Sindh quietly makes law to de-fang HEC
Islamabad, Feb 26: With parliament and the ECP at loggerheads over the issue of fake degrees, the Sindh Assembly has passed a new law to make the federal Higher Education Commission totally irrelevant in relation to the Sindh province by setting up its own provincial HEC that has been given all the powers, including the authority to verify degrees awarded by any institution in the world.
The new legislation was passed last week and according to sources approved by the acting governor, has seriously dented the authority of the HEC, which has been at the receiving end from the federal and provincial governments and parliament following its courageous stance over the issue of verification of degrees of MPs since 2010. Now only the provincial HEC would verify the degrees of MPs from Sindh.
With this move, the sources said that even the issue concerning the dubious degrees issued by the University of Sindh would also culminate in favour of the influential MPs from the province, including the relative of one of the most powerful men in the government.
This is also a classic case where a provincial law would override the federal law. Additionally, the provincial assembly has made an effort to take away the powers and functions of a federal body protected by the Constitution.
The move is being seen not only as a violation of the Constitution and the Supreme Court's order but is also seen as a case of contempt of court because already the issue of setting up the provincial HEC was pending before the Sindh High Court with the next hearing due on March 5.
According to sources, the 18th Amendment contains specific provisions regarding the function of HEC as a federal body. In the Fourth Schedule [Article 70(4)]: Federal Legislative List Part I, Items 16 and 17 address issues such as research and foreign students, while the Fourth Schedule [Article 70(4)]: Federal Legislative List Part II, Items 6, 7, 11, 12 and 13 deal with other core functions of the HEC including regulation of higher education, national planning, coordination of scientific and technical research, legal, medical and other professions, standards in institutions of higher education and research as well as scientific and technical institutions, verification of degrees and inter-provincial matters and coordination.
The Supreme Court, in its recent order, had said that the status of the federal HEC, as it has been assigned to it under HEC Ordinance 2001 with its function covered by the Constitutional provisions namely entries at Sr. Nos 16, and 17 of the Part-I and Sr 7, 11 and 12 of Part-II of the Federal Legislative list, shall remain intact unless the same is changed by promulgation of some legislation in this behalf.
The Sindh Assembly has passed a law on February 21, 2013 forming the provincial Higher Education Commission to control the provincial universities. At present, the federal HEC that was set up in 2002 under a federal ordinance is responsible for all the universities, including the provincial universities.
The Sindh law minister is reported to have stated that after the 18th Amendment, higher education had already been devolved to the provinces. He deliberately chose to ignore the decision of the Supreme Court dated April 12, 2011, which had clearly declared the attempted devolution of HEC to the provinces by the federal government illegal, and had ruled that the Higher Education Commission was fully protected under the Constitution.
The HEC functions that include research, professional or technical training, planning and coordination of scientific and technological research, legal, medical and other professions, and standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institutions as well as inter-provincial matters and co-ordination etc, have now been given to the provincial HEC.
Degree attestation has been taken away from the federal HEC. Moreover, the tenure of chairperson HEC Sindh has been set for four years besides giving him the status of a minister. However, at the federal level, the PPP government is supporting a draft bill wherein the tenure of chairman HEC (federal) is recommended to be reduced from four to three years besides taking away from the chairman the status of a federal minister. The news
Provincial HEC sparks debate
Islambaad: A bill approving provincial Higher Education Commission in Sindh (SHEC), has triggered debate with HEC authorities based in the federal capital, as the new commission will fall under the Sindh government's purview.
The bill was unanimously approved by Sindh Assembly on February 19 and according to the bill, the provincial higher education would work directly under the Sindh chief minister (CM).
According to the bill, the CM will appoint the chairperson SHEC and he/she would enjoy the status of a provincial minister. The secretaries of education, information, planning, development and finance departments would be members of SHEC, as per bill.
An officer of HEC requesting not to be identified said that in the presence of a federal law, there cannot be a provincial contradiction. The federal law has to prevail, insisted the HEC official.
"The 18th Amendment contains specific provisions regarding the function of HEC as a Federal body. In Article 70(4), issues such as research, foreign students, regulation of higher education, national planning, coordination of scientific and technical research, legal, medical and other professions, standards in institutions of higher education and research as well as scientific and technical institutions and inter-provincial matter and coordination were federal matters," HEC official added.
"HEC is an autonomous body and is governed by an 18-member commission, headed by a chairperson. The chairperson enjoys the status of a federal minister and HEC is directly controlled by prime minister of Pakistan," said the HEC official.
"It is correct that after 18th Amendment education has been devolved but as per observation of the Supreme Court, HEC is a federal subject," said the HEC official.
However, according to National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, after 2014, funding would be a provincial subject, added the official.
"Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has given a proposal of provincial education commission and Punjab and Balochistan are also considering establishing of provincial HECs. If it continues, soon issues of curriculum, merit, facilities and quality of education will rise," he said.
Instead of HECs, provincial councils should be established to deal with educational institutions in the provinces, recommended the official.
On the other hand, Media coordinator of HEC, Murtaza Noor, said that management of HEC had concerns over the establishment of provincial HECs and it had been considering raising the issue with the relevant authorities.
"Chairman HEC Javed Leghari has already proposed that there should be a 24 member Task Force having representation of all provinces to deal with the issues of education," he said.
While former chairman HEC Attaur Rahman said that on April 11, 2011, Supreme Court gave an observation that HEC was a federal regulatory authority, so it cannot be devolved to provinces.
"Passage of bill by Sindh Assembly was illegal and Supreme Court should take notice of it because it is a clear contempt of court," demanded Dr Attaur Rahman.
Legal expert Riasat Ali Azad said that the HEC was an autonomous body and had been working directly under the prime minister. Besides, Supreme Court had also given an observation that HEC was a federal subject, so legislation at the provincial level should be considered illegal.
"If provincial HECs are necessary for provincial governments, fresh legislation is needed in the National Assembly and Senate," he said. Dawn
Sindh HEC termed contempt of court
Karachi: A higher education commission (HEC) cannot be set up at the provincial level because such a committee is run at the federal level in various countries across the world, said the former chairman of the HEC on Monday.
Prof Dr Atta-ur-Rehman was the chief guest at a ceremony held at the construction site of the new building of the Latif Ebrahim Jamal (LEJ) Research Institute of Nanotechnology.
Rehman said that in Turkey, India and other countries, the HEC was a matter of the federal government because running such a committee at the provincial level resulted in a lot of problems.
He said that on April 12 last year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had also ruled out the devolution of the HEC.
If the Sindh Assembly passes any bill in this regard, then they will be charged with contempt of court, he added.
He said the HEC would be more beneficial at the federal level. "If it were to be devolved to the provincial level, then it will run into a lot of problems. We have already witnessed issues occurring in the health sector at the provincial level."
He also said devolution of the HEC would result in different standards of education in every province and remove the uniformity provided by the commission at the federal level.
Having a central authority for higher education also ensures that students do not face any difficulties when they go abroad for higher studies, because a provincial higher education commission could result in a lot of reservations on the part of international educational institutions, he added.
'Seventh to last'
Pakistan has been ranked the seventh to last country according to the ratio of education in its gross domestic product (GDP), said Rehman. "Most of the other countries at the bottom of the list are from Africa."
He said, "Only 1.8 percent of Pakistan's GDP is spent on education, of which hardly 10 to 11 percent is utilised on promoting higher education."
He also said that according to international standards, a country must spend at least 25 percent of the total amount on higher education and the rest on promoting primary and secondary education.
There is a dire need to spend more on education, and particularly in the areas of research and technology, he added.
"A very small fiscal budget is being spent in the higher education sector of the country, despite the fact that progress in higher education is linked with the development of any country. On the contrary, India has allocated 900 billion Indian rupees for the higher education sector in its next five-year plan," said Rehman.
Construction work of the country's first nanochemistry research centre has begun at the campus of Husein Ebrahim Jamal (HEJ) Research Institute of Chemistry in the University of Karachi (KU), which is a positive sign, said Prof Dr Muhammad Iqbal Choudhary.
Choudhary, the director of the International Centre for Chemical & Biological Sciences at KU, said nanotechnology was being used in many fields, including diagnostics, medicines, agrochemicals, defence products and engineering goods.
He said, "The modern facility of the LEJ centre will have a two-storey state-of-the-art building with 10 large laboratories, a central instrument room, a dedicated library, faculty rooms, seminar and meetings rooms, a central workshop and a pilot plant."
The new centre in the emerging field of nanochemistry is being built through a generous donation of the HEJ Foundation, he added.
He said the centre would be completed within a year and around Rs50 million would be spent on the project.
He appreciated the generous support of HEJ Foundation Chairman Aziz Latif Jamal who would supervise the project himself.
Prof Dr Rehman said, "Nanotechnology is having a major influence in the development of the fields of science, technology and engineering, including pharmaceuticals, natural sciences, biotechnology, agriculture and industry. The nanotechnology institute is a magnificent gift to the nation."
Aftab Lodhi, an adviser to the Sindh governor, said that Governor Dr Ishrat-ul-Ebad Khan had sent a special message of greetings on the occasion.
He said the governor appreciated the monumental contributions of the HEJ Foundation for the promotion of health, education, and science and technology in Pakistan.
KU Science Dean Prof Shahana Urooj Kazmi said the establishment of the institute was the need of the hour, adding that the HEJ Foundation had played a vital role in this regard.
She claimed that the government could not provide financial assistance to the university, so more philanthropists should come forward to help KU and other educational institutes. Dawn
Bill for three varsities being tabled in Senate: HEC expresses concern
Islamabad: Bill for the establishment of three federal universities is likely to be tabled and passed in the Senate on Monday, despite not having followed standard legislative procedures, said HEC officials.
Last week the bill for setting up My University, the Darul Madina International University and the South Asian Strategic Institute University was tabled by Senator Saeed Ghani, who hails from the PPP.
When the bill was criticised by Senator Raja Zafarul Haq of PML-N, the bill was referred to Senate Standing Committee on February 18. Within 24 hours, a meeting of the committee was summoned to discuss the draft of the bill.
Executive Director of Higher Education Commission (HEC) Dr Mukhtar expressed concerns regarding the criteria adopted for legislation but he was assured that all the procedural requirements would be met and the draft of the bill approved.
On the other hand, chairman of the committee Abdul Nabi Bangash supported the bill, observing that education paved the way for socio-economic development.
He further said that consensus on the bill showed that the committee was taking a keen interest in improving the quality of education in the country.
However, officials in the Higher Education Commission (HEC) said that the National Assembly did not follow the standard legislative protocols and the bill was passed in one day, even in the Senate some politicians tried to pass the bill within one day.
Despite all the debate and criticism, the bill for three universities had become part of the agenda issued by the senate secretariat on Sunday. Meeting of the Senate will be held on Monday at 4pm.
Fata University remains elusive
Peshawar: The newly appointed vice-chancellor of Fata University, which is yet to take material shape, has a Herculean task at hand since he is facing a host of problems in making this higher education facility functional for the students of conflict-hit tribal areas.
Prof Shafiqur Rehman, who was earlier working as chairman of environmental sciences department, was relieved of his service at the University of Peshawar and appointed vice-chancellor of Fata University last month.
One wonders whether to pity the professor or envy him for he would be heading the first-ever university in tribal areas but he has neither any office nor any staff to start work on the project.
Prof Rehman has been appointed project director and tasked with starting work on setting up the campus of the university. He was appointed vice-chancellor when the governor, the chancellor of the university, was replaced. The secretary of the ministry, Safron, which deals with Fata Secretariat in the matters of such institutions, was also changed.
And last but not the least, the directives of Election Commission of Pakistan regarding ban on fresh recruitments threw a spanner in the entire process of work initiated on Fata University project.
The project of setting up a university in tribal areas came into inception back in 2008 but it could not be materialised owing to financial reasons. "The government allocated Rs1,500 million initially in PSDP (for the university) and serious efforts were started in 2011 by extending relevant laws to the tribal areas," said Prof Rehman while giving background details of the project.
After consultation with the Fata parliamentarians a 266-kanal piece of land at Akhorwal area of Darra Adamkhel was selected as the project site.
When asked whether being a project director/vice-chancellor he considered the location suitable and secure for the university as a degree college in the same locality was attacked and blown up by militants earlier, Prof Rehman said that it was a challenging job since he himself had so far been not able to even visit the site owing to security concerns.
He said that the government had approved an Annual Development Programme scheme called 'Project Implementation Unit (PIU)' and allocated Rs100 million to prepare PC-1, set up an office and hire a team to help establish Fata University.
The funds approved for the university under PSDP would be released once the PC-1 is prepared and submitted to Higher Education Commission for approval. "But how could we make a PC-1 when there is no team to work on it with me," Prof Rehman questioned.
Setting up a university in tribal areas, devastated by militancy and left backward by years of government's neglect, seems a challenging job, but according to Prof Rehman he has a blue-print in mind to make a network of already functional post-graduate government colleges in tribal agencies like Kurram and Bajaur.
He said that about 37 government degree colleges, set up in Fata, would be affiliated with Fata University and students of those colleges would be registered with the university from 2013 onwards.
However, Prof Rehman has yet to go and visit these colleges to know whether they are functional and can be connected via satellite to the main campus in Darra Ademkhel.
"Security is a big challenge but we would be relying on electronic communication and video conferencing etc," he said. However, the vice-chancellor has worries in his mind since he is running short of time. His time is spent in running between Fata Secretariat and Safron ministry for making inquiries like status of Charter of Fata University. "A charter is a licence given to a university to start work but its status is still ambiguous," said Prof Rehman.
To add to the problems of the newly-appointed vice-chancellor, the PIU, which has only few months for implementing the project, is yet to rent an office and start work. Dawn