HEC to promote Student-Centered Policies, Dr Banuri

Bureau Report

ISLAMABAD: The Higher Education Commission (HEC) as well as the Vice Chancellors agreed that the students were the primary focus of the universities. Universities need to ensure that their students get the skills that will enable them to achieve success in their life. Likewise, the universities must protect the rights of their students to safety and privacy.    

This was stated by Prof Dr Tariq Banuri, Chairman, HEC while talking to media persons on Tuesday. Informing the media of the proceedings of the 25th Vice Chancellors Committee Meeting held on Monday, he said that the university heads brought three agenda items -- safety and security of the Vice Chancellors; safety and security of the students; and the drastic cut in the higher education sector’s funding -- under consideration.  

Prof Dr Banuri expressed his deep concerns over the recent tragic incidents, stating that every student was a responsibility of the university and the HEC. “We must ensure that the students are protected, nurtured and facilitated,” he said. He emphasized the need to set up a system in which 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 faced by the higher education institutions. They stressed the need for ensuring the safety and security of the Vice Chancellors.

Dr Banuri urged the government to ensure the security of educationists. He also proposed that university heads should formulate an Academic Code of Conduct. He said that the HEC had initiated a number of programmes aimed at enhancing the students’ success. These include the revamping of the undergraduate curriculum, and in particular, the incorporation of “practical” competencies into the educational programs. This had been done in collaboration with the recently launched Kamyab Jawan programme, adding that 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 that who may wish to enter into business endeavors on their own. Finally, civic clubs at the universities would be supported in order to build competencies in social engagement and interaction. Furthermore, the HEC had initiated discussions with the provincial governments to revamp the system of university sports.

He said that besides the focus on students’ success, the HEC has also started a review of policies regarding the protection of students’ rights. This review had been triggered in part by the recent tragic incidents in various universities. A number of policies were 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, the HEC had 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 was developing more detailed guidelines. These include procedural protocols, monitoring and inspection system, backup plans, safety drills, certification, and emergency mechanisms, and were 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 also 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 was 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,” he added.  

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