The implications of the recent Lahore High Court judgment regarding the appointment of vice chancellors in 4 universities have more far-
reaching consequences than the appointments at these universities. The judgment also puts to question the powers of the provincial Higher Education Commissions, in Punjab and Sindh. The question to ask here then is to why there is a need to have provincial HECs, when the HEC is the relevant body pertaining to higher education? If the federal HEC is responsible for higher education and universities, then why there is a need for separate provincial HECs vying in the same domain?
This question is not new and has been brought up by renowned academics and legal experts in the past. The recent decision has also taken a similar point-of-view empowering the federal HEC and in this case, the provincial HECs seems irrelevant, to say the least. Some experts have taken a very clear position on the matter that the federal HEC should be in charge and should take the lead for a uniform higher education in the country. Some have also questioned the influence of political elite and the government over matters of universities and indeed that Lahore High Court’s decision noted:
“Out of the five members, which comprise the Committee, at least three are part of the Government and thus can easily sway the process for the search to be undertaken for appointment of a Vice Chancellor to a public sector university.”
It is also noteworthy that renowned academician and former HEC chairman, in an interview to The Educationist in September, said in clear words that Punjab and Sindh HECs were illegal entities. He said, “Those who are saying higher education is devolved to provinces under the 18th Amendment, they are totally wrong”. He also claimed that the provincial HEC would be dissolved and said that the higher education should remain a federal subject. In a column for a daily newspaper recently, Dr Rahman said that the decision had brought some hope that things would be set right and that it was a step in the right direction – to empower the federal HEC.
After the current and former decisions, it can be interjected that the stance taken by the academics and experts saying that provincial HECs were illegal and federal HEC should be empowered have gained more credibility. Now the ball is in the government’s court to prove the worthwhile of pouring in public funds for setting up and running provincial HECs and reasons no to dissolve them.
It is also noteworthy that provincial HECs have failed to accomplish anything that could have cemented their usefulness. The plight of colleges is as miserable as was earlier. Still it’s high time to focus on colleges to provide good resource/students to universities. Otherwise, it seems that the chapter of the provincial HECs is coming to a close and Pakistan will, like other countries of the world, accept that higher education is a federal subject.