Adhering to the directives of the provincial government, vice chancellors of public universities in Punjab remained absent from the VCs conference organised by Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan on Thursday.
Sindh had also directed it VCs to stay away from the moot, however, the provincial government rolled back the directive later, enabling VCs from Sindh to become part of the conference via video link. That left only representatives of universities in Punjab absent from the proceedings. Those in attendance included VCs from public and private sector universities in Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan (GB). However, two VCs of public medical universities and some from private universities in Punjab did attend.
Earlier, both Punjab and Sindh had termed the HEC moot an interference by the federal commission in the affairs of the provinces, as education had become a provincial subject following the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment. Punjab and Sindh already have fully functioning higher education commissions, while Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are yet to set up individual ones.
Irrespective, HEC still exercises considerable influence over the higher education sector in Pakistan, which often pits it against provincial authorities in a continued struggle for power. The ambiguity over jurisdiction and authority of provincial and federal commissions in the higher education sector has led to various uneasy episodes between the two sides, and the jostle for dominance continues to this very day. Ironically, the apparent agenda of the HEC moot was to discuss the issue at the heart of the conflict – demarcation and division of power between provincial and federal authorities. The HEC had also reportedly prepared a proposal that tentatively demarcated provincial and federal jurisdictions and the commission looked forward to a wholesome consultation over it.
But opposing the moot, Punjab and Sindh had maintained that the issue of HEC’s and provincial commission’s role in higher education was under consideration by the Council of Common Interest (CCI) and HEC was unnecessarily violating the mandate of CCI. The initial opposition to the discussion over the agenda eventually forced HEC to discuss various other routine policy and governance issues during the conference.
Per a press release issued by HEC, the participants of the vice chancellors conference reposed their confidence in HEC during the meeting, which was chaired by HEC Vice Chancellors Committee Chairman Dr Masoom Yasinzai. The PR said discussion were held on various issues of governance and quality of higher education at universities and their affiliated colleges. Addressing the meeting, HEC Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed said the commission emphasised on governance as well as the quality of educational institutions and their affiliated colleges. He said that despite having made significant development, there was still a lot to be corrected. Dr Mukhtar stressed the need for setting up quality enhancement cells for affiliated colleges to monitor and ensure their performances, adding it was time the higher education sector was taken forward by strengthening universities by ensuring accountability. The attendants agreed upon convening the next meeting of the committee in Gwadar in February 2018.