LOOKING AFTER A LEGACY THAT IS GCU

GCU is one of the oldest higher education institutions in the country and one that is treasured by thousands of Ravians who have passed through its gates. Arsalan Haider talks to GCU VC Professor Hassan Amir Shah about the times he held the reins of one the most sought after public sector institutions in the country.

Prof Dr Hassan Amir Shah is the 30th head and 3rd Vice Chancellor of Government College University Lahore and is an eminent Physicist with specialization in Theoretical Plasma Physics. He has done post-doctoral fellowships at several reputed foreign institutions including the University of Sussex London, International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy and the Space Physics Institute, Rome. He still has research collaborations with top institutions of the world and the impact factor of his research papers exceeds 176. Prof Shah has served GCU for 13 years as professor and head of the famed Physics Department. The Government of Pakistan conferred Sitara-e-Imtiaz upon him on August 14, 2011 in recognition of his contributions in the realm of teaching and research. The Academia Magazine got in touch with the academic for an exclusive talk about GCU, how far it has come and where it is headed as a university.

 

GC had quite a legacy and traditions when it was a college. Do you think things have changed after it has turned into a university?

We became a university on the very foundations upon which the Government College stood upon, so all of the traditions and the culture has been inherited by the institution in its entirety. The peculiar atmosphere of GC that was highlighted by societies and activities is still present. I think this is an edge GCU has over its peers and student’s involvement continues as before. You can find all the traditions being upheld if you look at the debating society, our dramatics club etc., so there has been no change as far as the culture is concerned.

Twenty years ago, there were only a handful of professors that focused on research, but the situation is quite different today, as the number of researches being published has gone significantly up

GCU was facing a severe shortage of senior faculty in 2015. It had had no faculty dean and was left with only four professors. What is the situation now?

Yes that is true, but we formed a number of selection boards and attracted faculty members at all levels. The situation is much better now and there only one or two departments that are short on faculty. We have also engaged retired faculty members as distinguished professors. 

 

With the change in the government, do you see a change in how things are being run?

I don’t know about other matters, but there is certainly an economic crunch in the country that is being felt by the universities in form of cuts in funding. We are looking at a shortage of 10 to 12 percent in funds. Our budget was already quite stretched. I had planned setting up some new departments, but the economic crunch will certainly affect those plans. 

There is certainly an economic crunch in the country that is being felt by the universities in form of cuts in funding. We are looking at a shortage of 10 to 12 percent in our regular funds

 

Do you feel that universities in Punjab are autonomous and there is no political or government interference? 

There is no particular political interference in affairs of universities. During my four-year tenure, I haven’t faced political pressure either from the previous or the current government. When we talk about autonomy of universities, it has more to do with the charter and the rules of business of Punjab government through which they deal with the institutions. There a number of issues therein. I and many other VCs have raised our concerns with the chancellor (The Punjab governor) about the numerous steps that our approvals have to go through. At times its feels that the rules of business are more important than the charter itself. We have requested the government to revise the rules of business. This is as important as our financial will. 

 

What is the current budget of GCU? How do you see the reduction in HEC budget? 

Our budget is Rs 1.7 billion of which 55 percent is shared by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). We also generate our own funds through fees and only a tiny share is provided by the Punjab government, around Rs 10 million. Other sources of funding are our own Endowment Fund that attracts huge funding, but that too is to support female students only. We started an evening program last year, which has come good. I think the funding situation would become much better after the first batch of this BS program.

 

Professors in foreign universities focus more on research than teaching, but the situation is quite the opposite in Pakistan. What’s your take on the matter?

I think that teaching and research go side by side. A professor has to research and teach as it is required by universities. Twenty years ago, there were only a handful of professors that focused on research, but the situation is quite different today as the number of researches being published has gone significantly up. Nowadays, most teachers are actively involved in both teaching and research. 

 

You have been given the additional charge of PTUT and Narowal University. What administrative flaws do you see in these universities and to which extent has the model of international collaboration been successful? 

PTUT is not a university yet; an institution does not simply become a university through an announcement only. A university can only be called one when it has a regular vice chancellor, regular faculty members and administration, statutory bodies like syndicate, academic council, and selection boards. All these things are not yet available at PTUT and people are only working on contractual basis. The model of collaboration with China will be successful when we do what is necessary at our end. China has done its part in the formation of this university, but we didn’t even appoint a regular VC. This model is perfect as we need such collaborations, especially with China that has superiority in this these fields. The Punjab government should appoint a regular VC and ensure the availability of an administrative structure. Same is the case with Narowal University, which is still awaiting statutory bodies and a regular VC. 

 

Do you have any suggestions for the current government for improvements in education sector?

I think the issue of autonomy of the universities must be dealt with on war footings. When these structures were formed there were only two or three universities and the Higher Education Department was the overseeing authority. There were hardly any issues then. Now we have more than 50 universities in Punjab, but the strength of officials at HED remains the same. We have to wait for three to four years for approvals of our documents from various departments. When the Syndicate has finance secretary, higher education secretary and law secretary as members, there must not be issues within these departments. There should be a separate Chancellor’s secretariat to deal with matters concerning universities. 

 

Do you thing Punjab Higher Education Commission should exist, for the current government is considering ending provincial commissions?

I think PHEC should exist and we now have a new chairperson also. PHEC should have a proper status of a commission, which it does not have yet. Had that been the case, it could have done much more good work than what it has achieved so far. 

 

Your tenure as the GCU VC is about to end in a few months. What do you think are your achievements and where do you think you could have done better? 

We have some constraints which are being resolved now. One big constraint was of space, which has now been resolved to some extent after the completion of the Kala Shah Kaku Campus that was built through HEC’s funding of Rs 1 billion in 2016. We are expanding various departments and setting up some new ones as well. As for the achievements, I think other people are in a much better position to answer that question than me.

Prof Dr Hassan Amir Shah is the 30th head and 3rd Vice Chancellor of Government College University Lahore and is an eminent Physicist with specialization in Theoretical Plasma Physics.