Despite high expectations from the Vice Chancellors/Rectors conference to help formulate policies and recommendations for the development of universities, last three such moots organised by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) do not appear to have much done in this regard.According to the gathered information, since HEC chairman, Dr Tariq Banuri, assumed office, three such conferences have been organized yet none has yielded any significant results, which could help improve the higher education sector . Last week, the HEC organized a two-day Vice Chancellors and Rectors of public sector universities meeting. It was quite surprising to see media sources and some relevant commision officials present on the constructive occassion. Nothing of the sort has ever happened in any of the events organised by the HEC, since its establishment in 2002.However, a detailed press statement was released after the meeting, which said that financial constraints in the varsities remained a major focus of the varsities’ heads and the HEC administration. It was declared that the recurring budget of the higher education sector was facing a shortfall of Rs 26.9 billion in the current financial year.The statement added, “Since the last three years, funding for universities has failed to keep up with growing enrollments. The crisis has been exacerbated because of legislated pay and pension increases and demands from newly established universities.” An official, not willing to be named, seemed conflicted with how the conference talked at length about the regression in the quality of education as a result of financial crises.He maintained, “It’s beyond any doubt that quality of education affected but its weak administration is also liable for this failure, budgets shortages not sole reason for this, ” he said. The official further said that HEC’s poor mechanism to distribute funds to the universities was a major cause for the constraints in lieu of the said insufficient funds. Due to such mismanagement, he added, the research work had suffered a lot in the universities.While explaining, he believed that last year, the HEC had introduced Bachelor of Science (BS) programs in different disciplines, which were suffering from problems related to curriculum. “The program was actually meant to commence only at college level which is the curriculum being offered in the varsities for this program, is quite un-adjustable over there,” he added.The curriculum taught at Master of Philosophy (MPhil) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) levels were also said to be comparatively more course-oriented than based on research.Senator Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif also pointed this on the floor of the house last month and said that the universities should introduce curriculum at such levels that taught the students, practically, through research in their respective subject. He had regretted that the students did not have any choice but to comply with such doleful practice.The official also talked about HEC’s questionable plagiarism policy. He said that the education experts were of the view that the current plagiarism policy was inherently flawed. They even said that as a policy guide for others, HEC should introduce a uniform admission policy in the higher education sector.A vice-chancellor, who attended all three aforementioned conferences, said that workplace harassment was another overwhelming issue in the institutions but had not come under discussion.The issue of violence on campuses has been making headlines since 2017 but nothing seems to have been done since then. It is said, however, that the vice-chancellors did not bother to keep it on the agenda of debate in the said meeting.The brutal murder of Mashal Khan in Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan was only one such case of intolerance among the youth in the universities.A couple of months ago, two female faculty members of the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) had complained to the varsity administration against their male colleague for harassing them. The sources, however, claimed that no inquiry could be held over this matter.According to the available information, such mega gatherings have achieved much more in the past. For instance, in July 2017, former HEC chairman, Dr Mukhtar Ahmed had convened a conference, which was attended by VCs of around 183 public and private sector universities. The conference was ideally managed and the recommendations given therein were more practical. The participating varsities heads had been divided into various categories and assigned separate agenda items for discussion.Published in Daily Times, March 12th 2019.