Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has ‘abolished’ self-finance status of 76 medical and dental seats reserved for foreign students of 40 friendly countries and ordered the health department to convert them into open merit seats for the overseas Pakistanis only, Dawn has learnt.
Some 12 medical and dental institutions of Punjab have been getting foreign exchange amounting to $760,000 every year against these self-finance seats.
A senior official, who is privy to the information, tells Dawn the decision came when the health department forwarded a summary to the chief minister for increase of at least 30 more self-finance seats (other than existing 76 seats) under the special quota reserved for the overseas Pakistanis who are living in Arab countries where they are never ever granted nationality.
He says the CM’s decision, however, has triggered a huge controversy as these positions are being offered by the federal government and the Punjab government is merely implementing the admission process.
The official says the CM has been told in the summary that there are two categories of total 161 seats for foreign students of 40 friendly countries in public-sector medical and dental colleges in Punjab. Of them, 76 are filled every year under the self-finance scheme on the approval of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan while the remaining 85 under the Pakistan Technical Assistance Programme (PTAP) through Economic Affairs Division on an open merit basis.
He says the HEC has already advertised the process of admission to professional institutions of Pakistan for the academic year 2014-15 under the self-finance scheme.
“The scheme with a limited number of seats in the disciplines of Medicine (MBBS), Dentistry (BDS), and Pharmacy (Pharm-D) is meant to facilitate both foreign as well as Pakistan origin dual nationality holders for admission in universities/institutions of Pakistan,” quoting the HEC advertisement, the official says, adding that the HEC has finalised Sept 20 as last date for receipt of applications.
“Though the spirit of the decision of the CM is to facilitate the overseas Pakistanis, the abolishing of these seats does not fall within the purview of the Punjab government,” he says. Consequently, the chief minister’s order has put the health department in a difficult situation as it can neither implement the decision nor can refuse him. While the chief minister has issued orders to strictly follow his decision in letter and spirit, he says.
The official further says the self-finance scheme for admission of foreign students to professional institutions of Pakistan was transferred to the HEC from Economic Affairs Division in June 2006. The admissions against these foreign seats are being made in Punjab through the University of Health Science Lahore. Under the self-finance scheme, a foreign student is paying $10,000 annually while Rs1,900 under PTA Programme as regular fee, he says.
The summary was sent to the chief minister on the basis of recommendations formulated by a 26-member joint commission comprising vice chancellors and principals of public sector medical universities and colleges from across the province. The commission was headed by Advisor to Chief Minister on Health Khwaja Salman Rafique.
“We had just recommended enhancement of self-finance seats in order to facilitate those overseas Pakistanis who were not enjoying nationality in Arab states,” says King Edward Medical University Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Faisal Masood who is one of the members of the joint commission while talking to Dawn. He says the commission had also recommended criteria for the overseas Pakistanis for admissions against self-finance seats.
The official goes on saying the ‘interesting’ factor of this development is that instead of considering the proposal of heads of the medical institutions for increase in the current 76 seats the chief minister took the step in the opposite direction.
“When the summary was presented, the chief minister wondered as to why the admissions against the seats were being conducted despite the fact that the self-finance scheme was abolished by the Punjab government in 2008,” the official says, adding that a representative of the health department present there tried to convince the CM that all the 161 seats, including those of self-finance, were being offered by the federal government.
He further told the CM that the Punjab government had no authority to abolish the self-finance status of the foreign seats. However, setting aside arguments of the representative, the CM directed the officials to strictly follow his order in letter and spirit.The official says some 3.7 million overseas Pakistanis are living mostly in the Gulf countries, including 1.6 million in Saudi Arabia, 1.2 million in the United Arab Emirates, 0.2 million in Oman and 0.15 million in Kuwait. It was discriminatory to reserve seats for foreign Pakistanis living in other countries like USA, UK, etc and enjoying dual nationality but not for overseas Pakistanis, he says.
When contacted, Deputy Secretary Medical Education Nasir Shakir has confirmed to Dawn that the CM has ordered abolishing 76 self-finance seats. He says the health department is planning to approach the CM to withdraw his decision.
“As the admission process against foreign seats has almost been finalised, the implementation on the CM’s order may lead to unending problems,” Mr Nasir says, adding the federal government is a major stakeholder which has been offering foreign admissions all over the country, including Punjab.
He says these self-finance seats can’t be abolished without the permission of the federal government.
“Now we are going to write to both the chief minister and the federal government about the current status of self-finance scheme,” he says, adding the CM will be requested to take the federal government on board or postpone his decision till the next year.