independent decisions,” sources pointed out.
When contacted, Vice Chancellors Committee Chairman Imtiaz Hussain Gilani confirmed that VCs expressed concern over the future course of action for HEC after this decision and issue of autonomous status during a meeting held on June 13.
The meeting was mainly organised to discuss challenges being faced by the higher education sector in Pakistan, especially the release of remaining funds for the fourth quarter of financial year 2011-12 for the HEC.
The funds for the fourth quarter of financial year 2011-12 for HEC, including Rs4.6 billion recurring and Rs6.8 development funds, have not been released so far by the government.
The remaining recurring budget of Rs4.6 billion will cater to the 50 per cent increase in salaries that was announced by the Prime Minster for this financial year.
In this regard, the Finance Division has issued letter to the HEC that the federal government will provide the additional Rs4.6 billion to the universities during the fourth quarter. As a result the universities have incurred huge liabilities and had borrowed from banks and diverted funds from other budget heads to pay the salaries at the enhanced rate with the hope that the same would be provided by the federal government as per its promise.
Furthermore, thousands of scholars pursuing PhD abroad would be adversely affected as a result of non-release of development funds amounting to Rs6.8 billion for the last quarter of this financial year.
It is feared that due to non-release of payment of tuition fee and stipend of these scholars will create huge embarrassment for the government of Pakistan across of the world.
Non-release of development funds will also adversely affect the ongoing development projects especially in the newly established and rural based universities established in the far-flung areas of Pakistan.
The vice chancellors also informed that the provincial governments have also refused to extend financial support to the universities as they consider that it is the responsibility of federal government till 2014.
During the meeting, it was further resolved that public sector universities will not be able pay twenty percent increase in salaries proposed in new budget as the federal government has not yet released the previously increased 50 per cent and 15 per cent increase in salaries.
The source said that the HEC has already apprised President, Prime Minister and Governor and Chancellors of respective provinces about the ongoing financial crisis of higher education sector.