The Vice Chancellor of the Government College University (GCU) Lahore, Prof. Dr. Syed Asghar Zaidi, has written an open letter to the Speaker and Chairman of the National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan on behalf of the University’s faculty, expressing concerns about the potential amendments to the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Ordinance.
In the letter, the Vice Chancellor raised concerns over a private members' bill, being spearheaded by MNAs Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhatti, Dr. Samina Matloob, and Zahra Wadood Fatemi, saying that the amendments, if approved, could have negative consequences for the higher education sector in Pakistan.
Prof. Zaidi said the proposed amendments suggest that the HEC should have the power to "give directions to the Government functionaries, District administration and police to aid the Commission wherever the Commission deems necessary," which is a worrying development.
The Vice Chancellor said that he as academic would express his objections to any measures that would undermine the autonomy of universities and reduce the role of the HEC to that of a policing body.
He further stressed that any changes to the HEC Ordinance must be made through a consultative and inclusive process that takes into account the opinions and concerns of all stakeholders, including education providers, employers, the academic fraternity, students, parents, and the wider population.
“The proposed amendments to Section 10 of the existing ordinance that lay down the Powers and Functions of the Commission are particularly disturbing. These amendments encroach upon the domains of the provinces and threaten to render higher education institutions subordinate to the HEC, thereby reducing their autonomy,” Prof. Zaida said.
The GCU Vice Chancellor believed that the proposed addition of a new clause (z) under the section of Powers and Functions of the Commission would give the HEC the power to constitute search committees for the appointment of Vice Chancellors of public sector universities in the provinces. “This is a blatant encroachment into uncharted territory and could have disastrous consequences for the institutions in question,” he said.
The Vice Chancellor urged the respected members of the National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan to reconsider any proposed amendments to the HEC Ordinance that would reduce the autonomy of universities or undermine the important role of the HEC as a facilitator. He emphasizes that the future of the country's higher education sector depends on the ability to work together and ensure that all stakeholders are consulted and heard.