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On 8 April, the Pakistani government passed an ordinance — without any justifiable reason — that will lead to the country’s Higher Education Commission (HEC) losing its independence. More than 2,200 academics have now signed a petition calling for action against such political interference (go.nature.com/2rnf4v), which could endanger the future of higher education in Pakistan.

The HEC was established in 2002 as an independent agency to revamp the country’s higher education, initially backed by generous funding that has since dwindled. It has been the butt of criticism over the years (Nature 467, 378–379; 2010; Nature 560, 419; 2018). The commission’s success should instead be gauged by its role in promoting a culture of responsible research and education in Pakistan and beyond.

The nation must fiercely protect the autonomy and funding of the HEC, subject to accountability. Experts in science, academic policy and governance can help to rigorously review its policies, programmes and progress every year.

Pakistan’s future is interwoven with fair and independent higher education and science. It could learn from the investment and progress in research made by its neighbours in China and India (Nature 590, 184; 2021). The government will need to upgrade its scientific infrastructure and enterprise to broaden its development and make it sustainable.



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