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Pakistan’s Higher Education Crisis Needs More Than Personnel Reshuffles

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Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission (HEC) has often been the subject of much debate. Its detractors see the HEC as a redundant entity after the passage of the 18th Amendment, lawmakers have often been irked by the HEC’s actions, and the process of degree verification by the HEC caused consternation when certain lawmakers were disqualified for holding fake degrees. Its supporters see the option of its disbandment as disastrous for its contributions to higher education.

However, as Omar Noman points out in Dawn, sacking of the HEC chairman is never the answer. Rather, “successive governments have mishandled transition management. Whether it was the devolution of development authorities in 2001 or the privatisation of utility corporations, poor decision-making attempts, lethargic responses and a lack of clarity about the goal itself have been in evidence. Moves to devolve the HEC can cause similar setbacks, unless there is informed decision-making, under the auspices of the Council of Common Interests, to settle the fate of higher education management.”

Noman notes that the “HEC has been far more effective than the erstwhile University Grants Commission. Development grants for universities, new campuses in the public sector, assistance to private-sector institutions, research and travel grants to faculty, scholarships for doctoral studies, allocations for peer-reviewed journals and development of knowledge resources during the past eight years are some feats that have earned the HEC laurels at home and abroad.”

Finally, as Noman points out, “in recruiting academics and officers for provincial bodies, merit and competence must be the criteria. Higher education should not become the dumping ground for mediocre bureaucrats, retired armed forces personnel and political cronies.”