HEC as well as the Vice Chancellors are agreed that students are the primary focus of universities. Universities need to ensure that their students get the skills that will enable them to achieve success in their life. Likewise, universities must protect the rights of their students to safety and privacy.
This was stated by Dr. Tariq Banuri, Chairman Higher Education Commission (HEC) while talking to media persons on Tuesday.
Informing the media persons of the proceedings of the 25th Vice Chancellors Committee meeting held on Monday, he said the university heads brought three agenda items — safety and security of Vice Chancellors; safety and security of students; and, the drastic cut in the higher education sector’s funding — under consideration. Dr. Banuri expressed his deep concerns over recent tragic incidents, stating that every student is a responsibility of the university and the HEC. “We must ensure that students are protected, nurtured, and facilitated.” He emphasized the need to set up a system which in such tragic incidents did not happen because of anyone’s negligence or inaction.
In the meeting, the VCs had expressed their anxiety regarding the attack on the VC of Federal Urdu University, and floated a number of proposals regarding the challenges facing the higher education institutions. They stressed the need for ensuring the safety and security of Vice Chancellors. The job of a Vice Chancellor is one of the most difficult in Pakistan. The VCs have to bear the brunt of a myriad of pressures, and need to be protected against uncivil behavior. Dr. Banuri urged the government to ensure the security of educationists. He also proposed that university heads should formulate an Academic Code of Conduct.
HEC has initiated a number of programs aimed at enhancing student success. These include the revamping of the undergraduate curriculum, and in particular, the incorporation of “practical” competencies into the educational programs. These have been done in collaboration with the recently launched Kamyab Jawan program. Under this collaboration, internships and practical training opportunities will be created in order to facilitate student success in the job market. Secondly, an entrepreneurship program is being launched to support this who may wish to enter into business endeavors on their own. Finally, civic clubs at universities will be supported in order to build competencies in social engagement and interaction.
Furthermore, HEC has initiated discussions with provincial governments to revamp the system of university sports.
Besides the focus on student success, HEC has also started a review of policies regarding the protection of students’ rights. This review has been triggered in part by the recent tragic incidents in various universities. A number of policies are being developed or revised in this regard. These include the review of the HEC’s Anti-Harassment Policy 2011, with a view to addressing loopholes and strengthening review and appellate mechanisms. Second, HEC has adopted a Policy for Students with Disabilities, and has begun the process of operationalizing it. Third, HEC has issued interim guidelines on student safety, and is developing more detailed guidelines. These include procedural protocols, monitoring and inspection system, backup plans, safety drills, certification, and emergency mechanisms, and are based on a consolidation of various provisions that may have been developed by universities or other relevant institutions, and will cover all relevant areas, including building safety, safe handling of educational equipment and materials, medical emergencies, psychological problems and counseling, drug abuse, and student privacy.
The Chairman emphasized the need for arranging psychological counseling to enable students to cope with stress, trauma, or cyber bullying or other forms of pressure from their peers as well as seniors. This will need the preparation of clear regulations, awareness creation and capacity building, recruitment of relevant personnel (e.g., medical officers and psychological counselors) on campuses, and infrastructure investment.
Going beyond student services, Dr. Banuri discussed the funding crisis in universities. He said that HEC is in contact with the government to seek a reversal of the short sighted policy to starve universities of funding. “Pakistan is providing the lowest level of funding to the higher education sector”.