HEC has been striving for strengthening the autonomy of universities with fairness and accountability, said Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri, on Monday. He made these remarks while talking to a delegation of the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) who called on him at the Commission Secretariat.

FAPUASA representatives presented their concerns about the victimisation of faculty by the management of different universities. They lamented that teachers were being removed from their services, suppressing their right to freedom of speech. “We do not raise any objection if actions are taken against faculty on the basis of financial or moral corruption.” FAPUASA requested HEC to set up a grievance council, which would adjudicate on such matters through a transparent judicial process.

Dr Banuri said HEC strongly supports a timely, fair resolution to the issues of faculty as well as all other academic community members. He promised to examine the pros and cons of the grievances council, both legally and practically, along with consultation with other stakeholders, especially the Vice-Chancellors’ Committee. In addition to this, he drew attention that the urgent need was to build a consensus over a formal “Charter of Rights” of faculty members, especially with regard to the need to protect intellectual freedom on campuses.

In response to several comments regarding harassment and ill-treatment of faculty members, the chairman HEC suggested that all stakeholders, including FAPUASA, the VC’s Committee, and HEC must develop a code of conduct for academia. This would not only create consensus over a desirable framework for interaction among academics but would also work as a model that could be presented to the rest of society.

On other matters, all participants agreed that the government’s funding for higher education should be enhanced rather than slashed. Dr Banuri said nobody in the Government disagrees with this proposition. Yet, the funding for higher education was still low and had recently been slashed even further. As against the global norm of an allocation of 1 percent of GDP for higher education, the proposed funding in the fiscal year 2019-20 would amount to only 0.18 per cent, which was the lowest ratio since the establishment of the HEC. Government funding per student was also one of the lowest in the world. “We academicians have the reasons and facts on our side and we should use these to convince government authorities.”

In response to a question regarding research funding, he assured the participants that no HEC programme had been stopped and that the allocation for research and research-related expenses (including conferences, research travel, start-up grants, anti-plagiarism software and access to digital libraries) was being enhanced significantly. In addition to the NRPU, HEC was also launching two new initiatives, including National Challenge Fund (NCF) and the Local Challenge Fund (LCF), which would support consortiums of universities to contribute to the resolution to national and local challenges respectively. He said universities would be encouraged to expend at least five percent of their budgets on research related expenditures.

In response to demands by faculty members, Dr Banuri said HEC was supportive of enhanced benefits to faculty members, including tax rebate and higher retirement age. He said demands of TTS/ BPS Committee had been received and were being examined internally by the HEC. He assured the FAPUASA delegates that HEC will seek to provide relief, as much as possible, to all groups of faculty members.

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