HEC devolved at the altar of politics

Published: April 4, 2011

The Higher Education Commission is being devolved to the provinces.

Like the Federal Education Ministry before it, now the Higher Education Commission (HEC) is being devolved to the provinces. The very ingredient that strengthens the fabric of a society — education– is being adulterated through a planned strategy.

Some portfolios are to be held by the federal government due to the nature of their strategic importance. For instance, letting provinces have independent foreign policies would be suicidal. Similarly, while provincial governments should manage the education infrastructure in their respective jurisdiction–which they were already doing–they should not have any control over the curriculum being taught. Every school in every province should have the same curriculum to maintain unity. Imagine if different lessons of Pakistan’s history pop up in different parts of the country? The consequences will be severe in the long run, and inter-provincial animosity will increase. Pakistan’s ideological debate would gain further energy and unrest would result.

Even General Zia-ul-haq’s education reforms, that strangled the country’s education system, will seem petty.

Dr Attaur Rahman served as the founding chairman of HEC from 2002 to 2008. Under his leadership, the organization took various bold steps that were unprecedented. From 2003 to 2008, fifty-one new universities and degree-awarding institutes were added to the country’s education infrastructure, and the university enrollment rose from 135,000 to 400, 000 students. A digital library was founded to make  scholarly publications available to students around the country. Pakistan’s Fulbright Program turned into the biggest Fulbright program in the world, sending thousands of students to the United States for Masters and PhD programs. The number of international conference and journal publications by Pakistani students experienced a stark rise.

HEC had some major achievements, but it had its share of flaws. I interviewed Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy back in December 2008 regarding the performance of the HEC under Dr Rahman. As a qualified critic, Dr Hoodbhoy pointed out that the HEC certainly increased the number of enrolled students and PhD students, but that quality was being compromised. He explained how various colleges had been given university status, just to show an increase in degree-awarding bodies. The infrastructure of these college-turned-universities was poor and the facilities remain weak.

We can criticize the HEC for not meeting its full potential, but news of its devolution to the provinces or of its dismantling is very disturbing. Pakistan needs a central body to maintain and promote higher education standards. HEC was able to show progress because it was given massive funding in the early years, and it was run by a qualified person (and not a ‘seasoned’ politician). Unlike most government branches, where it is hard to spot where money is being spent, the HEC’s work is visible in the form of various scholarship and infrastructural projects. It has been hailed internationally for an outstanding rise in Pakistan’s higher education standards.

Thousands of scholars are studying around the globe on HEC funded programs today. Pakistan has lately been isolated from the international community, with very few foreign researchers and students visiting the country. In such circumstances, it is important to send Pakistani researchers and students to different countries so that they can promote Pakistan’s image and bring back a diversified experience. Restructuring or dissolving the HEC raises the question of how these programs will be wrapped up and what problems the present scholarship holders will suffer.

Continuity is always a rusty process in developing countries. Regime change in Pakistan has no pattern, so every new government wants to rid itself of the legacy of the previous government regardless of what is at stake. Since the HEC was born in the Pervez Musharraf era, it was bound to irritate the present government. Devolving the HEC to the provinces essentially means that the federal government will no longer need to allocate a sizable fund for higher education in the country. The job of securing funds will fall into the hands of politicians, who seem to have little respect for the production of knowledge.

Devolution would be tantamount to the demise of the HEC, and that is the last thing Pakistan needs.


Samir Butt

A former Youth Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Fulbright undergraduate scholar, freelance writer, public speaking trainer, IT consultant and marketing professional. He blogs at samiranwar.net.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • ali

    Kindly try to stop the decision of dissolve of HEC.Recommend

  • tehmina

    its a sorry state of ffairs. the government is emphasizing we should all be primary pass like our politicians.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/menteliscio menteliscio

    It is responsibility of our youth to protect its asset. Imagine a powerless decentralised HEC- corruption, fake degree, no phd or scholarly programsRecommend

  • R

    It is pathetic that we are going back instead of advancing. The institution which took decades to build is destroyed by the egos of illiterate.It has contributed a lot and has envisioned the youth. Recommend

  • Nadir El-Edroos

    Its great to see that peoples passions are inflamed when it comes to the issue of education. I for one wish that people would feel the same way about basic, primary and secondary education, given that as of today one has to be really really lucky to gain access to higher education. Whether it is devolved or remains as it is, the HEC has its failings. And unfortunatley I fear that the lofty claims of quality improvement and regulation that is taken as part and parcel of its successes is a bit of a sham.

    I would question how effectively its regulatory functions extend to NUST, Bahria, Air, NDU, NUML etc. How is it that staff and students are beaten and roughed up by retired military personnel and the HEC remains silent in such cases. http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=39820&Cat=2&dt=4/4/2011

    An important consideration here is that the HEC performs many of the roles that universities themselves should perform. The fact that 9 years on a centralized authority still needs to perform such a role points to the weakness of individual institutions and perhaps the failure of the HEC to build up the capacity of individual organizations.

    To lobby for keeping the HEC intact is well and good, but what exactly does that mean? What is being kept in tact? the Status-quo? Progress has been made, but it has been made from a very low benchmark. Recommend

  • Ali

    Politicians, who are now taking command of the HEC functions make claims such as:
    There is no difference between a fake degree or a real degree, they’re both still degrees.
    One politician claimed that he finished high school at 10 years of age.
    Another politician claimed that he finished high school before university.
    And the list goes on and on…

    In the opposing corner are academics such as Ashgar Qadir (Pakistan’s most renowned mathematician), A Q Khan(needs no introduction), virtually every university chancellor in the country, and every academic worth his weight in salt.
    People have calimed that HEC is a waste of money. The world bank is willing to lend HEC money but not the corrupt Zardari regime. What does that tell you?

    The HEC had a difficult birth, it had many doubters. However after making huge strides it is now being dismantled because it told us what we already knew about Pakistan’s politicians. Perhaps if it had lied the poor of Pakistan would have atleast had a shot of improving their lot and the politicians would have carried on doing what they have always done, looting and plundering. However for taking a honourable stand about telling the truth, which is what aquiring knowledge is all about it has sacrificed itself and that is worthy of respect.Recommend

  • Faraz

    This will be a disaster bigger than tsunami and flood. This will take Pakistan centuries back. The world is moving forward and spending more and more on their higher education and we are wrapping up the established institutions. This clearly shows the Govt’s intensions towards education. We must raise this on every forum and force the govt to revert this action.Recommend

  • Ali

    @Nadir El-Edroos:
    By devolving the HEC we risk losing everything. Paksitan’s most prominent mathematician termed this decision as the death knell for higher education. I would be willing to bet that he does not have any under hand financial dealings, as opposed to our politicans. Their charachters are well known. So yes; the HEC is not perfect, but the alternative is infinitely worse!Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    Not going to read that. But we all know why this is being done. Fake degrees galore!Recommend

  • Ali

    What’s so amazing about all of this is that the PPP they are more interested in making a saint out of Benazir, and re opening the ZAB case.
    The present state of Pakistan is of little interest to them. Have they formualted any educational policy worthy of the name? The foreign press and NGO are doing more to fix the education system then our own government! Educational funding has fallen, but they still found money to build 3 billion ruppees accomodation for the nawabs in the national assembly.

    The HEC system is working. Leaving aside everyone in academia in Pakistan, which the governement claims are bias, the world bank trusts the HEC. Foreign educational institutes trust the HEC. I have only ever heard good things about the HEC in all my time abroad.
    Why break the system and try and make it work at a provincial level. Where are the benefits? There are no upsides, only down sides.
    Even the PML-N is quiet on the issue. Why? Because their members have also been shown up as liars by the HEC. This is revenge. Plain and simple. Our elite don’t use the HEC, only the lower and middle classes. This is where the talent in Paksitan is. The children of elite all study pointless subjects abroad and then return to Pakistan to take over their parent’s nefarious business schemes. So that is why the elite are hell bent on the destruction of the HEC.
    If the HEC is shredded into small pieces, the system will become infiltrated by the corrupt. Money will un accounted for. Deserving students who can not self finance will suffer. The system will become opaque. There will be no way money can be raised from the world bank to pay for education – one of the few places where world bank loans actually reach their intended recipients in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Ali

    A case in point. Look at Zardari and Gillani’s children. Gillani’s children, who have been pampered all their lives are studying in the UK at second rate educational institutes. Bilawal is studying history. These are the subjects that will not help Pakistan in the long run. Science, engineering, mathematics, health sciences – these are the subjects favoured by the poor/middle classes & funded by HEC grants – and it’s these subjects that will help Pakistan in the long run.
    The elite children return to Paksitan. They return to their guilded lives, but with a few letters after their names and continue in their parents foot steps. They don’t add an iota to the national economy. What good is a history student in Pakistan? Good scientists/engineers can/hopefully will attract large international companies. As our technological base improves we will become more self sufficent in areas such as engineering, manufacturing.
    We should aim to emulate the economic model of the far east.
    Destroying the HEC is a step away from this path.Recommend

  • tehmina

    I would also like to mention here that people are losing jobs because of this. My brother has just returned after completing his PhD (on an HEC scholarship) he is keen to work and research in Pakistan’s public sector, but he’ll be forced to work in the private sector because people will be losing tenure track jobs…. are we actually telling people that they have made a mistake by coming back to Pakistan? Should people just run away from this country on post doctorates and foreign jobs? what kind of a culture are we promoting ? Being honest and coming back to this place is a mistake? i am seriously angry and offended.Recommend

  • http://yahoo sardar mazhar rafiq

    The devolving of HEC means to send pakistan centuries back. We as a nation cannot afford this loss which will send our up coming generations in the stone age .Developing as well as under developing countries are increasing their annual budget every year to promote their educational system on more scientific basis and on the other hand the present govt of pakistan is going to destroy the existing system of education through devolving HEC , which is un bearable for every pakistani .This is the right time for every conscious person to strengthen the HEC and condem the govt decision, otherwise it ll be considered our historical mistake, which is irreparable one and have no alternative …..Recommend

  • http://www.islam-qna.blogspot.com Samiya Illias

    Lamenting the decisions of our politicians is not going to change anything. The business of education is far too serious to be left to them any longer. Each of us must do whatever we can to promote the cause of education. We Pakistanis are resilient, we should be able to weather this storm as well! Recommend

  • Hammad Siddiqui

    This is a great loss. Please make your voice heard. I just read a posting http://www.iownpakistan.com/2011/04/03/protesting-devolution-of-hec-get-up-now-save-the-future-of-our-nation/

    Kindly join facebook page save HEC committee.Recommend

  • Nauman S.

    i blame our non-grad politicians and their Godfathers for such a disaster. a place which gained trust in international academics for verifications and status of universities, is now a memorial. we need to be more pro-active in our demonstrations and not keep quiet in this era of media and exposure.Recommend

  • Dr. Abdul Jabbar

    I would suggest that the Government appoint a high level committee headed by Bhagwan Daas and include eminent educationists who suggest the ways of improvement in HEC. The enhancement of excellence of HEC could be a better service to the Nation rather than devolution. HEC should be completely free of political affiliations as it is at the moment. This act will also affect political parties specially PPPRecommend

  • Traitor

    sorry state of affairs.. pathetic place to live.. run while you can.. those who dont have the opportunity to go abroad are the patriots here!Recommend

  • Malik M TANVEER

    HEC should not be made Hub for Educational Corruption…..when it goes to provinces
    when devolved it should be given the name DFS degrees for saleRecommend

  • Chengez K

    Part of conspiracy to create 5 states from one Pakistan.When Pakistanis will not have one education then they will never be ONE.Recommend

  • Dr. Jawwad Saif

    No doubt, HEC is producing thousands of PhDs; however quality is very seriously compromised. There is no fruitful utilization of PhDs in Pakistan. The PhDs are entering the universities; heavy salaries are being paid to them to publish few research papers in scientific journals. There is huge investment in HEC but the return in terms of economic growth is very poor. I have personally seen number of PhDs in universities sitting there, being paid heavy salaries but no practical contribution to country’s economy. Country’s economy is nothing to do with the impact factor race of these PhDs. Universities is getting huge accounts of money in the name of research but where are the outcomes? Let alone a university be, what is the productivity of that university in terms of economic development output against the expenditure incurred upon it since its establishment? There should be a real check-balance system which could monitor the expenditure versus outcome record of universities. We don’t need merely PhD degree holders, but we need target oriented researchers which could contribute in country’s growth by developing new products and by enabling the local industry to meet the global challenges. Only that way, huge expenses by a poor country on the universities could be justified, and certainly not by publishing irrelevant researches in international journals.Recommend

  • tehmina

    and you think the provincial governments will do that since PhDs are useless and education till primary level like our land owning politicians is good enough? Recommend

  • tehmina

    and you are a PhD or a medical doctor on strike?Recommend

  • http://facebook.com/naenykhan Naeny Khan

    Foundation of Higher Education Commission was one of the most remarkable achievements of previous regime regardless of questioning or criticizing the authenticity of regime itself. Deserving students were sent to foreign universities on government scholarships on pure merit basis. Beneficiaries of the said scheme are bound to provide their services to the Academic Institution of Government of Pakistan after completion of their respective research work. A wonderful step and example of its own to invest in educating the human capital of a country which lag behind in the filed of science and technology with alarming literacy rates.
    Comes the point, why does this need of devolving such an important and productive institution was felt??? A very straight forward answer is to make the HEC too devolved, decentralized and divided to dare not unrecognized the fake degrees of big parties of federal political setup next time.

    May it be the mandatory requirement of Eighteenth constitutional Amendment ( as propagated) but fact remains the same that this plan of devolution would prove to be dissolution of HEC, and a severe blow on the over all quality of education offered in Post graduation institutions of the country in the next coming few years. Recommend

  • Sidra Ashraf

    I am not against provincial autonomy yet I am afraid the corruption and non seriousness of provinces in the subject of education will completely ruin the future of students. I have no good hopes from provinces especially when one of the Chief Ministers’ publically pass a statement “degree tu degree hoti hai asli ho ya nakli” yes it is beyond logic and rationale. Just imagine the standard of education after it—it would be a horrible picture “degrees on sale trend”—l can foresee an instant increase in the percentage of Graduated population in Pakistan- what an advancement a winning solution against illiteracy :P Nobody would raise question on fake degrees – good indication for our parliamentarian and sitting government wow what a moveRecommend

  • Dr. Jawwad Saif

    My previous post should not be misconceived. Few years back, I had written a letter to former chairman HEC, Dr. Atta- ur- Rehman, signifying that it would be far more valuable to endow the money which was being spent to send the scholars abroad, to build the infrastructure of our local universities both in terms of instruments and literature facilities. I have done my PhD research work from England. The only difference why I was there was the accessibility of advanced instruments and literature services. This could be provided in Pakistan at must lower expenditure rather send a person there. I am sorry to say, the PhDs sitting in Pakistani universities are producing extraneous research with few exceptions. This could be demonstrated from the number of patents filed by Pakistani researchers as compared to those from other countries. The salaries being offered to tenure track professors are untenable. Reforms in HEC policy were imminent. The above arguments could justify the cuts in HEC budget; however, devolution of HEC will not be a monument of national acumen.Recommend

  • Dr. Jawwad Saif

    @Sidra Ashraf:

    I agree with the comments of Sidra AshrafRecommend

  • Salman

    It’s a heartbreaking news for me. It is getting more and more difficult to remain an optimist anymore..Recommend

  • Umar

    @Dr. Jawwad Saif: It doesn’t means that we should not spend money on Higher education merely because its output is not as much as of other developed countries research but Its just a begining of research era in pakistan and with the passage of time it will flourish and will provide much useful output than currently providing Recommend

  • tehmina

    I agree Umar, things should definitely be improved. For example HEC was not very effective in terms of placing scholars once they had returned to Pakistan, and making use of their research potential. However, completely destroying rather than improving something is the answer. Not sacrificing it at the altar of provincial and bureaucratic hegemony.Recommend

  • http://raheelaijaz.blogspot.com Let us not digress

    I can’t stand the thought that a democratic govt can do that. It is the power of the people. Power lies in our hands. I’m willing to go out on the streets but people please lets stop this nonsense. How many times has your conscience killed you from the inside? I can’t let the country go to the dogs and I have made a pledge to myself that I’ll do the utmost I can to get our country on the right track.Recommend

  • Eric Malik

    Please remove your irrelevant posts.Recommend

  • tehmina

    @ tehmina this is a public forum, and i think people have the right to express opinions. are you President Zardari going around and ordering people? And I am as pro-HEC as many others here, and currently enrolled in one of their programmes so be civil.Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    The devolved HEC is nothing but cutting funds and creating a academic epidemic for the future of Pakistan. They don’t want the youth saying PAKISTAN ZINDABAD any more. They want the youth to say “PAKISTAN SEY ZINDA BHAAG”.

    Now it is the mindset of feudalism seen in this vile act of the political elite. All which is evident out of this is when provinces are alloted the education funds some will given more other less resulting in discontentment.

    How to deal with is by only another movement to restore HEC by teachers. What do you think? are you ready? Recommend

  • Maria

    Guys Guys your are talking politics and not giving any valid reason to support the claim that HEC in Islamabad is more beneficial than HEC in provincial capitals. HEC is not a center of research like RAND Corporation or CATO institute or STANFORD or Harvard. HEC is simply a bureaucratic organization and where cronies of Musharraf and Professor Atta-ur-Rehamn are employed. HEC has no connection with the research in Pakistan: had there been no foreign aid, HEC would have not produced a single researcher. HEC in their existence have neither harmed nor improved the research. In America, Europe and other OECD countries, there are no HEC or federal authorities which promotes research and innovation. The engine of growth, innovations and research rests on the universities and not on the HEC. Critical to quality research is very good primary and secondary education and scientific curriculum. We are following inverted priorities, instead of promoting basic education we are promoting bureaucratic organization like HEC where HEC officials are getting hefty salaries and perks. I don’t see any loss if the HEC are devolved to provinces as enshrined in the 18th amendment. Atta-ur-Rehman and his cronies in HEC should be tried for treason as they are lobbying for unconstitutional steps to block the implementation of 18th amendment. Atta-ur-rehamn and HEC officials are against the rights of smaller provinces. Recommend

  • Ali

    The Royal Society in the UK has praised the HEC, I read that it even produced a booklet lauding it’s achievements- and that is no mean feat. Prof. Wolfgang Voelter (Tubingen University, Germany) wrote an article entitled “The Golden Age” describing teh transformation brought about by the HEC. Praise from Prof. Michael Rode, the former Chairman of the United Nations Commission on Science, Technology and Development and presently heading a Network of European and Asian Universities (ASIA-UNINET)

    The list goes on and on…..

    Every dime the HEC spends can be tracked down to acadamic research programs, salaries for professors and researchers, scholarship fees etc etc
    Basically the money is being spent exactly where it should be.
    Eminent pakistani mathematicians and scientists have also come out in full support of this organisation.
    Their budget is small – 15 billion ruppees, your darling politicians spent 3 billion ruppees building themselves lodges!!!

    Now let us see what the provincial governements have managed.
    External auditors of provincial education complain that the absurd levels of corruption meant that alot of the money was being siphoned off by ghost schools and teachers.
    The affairs of the HEC will be run by provincial level politicians and bureaucrats… hardly the sort of people you want running the HEC. Our politicians are infamous liars. For example they claim that a fake degree and real degree are both valid, they are still degrees!
    Looking at past performance, do you really think that they can match the current perforamnce of the HEC?
    It’s only a matter of time before corruption and nepotism sneaks in.
    The current set up allows scarce resources to be targeted at the most deserving students regardless of where they are from. investing in second class students will not produce anything. HEC at the provincial level will mean that our resources will not reach the most deserving people, the scope of this organisation needs to be across the country.
    This is called getting the best bang for your buck. This is the approach adopted across the world. look at India and the IITs. Provincialism is a sure recipe for disaster.

    Please stop using terms such as Rehman sahib’s cronies. He is world famous organic chemist, fellow of Kings College, Cambridge University from where he got his degree.
    What is Nawaz Sharif? Even funnier- what is Zardari? He could make it on anywhere in this world, but he chose to remain in Pakistan to help improve it. The same can be said for Asgar Qadi, AQ Khan, Samar Mubarkmand……. and so on.
    You should be ashamed of yourself for using these terms.Recommend

  • Ali

    Secondary education is a provincial matter – see what a mess they have made out of it. Foreign education consultants have made it clear that ploughing money into provincial educational departments is a waste, the money will be lost in corruption i.e. ghost schools and teachers.
    Destroying HEC will not save primary/secondary education.
    The UK, US all have federal institutes/panels of notable academics that allocate funding regardless of location. They decide who deserves government money by merit and merit alone and this is done on a national level – exactly what the HEC is doing.
    What good are politicians, constitutions and amendments for this process?
    For example the UK is concentrating it’s funding on a handful of elite universities.Recommend

  • http://habloid.wordpress.com Habiba Younis

    being a bachelors student myself, this news is extremely disturbing! PPP should atleast spare us students from inflicting their horrors…Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/zubairee Zubairree

    I will be thankful to you if you write an open letter to Gen. Keyani and request him to save not only HEC but also tell the govt to restore all of its grants……send this letter to ISPR also!

  • tehmina

    HEC crisis going from bad to worse…. what is the latest?Recommend

  • Hajra


    All those strongly opposed to the idea of the devolution of the HEC, please join us in a peaceful rally in Lahore. Let us stand united against the govt. for this unjust decision!

    Where: Liberty Chowk
    When: 5:30 PMm, 16th April 2011.

    Hope to see you all there! Recommend

  • Naveed Zafar

    The assertions that foreign universities would stop recognising Pakistani degrees in the absence of the HEC remain as far from reality as the HEC authorities are from egalitarianism. One wonders if Pakistan did not produce any degree holder and if the world never recognised any Pakistani degree before the HEC or, for that matter, before the UGC. This insistence on being and remaining the only centralised dictatorial body to impose self-serving terms based mostly on whims and caprices of individuals in the HEC has not taken higher education very far — yet devolution is thought incapable of doing any better. Let us learn to respect the provinces and empower them. Let us ask the HEC authorities to go into their respective provinces and steer the devolution process ahead. Recommend

  • tehmina

    The HEC issue has been resolved nothing left to STEER.Period.Recommend


    dont dissolve HECRecommend