The department had barred 18 private universities from offering admissions in various programs, but is likely to roll back the decision

A directive from the Punjab Higher Education Department issued on Friday has sent rumor mills churning across the academia, however, no one appears to know why the decree has been issued.

On September 22, news of PHED barring 18 private universities from offering admissions in various degree programs spread like wildfire across the country. The universities named in the notification include the likes of University of Central Punjab, University of Lahore, Beaconhouse National University and Superior College and University of Faisalabad.

Thousands of parents as well as existing and prospective students rushed to universities named in the directive to know about the status of their admissions in the said programs. University offices also received thousands of queries from alumni working in Pakistan and around the world who feared for validity and authenticity of their awarded degrees.

Roll back

An investigation into the development by The Academia has unveiled some interesting aspects. A source in the Punjab government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Academia that the notification had been ill planned and ill thought out and was likely to be withdrawn on Monday, September 25.

Earlier on September 14, Higher Education Minister Raza Gilani had called a meeting of private university heads from across Punjab. Gilani, however, failed to turn up and the meeting was chaired by HED Secretary Naveed Awan. Representatives of a few of university administrations were asked to make requisite changes and remove deficiencies in some of their programs in order to continue offering those degrees. But a bar on admissions was never considered, a university official who attended the meeting said. However, the current notification bars universities from offering admissions with immediate effect. The source said even officials in-charge of the department (minister and secretary) had not been taken into confidence over the notification and were now looking into the matter seriously (and in great ire).

The Academia also contacted sources in the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, who revealed HEC had no information about the notification and no one from the PHED had contacted the commission before going public with the order. A senior official in the Punjab HEC, who also wished not to be named, said there was a serious lack of coordination between departments monitoring the higher education sector in Pakistan and arbitrary decision like Friday’s were commonplace.

No clue

Officials in university administrations The Academia talked to said they had been taken by surprise by the bar on admissions, adding that the meeting on September 14 had discussed no such measure. They said some programs mentioned by PHED had been in operation for decades. “Even if PHED had reservations over some programs, the respective university should have been given a deadline to meet official requirements. We received no such warning or request prior to the notification,” a senior official associated with a leading university in Lahore said. “A program that has been running successfully for 20 years has been named in the notification. How could the university have evaded authorities for 20 years?”

Another senior member of staff at a leading university of Punjab said PHED was itself clueless about its jurisdiction, adding that university administrations had become a shuttlecock between various bodies overseeing the higher education sector.

For what it’s worth, the notification is a clear reflection of the sheer lack of management, coordination and communication among authorities looking after the invaluable future of millions of students across the country.

Action

While there might be some fire to the suspicious smoke that has been the PHED notification and although the decision is expected to be rolled back soon, the episode is a glimpse into the parallel universes various bodies governing the education sector in Pakistan exist in. It’s a routine matter that an institute barred from operations by a provincial authority gets a no objection certificate from a federal body and vice versa, often leading to confusion among students, parents and faculty members alike.

We all agree that institutes playing with the future of our youth should be dealt with an iron hand, but uncoordinated actions as such should be avoided at all costs. University administrations should be given appropriate opportunities to fulfil requirements, which should be clearly laid out to avoid ambiguities. The departments concerned should also coordinate with various accrediting bodies before passing a final verdict. Such news has the potential to ruin reputations built over decades in a few minutes, besides sending unnecessary waves of discontent, panic, discomfort and anger among stakeholders.

Let’s hope the issue is taken to its logical end soonest and the future of thousands of students associated with the mentioned institutes is not laid waste by speculation.

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