islamabad - The regulator of higher education yesterday launched its own testing body for admissions and scholarships to universities in and outside the country.

It will be the country’s first government testing body for education sector to conduct free standardised tests for university admissions.

Earlier, the National Testing Service (NTS), a private body set up by the Comsats Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) in 2003, used to conduct recruitment tests not only for universities but also for private and public institutions, including courts of law and security agencies, charging heavy test fees.

But in March 2014, the Lahore High Court (LHC) declared the NTS illegal and directed the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to ensure that no private firms conduct tests as long as a national testing service is not constituted through proper legislation.

Complying with the court’s orders, the HEC decided to form the Education Testing Council (ETC) that will be functional by the end of this year.

Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms, Ahsan Iqbal yesterday formally launched the testing council during a ceremony held at HEC Secretariat. Engr Baleegh-ur-Rehman, State Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training, Amirullah Marwat, Chairman National Assembly Standing Committee on Education, Chairman HEC Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, representatives of KP and AJK governments and vice-chancellors of different universities were also present at the launch.

Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, while elaborating the objectives of launching testing council, said it would be a self-governed body, which would be operational by January 2017. He said that all public and private universities of the country would be required to adopt ETC entry tests for admissions. “The ETC will arrange a standardised entry test for university admissions, for which the respective university will determine weightage of the test,” he added.

The chairman HEC said that initially tests will be conducted for undergraduate admissions and subsequently for MS, PhD admissions, and scholarships, and it will be valid for a period of two years. He announced that government would bear the cost of this test, which will be held twice a year. “The test will be free for all students desirous of taking admission in public and private universities.”

The NTS will continue to operate as a private entity but the universities are no more bound to conduct tests organised by NTS for admissions or scholarships.

Officials said though the HEC will fund and draft policy guidelines for the testing body, it will be an independent body having representation of all stakeholders.

The establishment of council is part of government’s efforts to achieve targets of Vision 2025, which is a roadmap for country’s development in all spheres, said Ahsan Iqbal.

He hoped that ETC would prove to be a credible and transparent entity to adopt a testing mechanism of international standard and the body would have experts from both public and private sectors.

Speaking at the occasion, Engr Baleeghur Rahman also appreciated HEC for taking a much-needed step for standardisation of education in the country.