On July 3, a news item appeared in the dailies of Pakistan stating that 18 vice chancellors of all leading public sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had held a meeting under the chairmanship of Dr Nasir Jamal, the vice chancellor of Kohat University of Science and Technology (KUST), and had aired certain demands. In the context of the Centre-provinces relationship, this was a serious development especially in the wake of the 18th constitutional amendment. The five main demands raised in the meeting need elaboration.
First, they demanded fair distribution of funds by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). This is a point of grave concern because there are reports that in the federal area of Islamabad, there are universities that do not observe the federal character of admission, which is otherwise followed by Quaid-e-Azam University. To explain this further, there are universities in Islamabad that do not follow the quota system while admitting students but they receive funds from the HEC under the federal funding scheme. In these universities, the students from any province may outnumber the students hailing from another province. This means that the students from any one province may get double-funding (i.e. provided by the province and the federal area) from the HEC. It is said that this practice is quite prevalent.
Second, they demanded that there be a proportionate representation of all federating units in the HEC’s board, the main decision-making body. Currently, under section six, article three, nine members of the HEC’s board are appointed directly by the controlling authority, which is the Prime Minister (PM). In the HEC Ordinance 2002, there is no mention of any proportional representation in the board. However, as the demand carries weight, the principle of proportional representation needs to be observed even if the ordinance has to be amended. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the demand of proportional representation has surfaced 12 years after the formation of the HEC.
There are reports that within the HEC there are groups imposing their own monopoly on the HEC. The discretionary power resting with the PM to appoint HEC officials is manipulated through political connections and bribery, whether directly or indirectly. It is becoming a general practice that compromised search committees are constituted, which give unconventional advertisements in newspapers to invite applications against the advertised position. These unconventional advertisements are to meet the demands of the law but, in most cases, the candidate has already been selected. A compromised search committee selects a compromised candidate. Unfortunately, the HEC of today is defined in terms of having compromised officials hell bent on pleasing their political masters to protect their jobs and monopoly groups yearning for hegemony and pushing out all those disagreeing with them from the HEC.
Third, they demanded that quotas in appointments in all grades at the HEC be observed. This demand is also valid to meet the federal character of the HEC and allay the fears of smaller provinces about the functioning of the HEC. This demand has also been raised 12 years after the formation of the HEC and is reflective of the preceding demand. The demand implies that it is not just the top of the HEC that has been polluted; the bottom has also been affected by the trickle down effect of compromise and monopoly. In the wake of the 18th amendment, civil society and students vehemently demanded the preservation of the HEC at the federal level so that the HEC could promote the cause of higher education in the country on an equitable basis. Unfortunately, it seems that the budgetary funding provided to the HEC for its own functioning and for further distribution amongst provinces for the promotion of higher education has become a magnet for indolent characters and lateral entrants who tend to feed on the HEC for their own survival.
Fourth, they demanded that the new universities that are being opened or are currently functional in remote areas should be given additional funding to enable them to retain faculty to keep teaching quality material and standards at par with those universities located in big urban centres. This demand is a timely turn of attention to the fact that if the universities located in remote areas fail to invite and retain the requisite standard faculty, the idea of having the HEC in the Centre for “improvement and promotion of higher education, research and development” (as written in the preamble of the HEC Ordinance 2002) uniformly throughout the country, fails. In this regard, both federal and provincial governments should think of promoting public-community partnerships in higher education. For instance, in the board of governors of such universities, lay people from the public can be made members on a rotation basis, who would contact local philanthropists to seek donations and generate funds for the university. Similarly, the government can enter into a partnership deed with local investors to establish or run a university as a public-private partnership (51:49 ratio). If local people or private investors become stakeholders in a university’s affairs (without compromising merit and transparency), the problem of financial deficits in remotely placed universities can be solved.
Fifth, they demanded that they be given additional grants because some of their funds were being depleted in securing lives and properties in the face of the serious security situation in the province. This demand also carries weight. However, it is not known if the HEC is authorised to spare additional funds in the face of special circumstances. Nevertheless, the central government should pay heed to this demand.