The never-ending tussle between centre and provinces over power has again come to the fore 

 

The cold war between the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan and provincial educational authorities is seeing another battle, as both Punjab and Sindh provinces have directed vice chancellors of public sector universities in their jurisdiction not to attend a VCs’ conference called by HEC in Lahore.

With the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, education has become a provincial subject and both Punjab and Sindh provinces already have functioning higher education commissions. However, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are yet to form a commission of their own.

Education has become a provincial subject after the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment

Despite the devolution of powers, the federal HEC maintains a strong sway over matters related to higher education in Pakistan, which has pitted it against provincial authorities several times over the years. The latest issue is part of such covert skirmishes.

Per details, HEC called a meeting of university vice chancellors from across the country in Lahore to discuss the very issue at the centre of the conflict – division of powers between provincial and federal authorities — and had devised a proposal to be discussed during the moot. The proposal drafted by HEC suggests authority over certain matters of universities be granted to the federal commission, while other affairs be put in the jurisdiction of provincial governments.

No, please

But Punjab Higher Education Department has taken exception to the meeting, directing all VCs to strictly refrain from attending the same. An official letter said the issue at the heart of the conference agenda was already under discussion in the Council of Common Interest. “It is informed that the issue of determination of role of Federal Higher Education Commission, Provincial Higher Education Commissions/provincial governments pertaining to higher education in the aftermath of 18th Amendment in the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is under discussion in the Council of Common Interest (CCI), wherein the Punjab government has furnished its views/comments after approval from the Punjab chief minister,” the letter reads.

“Under no circumstance, any officer of a public sector university of Punjab or any official may make/furnish any statement on this issue, at any forum, or attend any official proceeding without seeking formal approval in writing from the chancellor/government.” Punjab HED officials say the government was unhappy with the conference agenda.

Similarly, Sindh government has also rolled out a similar directive to VCs to refrain from attending the HEC conference, saying the centre was meddling in provincial affairs unwantedly. Sindh maintains HEC has no legal authority to call such a meeting and is going beyond its mandate by engaging in such affairs.

The last meeting of CCI, held in Islamabad on December 28, 2017, had discussed the issues of federal and provincial jurisdictions over higher education and had formed a committee to resolve issues facing universities and their administration.

Impediment

The unending battle over the power to run higher education institutions has not only thwarted internal progress of the departments that remain at loggerheads over various matters, it has also put countless external stakeholders in a state of confusion and uncertainty as well. The vagueness of authority is evident in affairs such as accreditation and registration of various private sector colleges and universities operating across the country. It is a routine matter that an institute which has approval from a provincial authority remains unaccredited by the federal commission and vice versa, leaving students in a state of ambiguity and mental stress over the fate of the education received and money spent. It is high time the authorities concerned sit down and chalk out operational boundaries and jurisdictions for good and devise a uniform policy to oversee the higher education sector, both at the centre and in the provinces.

A clear mandate would not only help provinces and centre to focus on resolving bigger issues facing the country’s education sector, but will also save the future of thousands of students that are duped into spending millions by sham institutes thriving due to the internal bickering of the state’s education authorities.

 

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