- By Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad
The surge in the number of universities and campuses in Pakistan without a proportional enhancement in the quality of higher education raises concerns not just only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but across the entire nation.
It seems that universities are being established merely as a means of providing employment to individuals with connections, as job opportunities are scarce in other sectors. Unfortunately, this leads to a situation wherein Vice Chancellors (VCs) are manipulated by politicians or groups of ministers to facilitate the establishment of new campuses or universities, with VCs being appointed through a superficial process to achieve these objectives. Regrettably, the true essence of “Higher Education” takes a back seat, as this political game is well-known to politicians and citizens alike.
On occasion, due to conflicts and inflexibility, a university is left without a VC or is placed under the dual charge of a VC from another university. Now, let’s delve into the matter of how VCs are “protected” when employed without adhering to proper regulations/E&D rules and how they are “encouraged and empowered” to mistreat employees, the public, and the students. Regrettably, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in Islamabad, along with its Chairman and complete management, also supports this corrupt practice at the national level, thereby depriving employees of their rightful entitlements according to the ordinance. The HEC/HED should be responsible for curbing these misconducts.
VCs are typically selected through a nominal advertisement published in newspapers by a VC search committee. If the committee does not align with the government’s or Members of the Provincial Assembly’s (MPAs) and Members of the National Assembly’s (MNAs) desires, it is often changed. Unfortunately, merit is never the basis for appointments made by the committee, despite the concept being desirable. Many VCs are appointed based on the pretext of merit, even though they do not possess the qualifications necessary to be admitted to the same university. Although the committee’s purpose is commendable, it is frequently abused. The government, particularly the federal and provincial Ministry of Education, as well as the Governor House and Secretariat, must be called upon to explain how VCs are appointed to public sector universities without following proper regulations.
The recruitment of VCs is carried out through extensive newspaper advertisements titled “positions of VCs for public sector universities.” This clearly indicates that it is not a deputation. Applications are submitted along with No Objection Certificates (NOCs). Tests and interviews are conducted with the candidates, and appointments are made based on a so-called merit list. Eventually, the chosen candidates are allowed to assume their positions as VCs, fulfilling the intentions of the concerned MNAs/MPAs. The process is seldom challenged, and any challenges that do arise are generally dismissed by the search committee, who verbally disown the selected candidates by placing them at the bottom of the list.
The appointment letter, issued with the chancellor’s approval the following day, designates the new VC for a term of three to four years, with no restrictions imposed by laws or regulations. The flaws in the appointment process become apparent once the appointment letter is issued. The very next day, a professor, often an associate professor, is transformed into a figure of authority, presiding over a university like a king or queen, with complete power and financial autonomy. This issue was highlighted recently in the National Assembly by the Ex-Federal Defense Minister, Mr. Khawaja Asif. The allure of this newfound power has led to a situation where every senior and junior professor aspires to be part of this unregulated hierarchy.
Additionally, the rampant desire among senior and junior professors to be part of this unrestrained power structure is evident. The vice chancellor is appointed from the governor’s house through the Ministry of Education. Within the university, they assume the roles of kings or queens, free from any internal or external regulations, as there are no efficiency or disciplinary rules in place for such positions. Their appointment letters often overlook the aspects of efficiency and discipline. It is unfortunate, or perhaps fortunate, that this unique form of appointment in Pakistan lacks the existence of efficiency and disciplinary rules to hold these individuals accountable. This has created a harsh environment for employees and students, as even their misconduct cannot be challenged in a court of law. The lack of boundaries makes it difficult to identify the rules broken by vice chancellors and determine appropriate punishments.
While institutional autonomy is important, it should not be granted to “unbridled horses”. The nation can no longer comprehend this mystery. It is crucial to define the minimum age for vice chancellor appointments, as the impact factor and immaturity have negatively affected institutions. The role of a vice chancellor encompasses multiple dimensions, including leadership and representation in various bodies, which necessitate a certain age, experience, and qualifications. Implementing efficiency and disciplinary rules would hold them accountable and limit their powers. This would elevate the standard of higher education to the desired level instead to misuse powers for harassing employees. The employment of individuals in scale 17 and above could be handled through a provincial commission, while the employment of those in scale 3-16 can be delegated to the universities, with the unbridled horses bound by efficiency and disciplinary rules to prevent mismanagement.
Illegal re-reappointments of faculty members must be immediately halted, and faculty should be provided with a service structure in accordance with HEC ordinance as per strict directives of NA standing committees and other government departments. This would restore balance to the system and ensure accountability for these horses.
In summary, the process of appointing vice chancellors in Pakistan is flawed, resulting in unbridled horses assuming leadership positions in universities without any accountability. To enhance the standard of higher education in the country, the appointment process for vice chancellors must be reformed. Not only should vice chancellors be held responsible for their actions, but members of the syndicate, senate, and other statutory bodies being widely misused should also be held accountable, as they are government servants and representatives of the public.
- The writer is a PhD from the University of Essex, UK, and works as an associate professor at the University of Malakand.