The federal government and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) appear at loggerheads on running the everyday business of the commission. On Wednesday, HEC Chairperson Dr Tariq Banuri, alleged while talking to media persons at his office that he was facing political interference in all matters, giving way to issues like budget curtailment, while he wished to build upon educational standards in the varsities.The HEC chief decried the low educational standards prevalent in the country, further noting that only 3000 students out of tens of thousands could manage to clear competitive examinations held by the government. Soon after this statement started making rounds in different newspapers, the ministry of federal education and professional training stepped forward to defend the government. In a statement given on Thursday, the spokesperson of the education ministry claimed, “As far as the federal government is concerned there is minimal to zero political interference especially from the ministry.” Federal Education Minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s senior leader, Shafqat Mehmood, asserted that he had issued strict instructions in the ministry to not interfere with the affairs of attached departments, divisions and wings. His statement maintained, “(The minister) has also instructed the heads of departments to follow merit and not to extend any favour to anyone in the ministry as he himself never interferes and encourages merit.”However, Dr Banuri further complained that the commission had a 0.2 per cent share on the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as the government cut down the allocated budget for the higher education commission. “The government decreased funds as it deems HEC a less important institution,” he added. The HEC chief asserted that an additional Rs 9 billion were being spent on the salaries during the current fiscal year yet the finance ministry had not provided any budget for this expense. Making note of the fact that syndicates of several institutions in some provinces were being chaired by education ministers, he regretted that this practice was leading to an increase in the political interference in the affairs of universities.While talking about research in varsities, he admitted that it was at present not being carried out in line with the problems faced by the country. However, funds were required to carry out researches on various topics, he further added. An official in the education ministry, who did not wish to be named, painted quite an opposite picture by claiming that it was Dr Banuri who had an issue with the higher authorities in the education ministry because he wanted to run all affairs of the HEC alone, without any consultation with the ministry. He further continued, “A couple of weeks ago, Dr Banuri wrote a letter to the Minster Shafqat Mehmood in which he informed that he is supposed to answer only prime minister of Pakistan who is controlling authority of the commission”, alleging that the chairperson had clearly mentioned that as per law he was not bound to consult with education minister in any matter.According to the available information, during the recently-held vice-chancellors and rectors conference organised by the commission, Dr Banuri kept narrowing the focus of his address to budget constraints in the sector. Another anonymous source asserted, “Financial constraints in the varsities remained a major focus of the varsities’ heads and the HEC administration in the meeting instead debate on some sort of constructive and policy level discussion for the development of the higher education sector.”The HEC chief had recalled on the occasion that the recurring budget of the higher education sector was facing a shortfall of Rs 26.9 billion in the current financial year. He claimed in a statement, “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.”The source, however, added that he remains confused by the aforementioned statement as the conference had talked at length about the regression in the quality of education being caused by the financial crises.Published in Daily Times, March 15th 2019.