Despite widespread opposition from the stakeholders of higher education in the country, the federal government is moving ahead with the proposed amendments to the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Ordinance, 2002, Daily Times has learnt reliably. Sources privy to the development said that the Cabinet Committee for the Disposal of Legislative Cases (CCLC), which is finalising the draft amendment bill, has sought the input from the Federal Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, adding that that it will then be placed before the cabinet, and subsequently and Parliament subsequently, in order to become the law. The vice chancellors’ committee has already condemned the move, saying that the said amendments not only limit the autonomous role of the institution, but also negates the basic principles of the federation. The HEC was established as an autonomous national institution to regulate the affairs of public and private universities and colleges. The 1973 Rules of Business do treat higher education as a subject of the Education Ministry, but the Task Force on improvement of Higher Education in Pakistan that drafted the HEC Ordinance, 2002 recommended that “HEC should be governed and managed independently, associated with the Ministry of Education but not controlled by it,” explained the sources. That is why the HEC was given the status of the Federal Ministry, which was directly responsible to the Prime Minister Office, sources said. The composition of the 18-member commission, the HEC’s apex body, ensured collaborative decision-making on higher education matters, including due representation from all the provinces as well as from the relevant government officials, higher education representatives and eminent persons. Moreover, the HEC chairman and the members of the commission were appointed for a period of four years, with the possibility of a second tenure. While the chairman was to be appointed by the prime minister, the executive director and other HEC officials were to be appointed by the commission. In April 2021, the PTI government amended the HEC Ordinance, 2002 twice in order to remove the incumbent HEC chairman by reducing his four-year tenure into half retrospectively. Several PML-N and PPP leaders had then strongly condemned this arbitrary decision and called for the restoration of HEC Ordinance, 2002. Ironically, the amended HEC Ordinance, 2022 not only retains the 2021 amendments, but also goes beyond them to undermine the autonomy of HEC by placing it under the direct control of the Federal Ministry of Education and Professional Training, sources said. For instance, while the controlling authority of the commission still rests with the prime minister, it can be delegated to the federal minister for education and professional training. The composition of the commission is reduced to 10 members, excluding the representation from provinces and representatives of the higher education sector. Moreover, while the HEC chairman is to be appointed for a two-year period, the tenure of the commission members remains four years, without the possibility of one-time extension in each case. The chairman can be removed from office on account of unsatisfactory performance or misconduct. The ministry is also empowered to appoint the executive director for a four-year period and its policy directions are considered binding on the commission. As per sources, these and other articles in the amended HEC Ordinance, 2022 seek to relegate the HEC into an arm of the federal government. The removal of provincial representation from the commission also seems to endanger the national consensus on HEC’s status as the sole regulatory authority achieved at the Council of Common Interests’ meeting in April 2021. The senior management at the HEC is therefore deeply concerned about the government’s apparent mala-fide move. While sharing this concern, the vice chancellors’ committee and the association of private universities have demanded that no law be passed without consulting the stakeholders, including provincial governments, higher education institutions of public and private sector, HEC and its employees.