The clamours of budgetary constraints and political intervention in the Higher Education Commission (HEC) affairs reached the floor of the country’s lower house on Wednesday.HEC Executive Director, Muhammad Asghar, attended the National Assembly (NA) standing committee on the behalf of Chairperson Dr Tariq Banuri. He lashed on parliamentarians for their undue intervention in the official business of the higher education sector; affecting its autonomy. The executive director also added that the commission was facing a budget deficit of Rs 27 billion and had a shortage of Rs 33 billion development budget.“This was what which required in current setup while if we want to more idealise the system, it required Rs 55 billion”, he claimed. Asghar recalled that once the supreme decision body in each university, syndicate, was headed by any official of the respective varsity while it was now being headed by any minister, which was allegedly a worse picture of the spoiled system.Interestingly, as per available information, out of around 196 public sector varsities in the country, not a single varsity’s syndicate is being headed by the minister. COntraringly, the vice chancellor/rector of the respective university has the prerogative to chair that body. One parliamentarian, however, has a nomination to the Syndicate, which normally has the consent of the NA speaker. We are facing a budget deficit of Rs 27 billion: HEC EDWhile highlighting the prevalent worse scenario of violations in private varsities, MNA Ali Awan regretted that a large number of private universities had started operations in Islamabad but did not have adequate, required facilities for this purpose. Awan asked, “Why the HEC issues them permission? Why it is reluctant to take action against such elements who are ‘mocking’ education?’The ED responded by turning the dimension of his criticism to parliamentarians and said, “You people have the mandate to allow them or reject, shut them all who don’t have such required facilities.” He said that members of the NA visited the HEC every day and demanded the issuance of charters to open new varsities in their constituencies.Earlier, HEC chief Dr Banuri had also incessantly stressed on a pressure-free environment and financial prosperity in order to make higher education sector at par with the international standards.“The education flourishes where all universities and faculty are working independently”, he had recalled.He had then said, “We suggest the system in which the universities have their autonomy as well as transparency in all matters,” while adding that HEC was established to regulate and monitor a comprehensive education system in a joint collaboration with provinces and federation.Like some other organization, the HEC is also an allied entity of the ministry of education and professional training. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Shafqat Mehmood is the incumbent minister for this ministry. Prime minister of Pakistan is the controlling authority of the HEC as per commission act 2002.A few days ago, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed serious concerns over reports of political interference in the higher education sector, in a statement.He said that interference in universities would not be tolerated. The PM had directed the commission to identify all such interfering practices while assuring Dr Banuri of his all-out support to curb this menace and make transparent systems at all levels of higher education.Similarly, the education ministry had also denied any kind of invention in the HEC.“As far as the federal government is concerned there is minimal to zero political interference especially from the ministry,” it had stated.Published in Daily Times, March 21st 2019.