Higher education and the autonomy of universities

La educación superior y la autonomía de las universidades

Pakistán/23 mayo 2016/Autor:  /Fuente: http://education.einnews.com/

An unfinished agenda for our parliament.

When it comes to higher education, the situation is most alarming because of procedural and functional delays in devolution of the HEC


Un tema pendiente para nuestro parlamento.  

Cuando se trata de la educación superior, la situación es más alarmante debido a los retrasos de procedimiento y funcionales en la devolución de la HEC La educación superior y la autonomía de las universidades son áreas de la historia constitucional de nuestra gran nación altamente descuidadas.


Higher education and the autonomy of universities are highly neglected areas of our great nation’s constitutional history. In 2010, Parliament unanimously approved the 18th Constitutional Amendment, which introduced changes to 36 percent of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan. Of the 280 Articles contained within, 102 were amended, inserted, added, substituted or deleted. The Amendment redefined the structural contours of the state through a paradigm shift from a heavily centralised to a predominantly decentralised federation.

Literature suggests that federalism originally was devised — and continues to be viewed — as an institutional mechanism for dividing power and sovereignty between national and regional levels of governments so as to reduce the likelihood of an authoritarian or overly Centralised government. Upon its passage, the process of the redistribution of subjects, functions and ministerial restructuring at the federal level was steered by a time-bound IC constituted by the federal government.

The commission took more than a year to complete the designated task, but still within a deadline that was set forth. In 68 meetings and several inter-governmental consultations that spanned more than 13 months, the IC examined the financial, administrative, legal and international aspects of devolution and made some far-reaching decisions which introduced a new framework of inter-governmental relations.

The commission ensured that any legislation, activity or function to be retained in the federal government was supported by a corresponding entry in the Federal Legislative List or an article of the constitution and would not encroach upon subjects that were purely provincial in terms of the constitutional provisions. Included was the abolition of 17 federal ministries/divisions. But some key issues still await policy decisions, including:

  • Operations related to the joint ownership of oil and natural gas.
  • Devolution of Higher Education Commission (HEC).
  • Provincial authority to borrow from international donors.
  • Federal employees’ resettlement.
  • Devolution of Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB).
  • Devolution of Employment Old-Age Benefit Institution (EOBI).
  • Devolution of Workers Welfare Fund (WWF).
  • Allocation of hunting areas to foreign ministry.
  • Representation of provinces in Pakistan Sports Board.
  • Transfer of Aiwan-i-Iqbal to Punjab.
  • Devolution of Pakistan Baitul Mal.
  • Transfer of National College of Arts to Punjab.
  • Devolution of PTDC motels and hotels to KPK.
  • 50 percent representation of respective provinces in Gawadar and Karachi Port Authorities.

When it comes to higher education, the situation is most alarming because of procedural and functional delays in devolution of the HEC. The promise to grant autonomy to universities and academic freedom on campuses is not being respected by the federal/ provincial HECs, as was the true intention of the 18th Amendment. Provinces that were unprepared at the time of 18th Amendment’s passage are still failing to build their capacity to accept devolution in the spirit of the Amendment.

Ironically the federal HEC still is working as a body to rate the standard of education in public and private universities, which ideally should be done by an independent rating agency. Many universities have skewed the ranking process in their favour by using these marks as a marketing tool to attract more students.

We must begin to grasp that only autonomous universities can guarantee true merit based upon their admissions and appointments

But, these facilities and the educational and research standards of these universities do not match the rating they supposedly have “earned” from the HEC. And this shell game greatly reduces the already marginalised trust that the international community has when it comes to our own educational standards. The 18th Amendment added ‘standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institutions’ to the Federal Legislative List II. But it did not touch two important items on Federal Legislative List Part I.

  • Federal agencies and institutes created for the purpose of doing research, for professional or technical training, or for the promotion of special studies,’
  • And, ‘education with respect to Pakistani students in foreign countries and foreign students in Pakistan.’

HEC functions were not actually devolved to the provinces since some were handed over to five separate federal-level ministries. Only a few subjects were left to be handled by HEC. The federal government placed the HEC under the ministry of professional and technical training. Prior to the 18 Amendment, HEC worked directly under the prime minister, and the HEC chairman was equivalent to a federal minister in status. While a thorough analysis of the implementation status of 18th Amendment would require much more time and space than we have here, the twin matters — devolution of the HEC and providing autonomy to the universities and educational institutions — certainly require urgent attention and action.

Muhammad Murtaza Noor, an expert in the HEC reforms and devolution, has suggested that a commission on Higher Education Standards be formed by the federal government as per the mandate of the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which should repeal the existing one. The next NFC Award must be finalised and announced immediately so that every province has adequate resources for education and health. And the ban on student union must be lifted immediately. And it is high time that provinces fully embrace their responsibilities.

Provincial governments should undertake concrete steps to strengthen provincial higher education set ups with adequate financial resources so the growing needs of Pakistani universities can be met more effectively. As per UNESCO standards, 25 percent of the total education budget should be allocated toward higher education in 2016-17 and proper utilisation should be ensured. Provincial governments must strengthen their higher education set ups by providing adequate financial resources so that the growing needs of Pakistani universities may be met.

Similarly, the immediate resolution of the HEC-COMSATS dual-degree issue is needed by recognising the degrees of approximately 2,700 affected students.

Professor Dr Abdul Hameed, an expert in university administration, believes the Council of Common Interests should be activated to resolve outstanding issues. He has suggested a vice chancellors forum to chalk out a joint strategy for protecting the autonomy of universities.

He has lamented the practice of professors who rush in for political interviews and to grab the seats of vice chancellors, hence compromising the autonomy of their universities. Given at dearth of quality political leadership, it is a constitutional need to lift a ban on students unions that have remained a nursery for leadership.

We must begin to grasp that only autonomous universities can guarantee true merit based upon their admissions and appointments. The main reason for the politicisation of universities has been the inclusion of so many politicians in university syndicates; yes, one again affecting autonomy.

A true multi-party implementation commission must be formed with a mission to address these issues that have been blatantly hijacked in the name of fame and greed. It must advance ideas in the name of what is right for Pakistan and its citizens, and how we will be perceived across the world.

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Waqas A. Khan

Waqas A. Khan

Académico con doctorado y miembro del Centro Internacional para Periodistas en Washington , DC, EE.UU

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