The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) has sanctioned a three-member fact finding committee to probe the allegations of irregularities in the Foreign Faculty Hiring Programme (FFHP) at Government College University (GCU) Lahore.
Per recent reports, the university’s Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences has been embroiled in a controversy regarding ‘ghost faculty’ between 2003 and 2013 that resulted in embezzlement of hundreds of millions of rupees.
The HEC committee will also review the operation of FFHP at other universities. According to GCU School of Mathematical Sciences (SMS) inquiry report that was public, around Rs 638 million were received by the SMS under the FFHP programme to pay foreign faculty members. However, the report revealed that most of the foreign faculty were not even present in the country, but salaries were drawn under the programme.
The report said, “Most of the faculty hired by SMS under the FFHP were nothing more than short-term visitors who spent, at most, few weeks to few months at SMS. HEC and the Government College University (Lahore) were told that these are not short term visiting faculty but are regular faculty members.”
Authored by Dr Amer Iqbal, Dr Fiazuddin Zaman and Muhammad Imran Khan, the report scrutinized the 10-year record of the programme and found many financial discrepancies as highlighted in their report. The report said, “Correspondence with foreign faculty shows that, in many cases, they did not receive the salary.” The report also called the programme “ghost faculty programme” and points to the fact the foreign faculty members were not present in the country and salaries were deposited in local banks and points to the involvement of bank officials.
The report alleged that the involvement of then SMS Director General Dr Alla Ditta Raza Choudary and Finance & Administration Director Ejaz Malik as well as the SMS staff preparing all the financial documents for salary disbursement. Furthermore, the report also pointed to the negligence on part of HEC and said it was unclear why HEC was not communicating with the foreign faculty members directly. The report also mentions the role of Dr Atta-Ur-Rehman, who was then chairman of HEC at the time, and said that the committee also found documents that showed that Dr Rehman gave Rs 1 million to each of the foreign faculty as startup fund and in some cases foreign faculty who visited SMS for a total of two weeks also got these funds.
In addition, the report added, “SMS officials could not have run this huge long term embezzlement scam for so many years without the help and connivance of the officials of the Government College University (Lahore) and the officials of the Higher Education Commission. This also shows utter incompetence of Government College University (Lahore) and HEC officials who spent hundreds of millions of rupees of taxpayer money on a ghost faculty programme”.
Offering its recommendations, the report called for a thorough probe into the matter and estimated that there was a discrepancy of at least Rs 500 million in the programme. It recommended that the matter should be thoroughly probed by a government body such as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
After the report received attention, HEC released a statement in which it said the “three-member committee will probe the matter and will submit its recommendation to the competent authority within one month. While, the Committee will not probe into the details being investigated by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) at GCU Lahore, it will address the overall concerns arising out of the reports published in a section of the press, and being commented upon on social media”.
HEC launched its Foreign Faculty Hiring Programme in 2003 to seek services of qualified academics and researchers for offering technical support in development of new programmes, providing trainings for teaching and research, and building capacity for PhD supervision. Around 40 universities across Pakistan benefitted from the qualified visiting experts. Over 300 highly qualified professors joined various universities under this programme.