LAHORE - The Punjab government has barred the public sector universities’ vice chancellors from attending all Pakistan VCs’ moot scheduled by the Federal Higher Education Commission (FHEC) Thursday (today) in Lahore, official documents disclosed.

The higher education Department secretary issued an official letter on Wednesday to all the public sector VCs that under no circumstance any officer of a public-sector university of the province or any official may make any statement on this issue, at any forum or attend any official proceeding without seeking formal approval in writing from the chancellor.

A VC confirmed the HED secretary has stopped them from attending the VCs conference being convened in the provincial metropolis. “Since we are provincial government officers, we cannot attend the conference being organised by the FHEC in Lahore against the Punjab government stance in the Committee of Common Interests (CCI),” the VC added.

The issue of determination of the role of the FHEC, Punjab HEC and provincial governments, in the aftermath of the 18th Amendment in the constitution of Pakistan, is under discussion in the CCI. A sub-committee of the council has been considering the issue of determination of the role of the FHEC, the PHEC and provincial governments.

Federal Education and Professional Training Federal Minister Baligh-ur-Rehman also chaired a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) Sub-Committee on December 28, 2017, in this regard. “When most of the issues among the provinces on higher education were settled in the CCI’s last meeting while the rest are to be resolved in the coming days, why the FHEC started a debate on these,” said a senior HED officer. The FHEC wants to create a controversy through a debate on the issues between the Centre and the federating units, he alleged. He questioned why the FHEC chose Lahore to convene the All Pakistan VCs’ moot knowing that a mishap had happened between the HED and the FHEC in 2016 when the Punjab CM had boycotted the conference in the provincial capital. The then HED Secretary Irfan Ali had refused to issue the NOC to the VCs flying abroad the very next day of the moot in 2016. It was a clear message to the FHEC to cut to its limits and stop it from interfering in the provincial educational matters.

“The Punjab government didn’t own the VCs moot in 2016 as it didn’t invite the provincial government’s body on higher education, the PHEC,” he said. This time the FHEC didn’t invite the PHEC in the VCs’ moot, ignoring the Punjab government’s main body on higher education, he held. A PHEC official said the FHEC wanted grip not only on powers but also on resources regarding higher education. He said according to the spirit of the 18th Amendment, the provinces must be empowered on education and health matters, thus cutting role of the federal higher education body. He added HED Secretary Barrister Nabeel Awan was very clear on constitutional issues and wanted the provinces to be empowered to deliver on health and education. When all the provinces have submitted their official comments to the CCI secretariat, why the FHEC wanted to start a fresh debate on the subject, he questioned. He claimed the Sindh government too wouldn’t allow its VCs to attend the moot.

It is relevant to mention here that both the Sindh and Punjab had set up provincial higher education commissions while Balochistan and KP have yet to establish them formally.

When Pakistan remained almost at the bottom of the QS higher education ranking of 2016-17 and not a single university ranked in the top 500 universities in the world in the Times Higher Education (UK) ranking, the HEIs are at loggerheads.

The heads of FHEC and the Education Ministry had been fighting over parliamentarians’ degrees verification. The ministry in the past had objected that it was not the Higher Education Commission’s domain to verify the degrees. But the FHEC claimed it was its field.

Earlier, reportedly, Balochistan VCs had a long list of complaints against the FHEC on higher education matters. The negligence in the devolution of the higher education was leading to confusion and a cold war between the federal and provincial bodies on higher education.

Moreover, the FHEC and the public-sector universities too had been at opposite ends on many issues. The FHEC process of parliamentarians’ degrees verification had failed due to the uncooperative attitude of universities with the FHEC. The verification process remained very slow because of the absence of supporting documents which the universities had not provided to the commission.

The FHEC and the Sindh Higher Education Commission (SHEC) had also been at loggerheads during 2017 when the federal body directed the Sindh universities to hold entry tests through the Education Testing Council (ETC), an examination body. Moreover, the Punjab varsities too had expressed their concerns over the ETC tests for students’ admission.

Moreover, multiple issues on education like appointment of VCs were matters of litigation in the higher courts. The divisional commissioners had been assigned additional charge of not only universities but also the boards of intermediate and secondary education.