The government’s decision to oust the Chairman of Higher Education Commission (HEC) and subject it ‘under the federal education ministry through hastily promulgated ordinances’ has been challenged by 150 eminent members of the civil society.
According to the details, 150 prominent educationists, economists, jurists, diplomats, and journalists have sent an open letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, presenting eight reasons why the government should withdraw its decision regarding the HEC immediately.
The first reason is that the HEC chairman is protected by statute.
“The decision to dismantle this protection without any justification or exigency will send a signal to all future occupants of statutory positions that the commitment of the government of Pakistan has no worth. This will greatly undermine the quality of governance in the country,” the letter stated.
Furthermore, the letter noted that reducing the tenure of the chairman from four years to two years is a big decision “which should have been taken on the basis of evidence as well as due deliberation in a responsible forum. The federal government has thus far provided no grounds for this reduction either in the cabinet papers or elsewhere”.
There is no publicly available research or analysis that suggests that shorter tenures for higher education regulators are more effective in serving the youth of a country. On the contrary, two years is too short a time for someone even to come to grips with the complexities of the Pakistani system of higher education, let alone provide effective leadership for change.
Thirdly, the members said that even if the government believes that a decision of such magnitude was justified, it should have given proper evidence and justification in the parliament so that the decision could have been open to due scrutiny and proper public debate.
In addition, the letter stated that HEC,
has representation from the federal as well as provincial governments, and has succeeded in establishing a collaborative working relationship across all governments, … consistent with the dictates of the 18th Amendment. This success was validated recently at the CCI meeting on 7 April 2021, which unanimously recognized HEC as the sole regulatory authority for higher education in Pakistan. The enactment of the HEC Amendment Ordinance 2021 will inevitably be perceived as an attempt by the federal government to reassert control over the HEC, and therefore as unconstitutional and confrontational.
Syed Babar Ali, Shamsh Kassim Lakha, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Dr. Qibla Ayaz, Javed Jabbar, Hina Jilani, Harris Khalique, Prof Adil Najam, Farhat Ullah Babar, Hussain Naqi, M. Ziauddin, Prof Kamran Asdar Ali, Dr. Javed Ashraf, Prof Salima Hashmi, Amb Shahid Malik, Dr. Zia Mian, Riaz H. Khokhar, Salman Akram Raja, Dr. Tariq Rehman, and Nasir Zaidi are amongst the 150 prominent members of the civil society who wrote the letter to the premier.