The oldest seat of learning in the country, Punjab University, will finally get a permanent vice chancellor after Punjab chief minister finalised Dr Niaz Ahmad Akhtar as the man to lead the university in the months ahead. A formal notification regarding the first permanent PU VC in almost two years is expected today after the approval of Punjab Governor Rafique Rajwana, who is also the university’s chancellor. Dr Niaz is the 48th vice chancellor of Punjab University, which last saw a permanent appointee to the top slot in the person of Dr Mujahid Kamran. Following Dr Kamran’s exit in 2016, PU has been making do with provisional appointees, first Dr Zafar Moeen Nasir and then Dr Zakaria Zakar.

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Dr Niaz Ahmed Akhtar
Dr Niaz Ahmed Akhtar was serving as the VC of UET Taxila.

The decision is hasty at best, coming only a day before the present government’s tenure expires and an interim set-up replaces PML-N’s elected representatives. The choice was made by Punjab Chief Minister after a rushed interview session with three shortlisted candidates on Wednesday evening. The search committee constituted for the purpose had interviewed a total of 40 candidates who had applied for the position and recommended three names to the CM.

The three shortlisted candidates included University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Taxila Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Niaz Ahmad Akhtar, Punjab University College of Information Technology (PUCIT) Principal Prof Dr Syed Mansoor Sarwar and former provisional vice chancellor as well as Punjab University Faculty of Behavioural & Social Sciences Dean Dr Zakria Zakar.

Pressed For Time

Such was the rush and need for getting the appointment made on Wednesday that the intereviews wer held at the Lahore airport, where the CM arrived after inaugurating an E-Khidmat centre in Bahawalpur. The candidates had been earlier asked to appear for interview at the CM’s Secretariat at 3pm. However, the CM’s packed schedule meant the interviews had to be conducted at the airport. According to sources, the CM had two major questions for the candidates. First, about their political affiliations and the second about their plans for the varsity if given they were assigned the responsibility to lead it.

However, the interviews did not result in an immediate decision by the CM, and the news of Dr Niaz’s selection broke at around 11pm on Wednesday. Fortunately, the appointment has been made at a much faster pace by the Punjab government, contrary to the months and month it previously took to get such lucrative position filled. One reason for the haste has been the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s deadline given to the government to get a permanent VC appointed in PU. Because of this, the Punjab Higher Education Department (HED) and Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) had been running from pillar to post to get the process completed. The other reason was, of course, the expiry of the government’s tenure.

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The Search Committee that conducted the interviews and shortlisted candidates consisted of convener Razzaq Dawood and members Dr Umar Saif, Dr Zafar Iqbal Qureshi, Fauzia Viqar and HED Secretary Nabeel Awan. Last month, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had ordered the removal Dr Zakria Zakar as the provisional vice chancellor of the Punjab University while hearing the case of sale of Punjab University land to the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC).

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Following his ouster, the HED appointed Prof Dr Nasira Jabeen as the provisional VC, making her the first woman ever to sit in the university vice chancellor’s seat. Dr Jabeen had also been a candidate for the slot, but she could not make it to the final list of candidates.

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