Student privacy, media hype and security threat

Islamabad-Chairman Higher Education Commission (HEC) on Monday opposed the data-sharing of students with Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), terming it against the freedom of students in their institutions.

Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed said this in a press briefing held on 15th anniversary celebrations of HEC. The chairman said that the issue of radicalisation of students is not as big as projected by media and it is wrong to blame the whole system because of few extremist elements.

“The wrong projection of the issue will result in banning of Pakistani students admission in the foreign universities,” he said.

The chairman said after the Mashal Khan’s incident, HEC called the Vice Chancellors conference which was also endorsed by the army chief.

The chairman said that HEC in collaboration with universities is taking tangible measures to curb radicalisation among students and staff of universities.

“Though responsibility of dealing with the issue of extremism lies with all members of the society, including parents teachers, religious scholars, yet we in higher education sector are in contact with the university leadership to play our part,” he said.

He said that the HEC is committed to its role in developing a prosperous Pakistan through strengthening the basis for a knowledge-based economy.

Dr Mukhtar Ahmed said that the HEC started its journey with only 59 universities in the country, 2.6 per cent gross enrolment, 800 publications, and 3110 PhDs, adding the number of higher education institutions has now reached 188 with nine per cent gross enrolment, 12,000 publications, and 11960 PhDs.

He said that 32 per cent female enrolment has now reached 48 per cent, as HEC is promoting equal higher education opportunities to maintain gender equity.

“So far, the HEC has awarded over 251,000 scholarships to Pakistani students, including indigenous, overseas and need-based scholarships as well as Prime Minister’s fee reimbursement scheme,” he added. He informed the media persons that 41 per cent of HEC fund goes to human resource development, 33 per cent to ensuring equitable access, 23 per cent to ICT development.

He further said that the HEC has allocated funds for construction of 505 academic blocks in universities, of which 357 blocks have been completed and 148 blocks are under construction.

Describing HEC’s steps for development of ICT infrastructure, he said the HEC has set up Cloud Data Centre while connecting a large number of universities and colleges in Pakistani cities under the Pakistan Education and Research Network.

Dr Mukhtar said that for improving governance of higher education institutions, HEC won Global Good Governance (3G) Excellence in Higher Education Award 2016 and it has also clinched the 3G Award of Cambridge IF Analytica, an international organisation based in Cambridge, UK for 2017 too.

With regard to the HEC Vision 2025, the Chairman said the HEC envisions consolidated higher education sector with enhanced equitable access, excellence in university leadership, governance and management, and increased research, innovation and commercialization activities.

He said that the HEC releases funds to universities without any delay. “No individual can influence the release of funds, as they are released through a formula-based funding without any discrimination,” he stated.

The chairman emphasised upon the private sector and philanthropists to play their role for promotion of the education sector.

“HEC’s Government funding has reached R106 billion; however we cannot entirely rely on the government. Everybody needs to play a role in order to bring our higher education sector at par with that of the developed world,” he said. However, when contacted, President Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA), Prof. Dr Kaleemullah said that the HEC could not address the real issues in effective way.

“As per international practices too much powers should not rest with one institution,” he said.

He also said ranking, funding, quality assurance; monitoring and even governance of universities are being dealt by the HEC as a sole institution which needs to be separated in the light of best international practices and 18th Constitutional amendment.

He said the real issues in higher education sector are still pending and unresolved, which included appointment of capable academicians through merit-based transparent mechanism, 75 per cent tax rebate to researchers/faculty, extending faculty retirement age to 65 years, non-interference in universities internal matters and respecting autonomy of universities and devolution of higher education sector as per spirit of constitution.

The Nation