HEC Not Worth Defending


Higher Education Commission

Judging by newspaper headlines and TV talk shows, one might be forgiven for thinking that devolution of the HEC will result in the end of education in the country. What a bunch of non sense. If we take an objective look at the HEC – and the status of education more generally – it is quite clear that the HEC is simply not worth defending.

Attaur Rahman, former chairman of the HEC, writes in The Express Tribune that the central planning by the institution is required to produce graduates needed to build the country’s economy.

The minimum quality requirements and the numbers of engineers, scientists, doctors, economists and social scientists needed for nation-building have to be determined through careful central planning regarding human resource requirements in various sectors. A multiplicity of standards and regulations would be disastrous. That is why the world over, including in India, higher education planning and funding is done centrally, even though universities are located in the provinces.

But the US, which has the world’s highest standard for higher education, does not practice central planning, nor does it set a uniform national curriculum. Actually, quite the opposite. US schools compete with each other by setting their own standards and curricula and, through this competition, raise the quality of education all round.

In fact, an article in The Wall Street Journal looks at the state of higher education in India and concludes that despite praise from Attaur Rahman, the centralized bureaucracy has created graduates ‘unfit’ for good jobs.

Business executives say schools are hampered by overbearing bureaucracy and a focus on rote learning rather than critical thinking and comprehension. Government keeps tuition low, which makes schools accessible to more students, but also keeps teacher salaries and budgets low. What’s more, say educators and business leaders, the curriculum in most places is outdated and disconnected from the real world.

This is not unlike the ‘good work’ done by the HEC. Attaur Rahman lists various awards received by the HEC, but awards only create economic growth for HEC chairmen, not for the rest of the nation. And let us consider what Dawn listed as the successes of the institution last week:

For instance, since its coming into being in 2002, the number of public sector universities and degree awarding institutions almost doubled from 59 to 127 while student enrollment went up from 135,000 to 400,000. Thanks to the HEC`s efforts, the country produced 3,037 new PhDs from 2003 to 2009; compare this to the 3,281 scholars we produced from 1947 to 2002.

What difference does it make if HEC is increasing the number of degree awarding institutions and producing new PhDs when the result is universities and think-tanks producing graduates that are not prepared to compete with graduates from other countries? What good is a national curriculum that parrots a failed establishment ideology instead of teaching critical thinking and complex problem solving?  And, please, let us be honest. HEC has not even been able to impose uniform standards or managed even to implement its own rules in a consistent manner as many defense institutes choose to defy HEC mandates and operate under their own regimes.

What is truly telling, however, is that many of the people most loudly demanding that the HEC continue as is went to school overseas themselves and would never allow their own children to attend schools under HEC supervision.

We deserve better.

Let’s have a real discussion about education in this country, shall we? We currently spend around 2% of GDP on education. This is unacceptable. A report by Ahsan Iqbal published by The Pakistan Education Task Force concludes that,

The truth is that Pakistani policymakers have little handle on what is currently being spent on education. We need urgently to gain greater clarity over the current situation and also to analyse what needs to be spent if governments are to meet their constitutional obligations on education.

Ahsan notes that this cannot be done by provinces alone, but neither has it been done under the authority of the HEC. That he why he insists that answer lies in a new approach, on in which

“Both federal and provincial governments need to work together, assisted, if necessary, by Pakistan’s top economists to discover what we know about financing, and – as importantly – what we don’t know.”

The sad fact is that we are failing our children when it comes to education. And by failing our children, we are failing our own future. No matter how many ‘degree awarding institutions’ are opened, it will mean nothing if we continue to ignore the persistent problems with providing basic education to millions of our own citizens. And, here’s an uncomfortable fact, a real solution to the education emergency will require that you pay your taxes.

Education emergency is a problem that must be addressed honestly, sincerely, and seriously. Not with sensational threats about losing hundreds of millions in USAID and World Bank funding. International donors are not interested in HEC patronage or ideologies of central planning. They will help fund any education program that works.

We need to stop putting politics above our children’s education by defending the ‘status quo’ out of a misplaced sense of political gamesmanship. The HEC may have had some successes, but it had not brought Pakistan’s education system to the world class standard that we deserve. Central planning has not worked in India, and it has not worked in Pakistan. It’s time to try something new.


Author: Mahmood Adeel


  1. Try new and devolve the current institutions .. how cheap mentality .. must be a govt bharwa ..

    • You don’t even respond with reason, you only respond by name calling. That is the true ‘cheap mentality’. If you have some reasons why HEC is worth defending, please provide them. Otherwise you are only proving my point further.

      • simple reasons :

        hec did splendid job in exposing fake degree politicians
        of all parties
        dissolving it would just harbor corruption
        hecs disadvantages or weaknesses should be and can be solved in it federal status
        another simple reason
        provinces dont have money to even make their own food budgets
        education provinces hah
        right now no chance

  2. I can only pray to our Lord ” Oh Lord show us the truth and give us capacity to adopt it and show us the evil as it is and help us protect from all evils. aameen”

  3. “The HEC may have had some successes, but it had not brought Pakistan’s education system to the world class standard that we deserve”, Mr Iqbal (whoever u r) .. what do you think just quoting few news pieces makes ur arguments valid?? Students are just going back after completing their PhDs and you will its results in next 5 years of course. What is your standard of quality of education. Better use ur head !!

  4. Adeel, I agree with the points you have raised about HEC.
    Infact I look at it as bureaucratic manhole where students
    fall in and come out dazed.Jobs that only need high school
    degrees or two years college in US/Canada require MBA here
    and those with 4year college/ MBA require MA/MPhil here?
    With all the academic qualifications that our graduate and
    post graduate degree holders hang in gilded frames. Very few can critically analyze a given problem.Even if we pass
    the Buck to the provinces,would the Doe be ready to mate
    with the right mood?

  5. It is really sad reading that New Pakistan would publish such an op-ed in regards to higher education in Pakistan. Truly it is mesmerizing that an institution which has increased university graduates and the number of schools would get such a pathetic response from an inspirational blog. The US does not have a central planning but there are hundreds of US colleges that are public. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto himself is a product of the US Public school system when he graduated from UC-Berkeley. Sect Arne Duncan is working on behalf of the government to increase the number of high school graduates across the US. And the US does have central planning which is why there is the Dept of Education. This article is merely playing to the political atmosphere in Pakistan rather than truly looking out for the children of the future as it wrongly highlights in the blog.

    I am truly amazed that the article does not highlight the pathetic policy that the current PPP government has adopted towards education in Pakistan. Acknowledging that the government has only spent 2% of GDP, the blog refuses to comment further on why the PPP government has not increased this amount despite being in power for 4 years is utterly disgusting.

    Furthermore I think the author should realize that Pakistan is not a developed and world super power like the United States so it is rather pointless to compare the education system with the United States. If we should compare anything, i think the morals and ethics of US politicians should be compared with those in Pakistan.

  6. Furthermore, it is really sad that his blog fails to address the fate of higher education in Pakistan. Hypothetically speaking – if the HEC goes, what next? Foreign Affairs will handle international students, Provinces handles local universities, another ministry will handle budgeting?

    Rather than shutting down an institution, why not suggest ways to improve it? Clearly the HEC is not doing a poor job if they have increased 3000 PhDs in 6 years compared to the same number of PhD’s that took 55 years to produce. Why shut it down all together?

    The article in no ways gives any suggestions, ideas or at least the very “critical thinking and complex problem solving” it is demanding from uni’s in Pakistan. Why lambast an institution without providing methods of improving its standards?

  7. There are a few things that need to be responded to. First, @AHR – I believe that we can disagree and debate issues without making statements such that it is “really sad”. It’s not sad to disagree and debate. It’s healthy.

    Second, you say that “This article is merely playing to the political atmosphere” when I have not mentioned politics at all but only the substance of the issue. You, on the other hand, proceed to make the issue political by saying the article is not anti-PPP enough to meet your satisfaction. Who cares about PPP? This article is about HEC and whether or not HEC deserves to be defended ON THE MERITS, not based on your hatred for “disgusting” PPP.

    Third, ON THE MERITS, you do not offer anything new. I already addressed the issue of how many PhDs HEC has produced. Did you bother to read the article about India which has been stamping out worthless degrees. Increasing number of institutions and graduates is NECESSARY but it is not SUFFICIENT. A certificate hung on the wall is not a guarantee of success.

    Fourth, your comment about US Department of Education is incorrect. According to Wikipedia,”The primary functions of the Department of Education are to “establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on US schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights. The Department of Education does not establish schools or colleges.

    Unlike the systems of most other countries, education in the United States is highly decentralized, and the federal government and Department of Education are not heavily involved in determining curricula or educational standards (with the recent exception of the No Child Left Behind Act). This has been left to state and local school districts. The quality of educational institutions and their degrees is maintained through an informal private process known as accreditation, over which the Department of Education has no direct public jurisdictional control.”

    India has central planning education like Pakistan, and it is failing. US has devolved education and it is succeeding. Pakistan should follow the model of success, not the model of failure.

  8. @Mahmood Adeel.

    Below are comments to each paragraph.

    Para 2
    I don’t see how this issue is not related to politics. The 18th Amendment was passed by the Parliament (where the PPP has a majority), the implementation commission heard the appeal of the HEC, which is led by a PPP member, and the cabinet (which is a majority formed by the PPP) also heard the HEC case. To separate the HEC case from politics is not possible. Furthermore, the PPP led government has the ability to withdraw the HEC from breaking and handing authority to the provinces. So inadvertently (and with various political parties taking up the cause) the devolution of the HEC has become political.

    Para 3
    True – success does not come from a parchment. It is through hard work and dedication. However the HEC provides such a link for the increasing number of graduates to help boster Pakistan’s economy and educational standards. Article (10)(l) of the HEC Ordinance states, “facilitate the introduction of educational programs that meet the needs of the employment market and promote the study of basic and applied sciences in every field of national and international importance in the Institutions”.

    Para 4
    I was unaware that Wikipedia was a legitimate source of reference. But for argument sake, lets assume the function of the Dept of Education as you have mentioned is accurate. I will then again direct you to the HEC Ordinance where Article (10)(a) states “formulate policies, guiding principles and priorities for higher education Institutions for promotion of socio-economic development of the country”.

    Furthermore, you write in your article “What difference does it make if HEC is increasing the number of degree awarding institutions”, the HEC has the ability to advise the Federal and Provincial governments but does NOT have the authority to establish schools or colleges.

    You also state in your article “What good is a national curriculum that parrots a failed establishment ideology instead of teaching critical thinking and complex problem solving?” The word “curriculum” is absent in the entire HEC ordinance. Rather Article (10)(v) of the said Ordinance states “guide Insitutions in desigining curricula that provides a proper content of basic sciences, social sciences, humanities, engineering and technology, in the curricula of each level and guide and establish minimum standards for good governance and management of Insitutitions and advise Chancellor of any institution on its state and regulations”

    When one reads your article, the impression given is the HEC imposes a rigid curriculum on all institutions across Pakistan that is established by the HEC. Both your facts are incorrect and are misleading to the average reader.

    Para 5
    The HEC is merely a linking force between the government and institutions of higher education. The commission facilitate students from across the country by providing them with scholarships and opportunities that many in Pakistan cannot avail. The HEC acts as a guidance counselor for higher educational institutions present in Pakistan and allows for students to compete in the domestic and international arena. The beauty of the HEC is that it is able to provide such services without the bureaucratic red tap which unfortunately is rampant in Pakistan.

    Para 6
    India may not be the best at everything in the world nor do we need to consistently follow them for guidance. Pakistan has the ability to be a trend-setter and if we have a functioning institution found in the HEC, I don’t see why India cannot learn from their own failed “central planning education” and take a leaf out of the HEC’s book. We unfortunately have lagged behind India in many other development programs. Through the article one gets the impression that HEC is a failed institution and needs to be dissolved, but yet you have failed to identify where the HEC has failed and have merely criticized the commission without providing concrete suggestions to help and improve the standard of higher education in Pakistan.

  9. (1) First you accuse me of “playing to the political atmosphere”, then you spend quite some time complaining about “pathetic” PPP. When I call you out on it, you then defend by saying “the devolution of the HEC has become political”. Please decide which way you would like to have it – no playing politics, or playing politics. Because you seem to be playing both sides of the same coin while I am trying to discuss ways to improve education.

    (2) Do you believe that HEC has met the mandate described in Article (10)(l)? If not, why not? I’m asking sincerely. And HEC was set up in 2002, so zero points for blaming AAZ or PPP on this one. 🙂

    (3) Fair enough. Thankfully, the Wikipedia article provides links to the US Department of Education website. Is this a legitimate source of reference? http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/focus/what.html

    (4) My statement about increasing the number of degree awarding institutions was an answer to the statement of Dr Attaur Rehman which is clear in the post. Besides, your own comment says, “Truly it is mesmerizing that an institution which has increased university graduates and the number of schools would get such a pathetic response from an inspirational blog.” All I am doing is answering you and your colleagues. Please don’t blame me for your own mistakes.

    (5) I think you’re being a bit pedantic in your interpretation, but that’s fine. The fact is I referenced “national curriculum” in response to a blog post defending HEC by Samir Butt titled HEC devolved at the altar of politics. I did not cite the post, and that was my mistake.

    (6) HEC operates “without bureaucratic red tape”? Would you like an opportunity to re-think this statement?

    (7) I invite you to read the original post again, this time without your political glasses. What I said, very clearly, is

    We need to stop putting politics above our children’s education by defending the ‘status quo’ out of a misplaced sense of political gamesmanship. The HEC may have had some successes, but it had not brought Pakistan’s education system to the world class standard that we deserve. Central planning has not worked in India, and it has not worked in Pakistan. It’s time to try something new.

    HEC was founded almost 10 years ago. It has had some successes, but it is far from an ideal model and its successes have not been adequate to justify continuing the status quo. In the words of Pervez Hoodbhoy,

    The bottom line: universities are all about thinking. Thinking needs mental space – in other words, freedom.

    Without personal and intellectual freedom there can be no thinking and hence no ideas, no innovation, no discoveries, no progress. Our real challenge is not better equipment or faster internet connectivity but the need to break with mental enslavement, to change attitudes, and to win our precious freedom.

    It’s time to free higher education from the constraints of the HEC.

  10. (1) I was merely trying to avoid playing politics, but as I previously stated, the issue of dissolving the HEC has become political. Honestly, it would be best if we can stay away from the politics and discuss the HEC for what it has accomplished and represented.

    (2) In all honesty, I think the HEC has legitimately tried address Article (10)(1) to the best of its abilities despite the on-ground realities.

    (3) Works wonderful – similar to the HEC Ordinance?

    (4) I think we have concluded over twitter that the HEC does not have the mandate to establish educational institutions in Pakistan. As for being a colleague of Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman, I believe I still have a long way to go to achieve the academic qualifications Mr. Rehman has 🙂

    (5) As I understood from your post, it seemed that the HEC provided a “national curriculum”. Seems like we agree on yet another point that the HEC does not enforce any curriculum on any institution ☺

    (6) Relatively speaking in terms of other government institutions across Pakistan

    (7) As I stated in (1) the issue of dissolving the HEC has unfortunately become political. You may have reasons to consider why the Commission has failed so miserably as implied in the blog post. I don’t understand how the involment of HEC in guiding educational institutions restricts “freedom”. No student is bound from thinking outside of the box nor should that ever be tolerated. If the HEC has been found to be conducting such behavior, it is truly unfortunate and highly condenmable. I am merely suggesting to come up with suggestions, ideas and innovative ways to improve the standard of the HEC if they have not met your requirements.

    Just a little political reference here – the Tea Party Movement in the United States has also called for the devolution of the Dept of Education 😉

  11. Atleast this will end HEC’s dirty politics and discrimancy between provinces.. out of 3400 scholarships 2500 to punjab! Bravo!

  12. I am honoured to get a chance to read your blog. Even if I leave politics, public perceptions and general opinions; I find no reason for the devolution of HEC.
    I am not posting here for the sake of debate, but I’d appreciate if anyone can clear some confusions.
    A) Please help me understand the difference between the ideologies of Pakistan and US.
    B) The English and Hindus tried their best to keep Muslims away from education, isn’t it the same strategy exercised by the politicians today. Let me make it simple an educated nation will never vote any of them.
    C) The presidential system in America is a success of its own, but a total failure in Pakistan.
    D) Like education system and many others even the Judicial system in US is not cnetralized. But I see no comparison of provincial administrative capabilities between Pakistan and US.
    Mr. Mahmood Adeel can you please refer me to any institution in Pkaitan which has accomplished even one goal to maintain higher education standard.
    Positive and negatives are always there but it depend on the attitude of a person to look into matters.
    Again my post is not for the sake of debate but I’d appreciate if you can clear my confusions as I am general public and don’t have enough knowledge and techniques to argue.

  13. Such a platform should not be abandoned. Although it will not end education but our level of education and acceptance of degrees of our graduates across the world will be endangered as HEC is internationally recognized and certified. If any one has problem with HEC structure or manifesto then it should talk about changing it. Its wise to improve the system rather by abandoning it. Many people want to protect their cherished fake degree holder leaders.
    Those departments which will assume control of HEC’s responsibilities are under political regime which indirectly means fake degree of a leader will be evaluated as his own will. Although this is not end of education but its the end of credibility of our education. World is not going to accept or certify any higher education done under this regime. That is why IMF and WORLD BANK has ceased all aid to Pakistan regarding development of higher education. This is the our image we portray in the world. Think about it…………

Comments are closed.