Vice chancellors by chance

Vice chancellors by chance

Synopsis

Questions raised about process of selecting VCs for Sindh’s varsities

Vice chancellors by chance

The fixation of certain criteria and limiting the tenure of VCs were actually the demands of the teaching staff of the higher education institutions, photo: Bol News

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KARACHI: The provincial legislature of Sindh made two major legislations concerning higher education in the province after the passage of 18th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished the concurrent list of the Constitution and devolved all its subjects to provinces.

In 2013, the Pakistan Peoples Party-led provincial government in Sindh, on the strength of its majority in the Sindh Assembly, passed the Sindh Higher Education Commission (SHEC) Act 2013 and The Sindh Universities Laws (Amended) Act 2013.

While the SHEC Act 2013 paved the way for establishment of the provincial higher education commission, the objective of The Sindh Universities Laws (Amended) Act 2013 was stated to bring uniformity in the organization, management and control of public-sector universities and degree-awarding institutes in the province.

Initially, acts and ordinances of 13 public-sector universities and institutes were amended without effecting major changes in the appointment of vice chancellors and other staff.

The SUL Act was again amended in 2014 changing its title to The Sindh Universities and Institutes Laws (SUIL) Act 2014; the statues of 19 public-sector universities and institutes were amended with three set of wordings of the clause regarding appointment of the VCs. The clause regarding VCs of the universities, other than the medical universities, have same wordings, the clause for medical universities has same wordings for all medical universities while the clause regarding business institutes has same wordings for all business institutes in the province.

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The legislation with far-reaching effects regarding the matters of the public-sector universities and institutes was introduced in 2018 by amending The Sindh Universities and Institutes Laws (Amendment) Act. The new legislation amended the statutes of more public-sector universities and institutes bringing the total to 29. The new law also withdrew the powers of appointment of VCs from the governor of the province and delegated the same to the chief minister.

Educationist and human rights activist Dr Arfana Mallah while talking to Bol News said that there is no difference in powers of governor and the chief minister with regard to the appointment of the VCs of the public-sector universities. In fact, she explained, the governor had unfettered powers. “The search committee then also existed but they had no legal backing. There was no criterion for the post of the VCs and no tenure limit was prescribed”, she apprised, and explained that even the retired professors and those who had no experience of administrating higher education institutions were appointed VCs — a post which they held for decades.

The fixation of certain criteria and limiting the tenure of VCs were actually the demands of the teaching staff of the higher education institutions, she said and added that the way it was done and being dealt with is not correct.

“For regularizing the search committee, Universities and Boards Department was created which is headed by a Grade-20 secretary who chairs the meeting of the search committee responsible for searching suitable candidates for the posts of VCs which is a Grade-22 post”, she said and added that the search committee comprises mostly of retired academicians who have no stakes in the entire selection process. This, according to her, leads to the ignoring of criteria on political pressure regarding the appointment of the VCs and often the junior professors were shortlisted and appointed instead of the senior-most professor as per requirement of the law. When such appointments were put before the courts, the government instead of adopting due process, started an ad hoc process by appointing acting VCs.

The number of litigations initiated against appointment of VCs by their peers under the 2018 Act seconds the opinion of Dr Mallah.

Currently, the appointments of three VCs of different universities are facing legal challenge, regarding the principal seat, at the Sindh High Court, Karachi. Another litigation has been initiated against a summary reportedly awaiting approval of Sindh chief minister which if approved would allow Dr Asim Hussain, a close confidant of PPP’s co-chairperson Asif Zardari, to continue as chairman of the Sindh Higher Education Commission for a third consecutive term.

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The petitioner Roshan Ali Buriro along with his petition challenging the continuation of Dr Asim as chairman of the SHEC, has attached the copies of the summary moved by the Universities and Boards Department of the Sindh government.

Dr Tariq Banuri, Chairman Higher Education Commission Pakistan (HECP), terms the current procedure of appointment of VCs in public-sector universities in Sindh as a ‘fraud’.

He said that criterion of assessing the qualification of the candidates for the appointment of VCs is basically defected as it solely assesses the candidates on the number of their research papers published in research journals.

“Since the year 2000, the publication of maximum numbers of research papers has been set as the standard to measure qualification and ability for appointment on higher position in government departments”, apprised Dr Banuri. He explained that the same is the case with the appointment of VCs of the universities. “Here comes the money and political consideration into play” he said and pointed out that those who had money or political backing got their papers published in predatory journals to get appointments.

Dr Banuri claims that when he tried to weed out such publication of papers, the whole government machinery turned against him. “The position is currently that instead of judging qualification of a professor by the impact of an individual’s research work, the abilities are judged by the number of research paper the individual has got published.”

Karamat Ali, executive director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), said that while disagreeing with the package of devolution that the 18th Amendment envisages is difficult, the devolution has itself been selective and limited in provinces.

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He said the autonomy which the 18th Amendment has given to the provinces, the provinces in turn apparently are not letting it flow to the lower level.

According to him, while importance of higher education cannot be ignored, equal importance should be given to school education. “Under the same 18th Amendment by virtue of which the provincial governments are limiting powers to few individuals for appointment of VCs at universities, Article 25-A was also inserted in the Constitution which bounds the state to provide compulsory and free education to children up to 16 years”, said Mr Ali and pointed out that nobody appears bothered about the fact that in Sindh and elsewhere the number of out of school children is increasing every year.

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