Academics oppose bills aimed at undermining HE regulator

Two bills targeting the authority of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) – one proposed privately and one originating within government – have been rejected by the country’s academics who perceive them as attacks on the independence of the educational regulator and a threat to university autonomy.

After backlash from academics, Pakistan’s Education Minister Rana Tanveer Hussain announced that a new bill, proposing to change the universities’ regulatory body, tabled as a private bill this month, is not “government-backed” and that a government-proposed amendment bill was undergoing a process of consultation.

The new bill tabled in April in the National Assembly as a private bill would curtail the autonomy of universities by giving the HEC powers to appoint and remove vice-chancellors, taking this mandate away from university governing councils and provincial authorities.

Currently, the chief minister of the province appoints vice-chancellors after recommendations from university governing councils and provincial commissions.

The private bill, brought by Zulfiqar Ali Bhatti, Samina Matloob and Zahra Wadood Fatemi, all belonging to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), was strongly resisted last week by academics who argued the proposed changes to the HEC Ordinance would severely undermine university autonomy.

But the federal minister told The News, a local English language newspaper, “To improve the ordinance of the HEC, we are amending it ourselves, on which the HEC chairman and other stakeholders are being consulted.”

While the federal minister disowned the privately-placed bill, the government continues work on legislation to clip the wings of the HEC through another amendment bill floated by the government late last year but put on hold due to the political, constitutional, and economic crisis in the country, and still not tabled in the assembly.

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