Editorial : A reprieve - Thursday, April 14, 2011

The furore over the dismemberment of the Higher Education Commission has been halted, at least temporarily, by the decision of the Supreme Court on Tuesday that it shall continue to discharge its functions pending the promulgation of fresh legislation. There has been an almost startling unanimity within the education establishment and the higher education bodies generally, that devolution of this key resource is nothing but a bad idea. There are any number of puzzling aspects to what is becoming an increasingly murky business, not the least of these being that no voices appear to have been raised against its devolution when this was being discussed in the committee that drafted the constitutional changes which would allow it to happen. Certainly, no objections appear to have been raised by the PML-N which is today strong in its condemnation of the proposed breakup and devolution to provincial equivalents. We now arrive at a position which is, to say the least, legally interesting.

In the context of the provisions of the 18th Amendment, the devolution of the HEC is a ‘given’. It is now, once the legislation is on the books, that the ‘thinking work’ that should have been done in committee has been done retrospectively, and along with that has come the realisation that devolution in this case – and perhaps in other instances particularly relating to education – is likely to be detrimental rather than beneficial. Why this realisation has come so late in the day to so many is a matter for conjecture, but come it has, and with it more than a suspicion that the government is keen to ‘punish’ the HEC for its principled stand on the matter of fake degrees. It now appears that the action of the Supreme Court in effectively putting any change in the functioning of the HEC ‘on hold’ has created a breathing space in which the matter may be further examined before it is formally broken up. As with the devolution of all federal functions associated with the 18th Amendment, there has been a significant failure to ‘think through’ its consequences. Whatever its shortcomings, and they are not insignificant, the HEC is not going to be improved by being divided into provincial units. There will inevitably be duplication and inconsistency coming into national standards. Let us hope that the legal breathing space afforded by the Supreme Court allows better counsel to prevail, and that the HEC is ring-fenced against galloping devolution.

Source : http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=41571&Cat=8

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