As Pakistan’s youth bulge grows larger, provision of quality higher education is becoming increasingly important for the country. Raja Yassir Humayun is the man Punjab government has nominated for improving this vital segment of education. Faizan Warraich finds out what the minister is planning in this respect.

Academia magazine in conversation  with Punjab Higher Education Minister Raja Yasir Hamayun discussed the government plan to deal with the issues confronting the education ecosystem. In an exclusive interview with the Academia Magazine Raja Yasir talked about the current situation of the higher education sector in Punjab, different initiatives being taken by government, planning and policy implementation with regard to appointment of vice chancellors in different public-sector universities and issues faced by Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC). While talking about the most hyped agenda of the PTI government, Raja Yasir was of the view that the main task was to make a blueprint for the next five years. The minister said his ministry worked on nine key initiatives. “These key strategic initiatives include developing a higher education policy for Punjab, transparency and good governance, setting-up of higher education management, research and learning institutes, modernization and rationalization of the legal framework for higher education sector, college sector reforms, strengthening/establishment of universities, curriculum reform, sports leagues in universities and colleges as well as revamping of the student assistance systems,” Yasir explained. Yasir said the first thing his ministry wanted to do was to develop a higher education policy. “This policy will be presented in the cabinet very soon after consultation and feedback from all education stakeholders including the academia and other experts,” he said. Talking about the appointment of vice chancellors in 14 universities across the province, the minister said the new government has reformed the selection criteria’s formulated by the previous government and research committees would be finalized soon, after which the process of appointment would initiate. Within two months, VCs of these 14 varsities will be appointed. Interviews for the appointment of principals at different colleges and for heading Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) are also being conducted in a transparent manner,” he said.

Management

Talking about a new initiative, he said the government wanted to set up higher education management, research and learning institutes in different parts of Punjab. “We tried to search for a government building

Only the universities that ensure high- quality education standards are going to survive

for this purpose but failed to find suitable place. Three institutes will be established soon at Lahore, Murree and Southern Punjab and foreign faculty will teach and train students about research. Also new techniques for learning and training would be incorporated in these institutes. The two years bachelor’s degree programme (private) will be replaced with the four-year bachelor’s degree programme,” the minister maintained. “None of our university is in the top 100 universities of the world, so there will be a focus on bringing our varsities in the top 100,” he added. “There will be a ranked university in each division which will primarily be responsible for colleges affiliation in the respective division. Moreover, sub- campuses at the district level will soon be converted into universities and community colleges of each district will be affiliated with the district level universities,” Hamayun said. While emphasizing the need of promoting sports and healthy activities among youth, he said five sports leagues were introduced for both private and public sector universities and colleges. The minister said this plan was inspired by American universities who encourage youngsters to keep themselves fit and healthy.

No To Nepotism

While sharing the problems and issues faced by the Punjab Higher Education Department, he said the Ministry has established a ‘Search committee’ to explore and dig out the most suitable and competent vice chancellors for public sector universities.  “I don’t believe in nepotism and I will not support any appointment violating merit in public universities. Dr Attur Rehman will lead the search committee and will recommend the best possible choices for public sector universities,” Hamayun said. “I don’t believe in micromanagement. If I want to transform the Punjab Higher Education Commission than its head PHEC must be competent,” he said. The minister assured that PTI government will not appoint any incompetent person, as vice- chancellors at leading public sector universities or head of departments at institutes affiliated with the Punjab Higher Education Ministry. He denied that there were any differences between PHEC and HEC. “The HEC will decide the course of action and PHEC will implement it. All matters have been resolved,” he said.

VC Hunt

Academia Magazine asked the minister about the appointment of vice chancellors in Punjab’s public sector universities and the criterions that would be followed for filling these vacant seats. The minister said Punjab had inherited the KPK Model, but with some changes, as Punjab had a totally different operational order. “The current model is completely objective in its practices for appointing the VCs. “Luckily, most of the seats of public universities are vacant and I am not in favour of removing people just on the basis of political affiliations. I will not oppose the appointments that are up to the mark,” he added. He said he was against the mind set to remove people because of personal or political affiliations and wanted high-quality work, along with sheer determination for reforms from the staff and heads of the department. The minister said he was realistic in his philosophy and believed that those who support Pakistan Muslim League are also Pakistanis.We will not oppose them just because of their political affiliations. We only demand dedication and work in a timely manner. I don’t believe in working outside of my ambit,” he said. “In the private sector market forces ensure to take the right set of decisions,” Hamayun was of the view. “Due to the private sector, the competition has increased after which only those universities will survive that will ensure high-quality education standards,” the minister explained. “The biggest challenge of higher education ministry is budget. We don’t have money to execute policies. I believe that inviting private sector would drive money in the ministry. However, there is another challenge which is transparency, particularly during the initiation of public-private partnership,” he said. The Academia Magazine asked the minister about his constituency PP 21, where he secured 77,000 votes against his opponent and how he will work for the people of his district. He said that he wants to establish a top-class university in Chakwal. “Even in America the university town is established around cities which were rich in natural beauties. I have this thing in my mind since 2013 that a top rank university in Chakwal can be

The government wants to set up higher education management, research and learning institutes in different parts of Punjab

established which could potentially attract students from all over the province and country,” he said

Faizan Ali Warraich is a contributor and  journalist covering education and science beats. He can be reached at faizanwarraich22@gmail.com and on twitter @faizanwarraichh