Islamabad: The National Students Federation (NSF) organised a seminar titled 'HEC and the Future of Higher Education' at the Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU).
The seminar was organised in order to bring forth both sides of this highly polarised debate and to engender a culture of debate and tolerance on university campuses. Speakers included QAU faculty members Dr. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, Dr. Tahir Amin, Dr. Khursheed Hasnain and Mushtaq Gaadi.
Dr. Aasim Sajjad spoke about the need to view the issue of the devolution objectively and dispassionately, as opposed to the rhetorical and incendiary debate currently being waged on the national media. He pointed out that devolution had long been an object of focus of various governments, including the Musharraf government, but the media only created a controversy about devolution in times when democratic governments were in power.
Dr. Khursheed Hasnain spoke about the need for a phased devolution of the HEC and pointed out that the HEC in itself had achievements as well as flaws. He listed the digitisation of journal libraries and improvements in internet provision to universities as among the achievements of the HEC while pointing out that under prepared students were being sent for PhDs and the quality of those doctorates left much to be desired. He opposed the policies, which in his view were leading to an erosion of the quality of higher education and giving rise to greed, plagiarism, and commercialisation of higher education.
Dr. Tahir Amin presented a defence of the HEC's performance and stressed that there were political, rather than legal reasons behind the devolution of the HEC to the provinces. He claimed that the politicians were carrying out a vendetta against the HEC for exposing the fake degrees of legislators. He also spoke of the lack of capacity in the provinces to manage higher education while conceding that greater provincial equity and provincial participation in the management of higher education is required.
Mushtaq Gaadi expressed the opinion that the HEC has served primarily as a vehicle of the commercialisation of higher education as opposed to an institution that has improved quality, accessibility, or equity in higher education. He objected to the claim that the HEC was necessary in order to ensure transparency in the governance of higher education, pointing out that its own decision-making procedures and selection criteria for funding were highly opaque.
A lively discussion ensued after the speeches on the merits of the HEC's devolution. Interestingly enough, most of the students presented a nuanced understanding of the matter, and were mindful of the need for greater empowerment of the provinces in matters of higher education. Overall, the participants managed to achieve a consensus that provincial autonomy was a desirable policy option as well as a constitutional reality and that it is through the democratic process, which necessarily includes decentralisation of decision-making in various fields.