Higher Education Commission (Pakistan)

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Higher Education Commission
Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (logo).jpg
Agency overview
FormedEstablished in 1974 as UGC[1]
Current form since 2002
  • University Grants Commission
MottoFacilitating Institutes of higher learning to serve as an Engine of Growth for the Socio-Economic Development of Pakistan
Annual budget₨. 102.4 billion[2]
Agency executive

The Higher Education Commission (colloquially known as HEC) is a statutory body formed by the government of Pakistan. Its main functions are funding, overseeing, regulating and accrediting the higher education institutions in the country. It was established in 1974 as University Grants Commission (UGC) and came into its modern form in 2002. The commission is responsible for formulating higher education policy and quality assurance to meet the international standards as well as providing accrediting academic degrees, development of new institutions and uplift of existing institutions in Pakistan.[3] The remarkable transformation in the higher education sector was acknowledged in an article published in a science journal, Nature, in which Atta-ur-Rahman's role was praised. He served as the commission's chairperson[4] but resigned from the post in 2008 in protest following the suspension of scholarships of students abroad by the Pakistan Peoples Party government. Subsequently the university development programs slowed due to cut in budget and introduction of cumbersome bureaucratic procedures.[5][6]

The commission also facilitated the development of higher educational system in the country with main purpose of upgrading the universities and degree awarding institutes in the country to be focal point of the high learning of education, research and development. Over several years, it plays an important and leading role towards building a knowledge based economy in Pakistan by giving out hundreds of doctoral scholarships for education abroad every year.[7]


1947–1971: Genesis and development[edit]

Literacy rates since 1951–2009

At the time of establishment of Pakistan on 14 August 1947, the country had only one institution of higher learning, University of the Punjab and among forty colleges expanded to four provinces of Pakistan.[8] Education policy revised by Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan, the government established various universities and colleges in all over the country. The same year, Mohammad Ali Jinnah held a National Education Conference (also known as Pakistan Education Conference) of academicians and state holders to revise the policy of higher education in the country, as he stated:

... The importance of education and the type of education cannot be over-emphasized ... There is no doubt that the future of our state of Pakistan will and must greatly depend upon the type of education we give to our children and the way in which we bring them up as future citizens of Pakistan.... We should not forget that we have to compete with the world which is moving very fast in this direction....

— Muhammad Ali Jinnah, 1947, source cited[9]

Many recommendations were directed and accepted by the government to established the University Grants Commission as a federal regulatory institution in.[10] Efforts led by Prime Minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy led to the imposition of Soviet-oriented first five-year plans which explained the first official education policy in 1956.[11] The first plan was an attempt to make education development suitable for the socio-economic development in the country.[12]

The literacy line graph in the four provinces.

In the 1960s, the financial policies and economic programs introduced by President of Pakistan Ayub Khan greatly emphasized to importance of higher education in the country.[12] A huge revenue and a huge percentile of budget was actually spent to promote higher education efforts in the country.[12] Thesis written by Usman Ali Isani pointed out that 912 million rupees were spent annually for the fiscal period of 1960–65 in a joint collaboration led by Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (the then called Ministry of Education), University Grants Commission and Planning Commission.[12] Colleges were transformed into full-scale research universities and special research institutes were established in all over the country.[12] According to the calculations performed by the Statistics Division and published by Isani, around 430,000 students were enrolled in different universities to pursue their higher education over the fiscal period of 1960–65.[12] From 1965 to 1971, the government spent 173.8 million rupees on the education sector as opposed to actual allocations of ₨. 278.6 million.[12]

1971-2000s:Revision and policies[edit]

After the 1971 war with India which saw the separation of East Pakistan as Bangladesh, the new education policy was announced with the implementation of nationalization program in 1972, by the Pakistan Peoples Party.[13] Under this policy, all two-year colleges were transformed to university status under the state-controlled policy; privatized universities were nationalized. During this time, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had spent 70% of natural resources on higher education efforts; enrollment in the universities increased to 56%.[13] Prime Minister Bhutto's period saw the sought to integrated social change; thus economic progress through nationalization.[12] In 1974, University Grants Commission was officially established by the act of parliament.[14]

In 1979, President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's policies announced "The National Education Policy, 1979" (NEP-79) which saw the harmonization of higher education in Pakistan with Islamic concepts and the national ideology.[12] President Zia's policies led to the fundamentalist ideas flaring in the higher education system in the country.[12] In 1992, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a "National Education Policy 1992" (NEP-92) to streamline the process of higher education.[12] This was followed by the Eighth Plan launched by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1993 which focused on primary education.[12]

2000s-Present: New Era[edit]

Pakistan ranked in lowest in Literacy Rate of South Asia.

The different higher education policies, priorities and the need of competition between the political forces in Pakistan led to disturbances in the higher education as well as effecting the University Grants Commission ability.[10] The inadequate financial funding and policy implementation never matched the need of higher education in the country.[10] In 2002, President Pervez Musharraf took over the initiatives in devolving the University Grants Commission into Higher Education Commission.[15]

President Musharraf invited eminent scientist and chemist, Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, to be its first chair and immediately passed the Presidential Ordinance on 11 September 2002 to establish the Higher Education Commission.[15] Over several years, the commission implemented its ambitious uplift program of enhancing access, improving quality and increased relevance of higher education to the needs and requirement of Pakistan.[16] The reforms carried out in science and higher education under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman when he was the Federal Minister of science & technology and later chairman of Higher Education Commission with status of Federal Minister during 2000 to 2008 have been applauded by many international experts and he was called "a force of nature" in an article published in Nature.[4][17] As a result of the many reforms introduced by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman in the higher education sector 4 Pakistani Universities became ranked among the top 300, 400 and 500 universities of the world under the Times Higher Education rankings of 2008. The emphasis was placed on quality rather than numbers during this period. The quality measures introduced included:1) All PhD thesis were evaluated by eminent foreign scientists,2) All PhD thesis and research papers were checked for plagiarsism 3) Some 11,000 students were sent abroad to leading universities for PhD level training and absorbed on their return, 4) Appointments at faculty positions were linked to international stature of the applicants as judged from their international publications, patents and citations, and (5) Quality Enhancement Cells were established in all universities for the first time in the history of the country.[18] In an analysis of scientific research productivity of Pakistan, in comparison to Brazil, Russia, India and China, Thomson Reuters has applauded the developments that have taken place as a result of the reforms introduced by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman FRS, since Pakistan has emerged as the country with the highest increase in the percentage of highly cited papers in comparison to the "BRIC" countries.[19] To facilitate distance education and to promote information technology, a number of facilitating measures were taken by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman . .As of 2020, Pakistan has 85% teledensity with 183 million celllular, 98 million 3G/4G and 101 million broadband subscribers, due to the foundations laid by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman of the IT and telecom industry during 2000-2008 [20] The situation in the higher education sector deteriorated in the subsequent decade with the rankings of all universities slipping badly.[21] Dr. Javaid Laghari was the second chairman from 2009 to 2013 who tried to continue the higher education reforms despite serious cuts in funding and opposition by the government. He is well known for his stand on exposing the fake degrees of many parliamentarians, including Ministers, where he took a principled stand and did not compromise on merit despite being put under intense pressure by the government. We then had Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed and Dr. Tariq Banuri as the chairs.[22]

A task force was formed on "Technology Driven Knowledge Economy" that is chaired by the Prime Minister Mr. Imran Khan and has Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman as its Vice Chairman [23] The group has several key Federal Ministers as members including the Federal Minister of Finance, Federal Minister of Planning, Federal Minister of Education, Federal Minister of IT/Telecom, Federal Minister of Science & Technology and chairman Higher Education Commission. The task force has the mandate to promote research in technology fields and to initiate projects that can use science and technology for sustainable and equitable socio-economic development.[24] Another task force of Prime Minister on science & technology has been formed with Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman as its chairman.[25]

Programs and projects[edit]

The commission's main programs are following:

  • Degree Attestation
  • Entry Test Council[26]
  • Faculty development
  • Curriculum revision
  • Higher education infrastructure development
  • Indigenous scholarships[27][28]
  • Foreign scholarships[29][30]
  • Patent filing support[31]
  • Conference travel grants[32]
  • Increase industry and university research collaboration
  • Developing new technology parks
  • Laptop Scheme[33]


Active and listed Division(s):

  • Academics Division
  • Accreditation Division
  • Finance and Budget Division
  • Human Resource Development Division
  • Learning and Innovative Division
  • Human Research Management Division
  • Quality Assurance Division
  • Planning and Development Division
  • Research and Development Division

The commission is governed and chaired by the appointed chairman who is assisted by the secretaries of federal education and professional training and science and technology.[34] The chairman and secretaries are assisted by the additional members who are appointed from the four provinces as well as university vice-chancellors.[34] Other members are included from state and private-sector and executive director.[34]

The chairman is appointed by the Prime Minister for a four-year term based upon the requests and recommendations send by the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training.[35] According to commission's ordinance, the Prime Minister is the controlling authority and the shortlisted names are to be forwarded to Him for the final say.[36]

The Prime Minister reserves the right to re-appoint or give extension to the designated chairman.[37] Though the executive director is the administrative head of the commission, almost every decision in the commission is taken with the consent of the chairman.[38]

Finance and Budget[edit]

Science is a lucrative profession in Pakistan and the official science policy in Pakistan plays a major role in the development of budget in the country for fiscal years.[39] Since revitalized in 2002, the commission's budget increased up to ~340.2% in terms of fiscal period of 2001–06. Around 50%-70% of federal budget is set for the development on science and higher education, particularly distributed to the commission, highest in the financial history of Pakistan.[39]

By 2008, as a result of its policy and financial successes, most universities had become strong proponents of the Higher Education Commission. Quality had increased significantly and several institutions were on their way to becoming world-class institutions. Many expatriate Pakistanis returned from abroad with access to competitive salaries. Besides the Pakistan government funding, a large financial endowment is distributed by the United States Government as part of its funding to the universities.[40][41]

Prioritizing the expansion of the higher education in the country, the commission's financial budget is estimated near 57.8 billion rupees, more than that of Pakistan Steel Mills, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) or any other state-owned enterprises’ allocations.[38] The budget is aimed for development of various areas in higher education.[39]

Impact of higher education reforms in Pakistan[edit]

International praise[edit]

Since the reforms in higher education have been carried out in 2002, commission has received praise from the international higher education observers. Prof. Atta-ur_Rahman has received number of prestigious international awards for the remarkable transformation of the higher education sector under his leadership.[42] German academic, Dr. Wolfgang Voelter of Tübingen University in Germany over viewed the performance of commission under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman and described the reforms as "A miracle happened." After teaching and visiting in 15 universities of Pakistan, Voelter wrote that the "scenario of education and science and technology in Pakistan has changed dramatically, as never before in the history of the country.[42] The chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Education recently announced the first 6 years of commission under Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman as "Pakistan's golden period in higher education".[43] Recently ThomsonReuters in an independent assessment of Pakistan's progress in international publications has acknowledged that in the last decade there has been a fourfold increase in international publications and a tenfold growth in highly cited papers, statistics that were better than the BRIC countries[44]

American academic Prof. Fred M. Hayward has also praised the reform process undertaken by Pakistan, admitting that "since 2002, a number of extraordinary changes have taken place."[45] Hayward pointed out that "over the last six years almost 4,000 scholars have participated in PhD programs in Pakistan in which more than 600 students have studied in foreign PhD programs."[45] The commission instituted major upgrades for scientific laboratories, rehabilitating existing educational facilities, expanding the research support and overseeing the development of one of the best digital libraries in the region.[45] Seeking to meeting the international standard, a quality assurance and accreditation process was also established, of which, ~95% of students sent abroad for training returned, an unusually high result for a developing country in response to improved salaries and working conditions at universities as well as bonding and strict follow-up by the commission, Fulbright and others."[46]

The reforms brought about by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman were also applauded by the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) which reported that the "progress made was breath-taking and has put Pakistan ahead of comparable countries in numerous aspects."[47] In limited time, it established and provided free access to scientific literature by high-speed Internet for all universities, the upgrade of research equipment accessible across the country and the program of establishing new universities of science and technology, including science parks attracted the foreign investors, prove the efficiency and the long-term benefits for the country enabled.[47] The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development has closely monitored the development in Pakistan in the past years, coming to the unanimous conclusion that commission's program initiated under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman is a "best-practice" example for developing countries aiming at building their human resources and establishing an innovative, technology-based economy.".[48] According to an analysis carried out by Clarivate Analytics and reported in the world's leading journal Nature, as a result of the reforms introduced by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman FRS, Pakistan achieved the greatest annual increase in research articles in the world (21%) in 2018.[49] A number of institutions have been named after Prof. Rahman including the "Atta-ur-Rahman Institute of Natural Product Discovery" (RIND) at Malaysia’s largest university, Universiti Teknologi Mara[50] and the Atta-ur-Rahman School of Applied Biosciences at National University of Science & Technology in Islamabad .[51] More recently, the leading Chinese University on Traditional Medicine in Changsha, Hunan has named a research institute in honour of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman,(“Academician Professor Atta-ur-Rahman One Belt and One Road TCM Research Center”) in recognition of his eminent contributions to uplift science in Pakistan and to establish strong linkages with China.[52]

Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman has won four international awards for the revolutionary changes in the higher education sector. The Austrian government conferred its highest civil award (“Grosse Goldene Ehrenzeischen am Bande") in recognition of his eminent contributions.[53] Nature, a leading science journal, has also written a number of editorials and articles about the transformation brought about in Pakistan in the higher education sector under the commission. In an article entitled "Pakistan Threat to Indian Science" published in the leading daily newspaper Hindustan Times, India, it has been reported that Prof. C. N. R. Rao, chairman of the Indian Prime Minister's Scientific Advisory Council made a presentation to the Indian Prime Minister at the rapid progress made by Pakistan in the higher education sector under the leadership of Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman. It was reported that as result of the reforms brought about in Pakistan " Pakistan may soon join China in giving India serious competition in science". "Science is a lucrative profession in Pakistan. It has tripled the salaries of its scientists in the last few years.".[54] Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman was conferred the highest national Award of the Republic of China, the Friendship Award, in September 2014 and then elected as Academician (Foreign Member) of Chinese Academy of Sciences, a prestigious honour [55] for his contributions to develop strong linkages between Pakistan and China in various fields of higher education, science and technology.[56] The President of China Xi Jinping conferred the highest scientific award of China to the famous Pakistani scientist Prof. Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman in the Great Peoples Hall in Beijing on 10 January 2020. He thus became the first scientist of the Muslim world to receive this Award.[57]

Dr. Javaid Laghari the next chairman continued the reforms initiated earlier but focused mostly on quality and research. During his 4-year tenure, emphasis was given to commercialization of research carried out in the universities and units to commercialize university research established in most public sector universities. Research output out of Pakistan increased by over 50% within three years, which was the second highest increase worldwide. According to Scimago world scientific database, if Pakistan continues at the same pace, its ranking will increase from 43 to 27 globally by 2017. In 2016 Thomson Reuters has acknowledged the 10 fold increase in highly cited papers from Pakistan as a result of the remarkable reform process under Dr. Javaid Laghari and concluded that the rate of increase was higher than Brazil, Russia, India and China[58]


The creation of commission has had a positive impact on higher education and research culture in Pakistan from 2002 to 2013 under the leaderships of both Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman FRS and Dr Javaid Laghari.

  • Established the finest Digital Library in Pakistan. Every student in every public sector university today has access to 45,000 textbooks research monographs from 220 international publishers as well as to 25,000 international research journals - regarded as one of the best digital libraries anywhere in the world.[59][60]
  • Tripled University enrollment from 135,000 in the year 2003 to 400,000 in 2008[61]
  • Promoted research, resulting in huge expansion of international research publications from Pakistan from only 600 research papers per year in 2003 to 4300 research papers in 2008
  • During the 55-year period (1947–2002) of independence and 28-year period (1974-2002) of University Grants Commission, not a single Pakistani university could be ranked among the top 600 universities in the world. After the modernization of commission in 2002, seven Pakistan universities became ranked for the first time among the top 250 universities of Asia according to QS World University Rankings 2013.[62][63]
  • Four-year undergraduate program introduced so that degrees are internationally recognized along with a 3 credit hour research based activity and enforcing a minimum attendance <50%
  • About 5000 Ph.D. level scholarships awarded for study in technologically advanced countries (largest program in developing world) and some 3,000 indigenous Ph.D. scholarships have been awarded. The world’s largest Fulbright Scholarship program (US $150 million) launched with joint funding (HEC/USAID)
  • Fifty one new universities and degree awarding institutes and 18 campuses of existing universities established during (2003–2008)[64]
  • Sending 1000 Pakistani students to study medicine in Cuba[65] and doing their best to register their degrees by PMDC and soon will send a delegation of members of PMDC, HEC and MNAs
  • Research output of Pakistan increased by over 50% within two years which was the second highest increase worldwide. According to Scimago world scientific database, if Pakistan continues at the same pace, its ranking will increase from 43 to 27 globally by 2017. In 2017, a Chinese study published in Scientometrics revealed that Pakistan's research growth rate and time required to double the number of publications is superior than that of USA, China and India.[66]
  • The reforms begun by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman FRS in 2003-2008 have continued over the subsequent decade and according to the Web of Science report, there was a 300% growth in research publications in 2019 over the decade, with 2019 marking the first year in which Pakistan was ranked above the world average in research. In 2019, Pakistan produced 300% more publications indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection than in 2010. In the decade of 2010-2019, more than half of Pakistan’s research was published in journals with Impact Factor. The global influence of Pakistan’s research is increasing as scientists in the country are publishing more in top quartile journals. The Category Normalized Citation Impact of Pakistan’s publications (which measures publications’ impact against their peers worldwide) has risen from 0.67 to 1.03. output [67]

Video conferencing[edit]

Amongst the objectives of this project a primary objective of introduction of Video Conferencing facility, launched by Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman, is to enhance students teachers interaction through distance learning, bridge the gap of good faculty, meet the shortage of faculty members at the universities located at far-flung areas and ultimately to uplift the standard of education in Pakistan. The commission aims to give Pakistan a bright future through a young, qualified and energetic generation.

Eminent scholars from Pakistan deliver interactive lectures on various topics and recorded lectures from foreign universities are also broadcast. The lectures delivered/broadcast will be aimed to develop fundamental concepts, to enhance the critical thinking for under-graduate and graduate students and to discuss cutting edge technologies/research work in the fields of modern sciences for students and faculty members. In the 2nd stage interactive lectures from foreign universities will be arranged. Nobel Laureates/Eminent scientists/researchers will be invited to deliver lectures to share their knowledge/research work. This program will continue and the remaining 32 universities in 2nd phase will become part of the program.

Currently there are more than 65 sites which are operational all over Pakistan and availing this facility for conducting lectures, meetings and other events etc.

Attendances Regarding Under Graduate Research Program[edit]

At the end of every academic year, a 3 credit hour research based activity is not envisioned. The attendance criteria of 70 - 75 percent is not strictly applied in undergraduate research classes.

Political overview[edit]

In spite of its achievements, it was criticized by Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physicist and a professor at the Quaid-e-Azam University, who maintained that "commission have made higher education more expensive."[68] These views have been opposed by numerous eminent national and international scholars and scientists in the country and abroad. A strongly worded article against Hoodbhoy's views was published by dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who termed commission as "a strategic organisation."[69][70] Another work on HEC's praise was authored by Dr. Mansoor Akbar Kundi, former Vice Chancellor of the Gomal University and later Executive Director of Higher Education Commission. In his article entitled "Ata ur Rehman school of Thought" he has strongly supported the reforms brought about by the dynamic and focused policies of the Higher Education Commission under the leadership of Atta-ur-Rahman.[71]

In 2010, the altering of Eighteenth Amendment, whose clause was directed to devolved the commission, was strongly resisted by academicians, politicians, social activists and media personality; a strong lobby for the protection of commission was instituted by scientists, Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman and Dr. Javaid Laghari.[72] Scientists and academicians from the Pakistan Academy of Sciences, PAS held a nationwide conference in 2011 under the Presidency of Atta-ur-Rahman to gain public support for the protection of commission at the public level.[73] During this ongoing debate, the then chairman, Javaid Laghari who was former technocrat Senator from Pakistan Peoples Party and President of a private university SZABIST as well, declared that the devolution of the commission unconstitutional.[74] Dr. Laghari also went on a media and public speaking and OpEd writing campaign to save the higher education sector from the cluthes of politicians. The status of the Executive Director as equivalent to a Federal Secretary was taken away by the Pakistan Peoples Party government and its powers to approve projects through holding Departmental Developmental Working Projects (DDWP) of a value of up to 100 million rupees were also abolished, thereby greatly reducing its powers and effectiveness. While Dr. Atta is known as the founder and builder of commission, Dr. Javaid Laghari is recognized by all academics as the one who saved it from devolution and disintegration. Today, it owes its existence to both Dr. Atta and Dr. Laghari.

Massive anti-Pakistan Peoples Party demonstration broke out in all over the country over this issue in 2011 and student unions gathered in the federal government installations to oppose the merger.[75] In 2012, two petitions signed by Dr. Atta ur Rahman, were filed before the Supreme Court of Pakistan against the devolution of commission and to preserve the autonomy.[76] The Supreme Court approved the petitions. and Dr. Javaid Laghari, the then chairman, in the HEC submission to the Supreme Court, opposed the devolution on constitutional grounds, thereby preventing its devolution under the 18th amendment and guaranteeing its autonomy. Based on the position taken by the chairman HEC, the court issued verdicts against the government's decision.[77] Ultimately, the Supreme Court rendered its verdict on the petition filed by Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman in 2010 and supported by Dr. Javaid Laghari to preserve the autonomy of commission, paralyzing any efforts of government to devolve it.[76][78]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]