A number of public universities in Punjab are functioning without permanent vice chancellors, and the list is likely to grow considerably in the coming months. It probably is time to heed.
The process of appointment of vice chancellors at multiple public universities in Punjab seems to have come to a standstill or has had its pace dropped down to a snail’s with the induction of the caretaker government. With multiple changes and reshuffling of crucial bureaucratic portfolios, the process of appointments – which saw previous office bearers rushing on and about to comply with Supreme Court of Pakistan’s directives into the matter – has been delayed yet again.
From what it seems, the incoming government will be facing a monumental task in naming VCs for public varsities, as the number of institutions operating without a permanent head is about to go up with several incumbents about to see their terms end.
Although it had been facing delays for quite some months, the process of appointments got life breathed into it following the chief justice of Pakistan’s notice of sale of Punjab University land to NTDC. The then acting VC was forced to resign and the apex court set a deadline to the Punjab Higher Education Department (HED) to appoint permanent VCs at all public higher education institutions. And while the authorities quickened the efforts to appoint a permanent VC at Punjab University, several other universities continue to operate without a permanent official at the top. Progress was further halted with the replacement of HED secretary Nabeel Awan with Khalid Saleem.
The universities where the top slot of a permanent VC lies are Lahore College for Women University (LCWU), Women University Multan, Ghazi University, Dera Ghazi Khan, University of Okara, University of Sahiwal, University of Home Economics, Lahore, University of Jhang, and Information Technology University (ITU), Lahore.
Slow And Unsteady
To date, only some headway has been made in the case of University of Sahiwal, where 27 of 101 applicants have been shortlisted by the Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC). Interviews for the applicants were held by the search committee consisting of Dr Umar Saif, Nighat Yawar Ali, Lieutenant General (r) Muhammad Akram Khan, Dr Khalid Manzoor Butt and former HED secretary Nabeel Awan. But the change at HED has again put the process in a limbo.
Earlier, the process of finding a suitable VC for ITU was also delayed as only five candidates applied for the position and three were shortlisted by the PHEC for interviews. However, the application deadline was extended to June 20 from the earlier June 3 in the larger interest of upholding merit and finding candidates from a larger pool of applicants.
The process for appointment of VCs at University of Okara, University of Home Economics, Lahore and Women University Multan is scheduled to be initiated once University of Sahiwal gets a VC. However, the shift in bureaucracy has certainly put the same on hold.
Failing To Plan
The ‘headless chicken’ situation at some existing universities seems to have been carried forward to new institutions as well, showcasing the previous government approach of putting the cart before the horse.
It’s a normal practice around the world that organisations get established with a top down approach; meaning the most important positions in the hierarchy are filled first to ensure administrative fluidity. But the government in Punjab had different ideas.
The newly-established Punjab Tianjin University of Technology (PTUT) and University of Narowal bothe operate without a permanent VC. Government College University (GCU) Lahore VC Dr Hasan Amir Shah is the acting VC at PTUT, while University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore VC Dr Fazal Ahmad Khalid has been named the acting VC of PTUT. Surprising then how the authorities could find the time and resources to set up an entire university, but still could not find a suitable candidate to be named the VC.
To make things trickier, both the acting VCs are due to retire soon, Dr Hasan by the middle of next year and the UET VC by the end of 2018. That makes four VC seats falling vacant in a few months’ time, and could well mean added trouble for authorities in Punjab.
Another VC approaching the end of his tenure is Dr Qaiser Mushtaq of Islamia University Bahawalpur, who is set to complete his 4-year term in December 2018. Besides, the year 2019 will see a considerable number of incumbent VCs completing their terms and leaving the Punjab government with a Herculean task of filling these posts.
All of these VCs began their terms in August 2015 and will be heading home after their four-year terms in the coming year. These include University of Education Vice Chancellor Dr Rauf-i-Azam, Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan VC Dr Tahir Amin, Government Sadiq College Women University, Bahawalpur VC Dr Talat Afza, Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi VC Dr Samina Amin Qadir and Khawaja Fareed University of Engineering and Information Technology, Rahim Yar Khan VC Dr Athar Mahboob.
If the government’s reactive approach continues as is, the number of universities operating without permanent vice chancellors will soon go up to 17 – seven universities where VCs are retiring in the coming months, plus eight universities where appointments are underway and two newly-established universities PTUT and University of Narowal.
Earlier in 2016, the issue of delays in appointments was discussed in the National Assembly, when then Higher Education chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed suggesting the process of appointment of VCs be initiated at least six months before the tenure of an incumbent ended. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government duly made amendments to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Universities Act 2012 in 2016 to make it binding on authorities to initiate the process of hiring a new VC six months before an incumbent retired.
When it comes to other provinces and when they will heed to the matter, your guess is as good as ours.
Or as bad.