A high-level committee tasked with reviewing and recommending changes to the lengthy process of appointment of vice chancellors (VCs) in public universities of Punjab has come with some radical propositions that are set to overhaul the manner in which candidates are appointed to the most influential slot in institutes of higher education.
Currently, Punjab has a cumbersome process of appointment of VCs that takes months to finalise. Besides, Punjab VCs’ Appointment Criteria also has some technical loopholes that often drag the matter of appointments to courts. The Academia already discussed the issue of delayed appointments in detail in its coverage of the process in February this year, a synopsis of which is represented in the following image.
Change The Only Constant?
In line with its promised agenda of reforms, the provincial government headed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had already hinted at revamping the entire process of the appointment of vice chancellors – beginning right from the constitution of search committees up until the how candidates are marked during the vetting period. The planned changes are intended to replicate the mode of VCs appointments introduced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
However, any changes to Punjab VCs’ appointment criteria currently in existence would have required fundamental changes to laws currently in practice, for which the PTI’s Punjab government formed an 8-member committee to make necessary observations and eventual recommendations.
Punjab Higher Education Minister Raja Yassir Humayun Sarfraz was named the convener of the committee, which included Punjab Higher Education Department (HED) Secretary Sarah Saeed, Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) Chairman Dr Nizamuddin, Lahore University of Management Science’s (LUMS) professors Dr Arif Nazir Butt and Dr Muhammad Ahsan Rana, Punjab University Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Niaz Ahmed Akhtar, Government College University Faisalabad Vice Chancellor and selected Vice Chancellor for Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) Islamabad Dr Muhammad Ali and Fatima Jinnah Women University former Vice Chancellor Dr Najma Najam.
The highly empowered committee held a detailed meeting last week to discuss proposed amendments and has zeroed in on some changes to the current criteria for the appointment of vice chancellors.
What’s In Store?
According to a source with knowledge of the developments, the proposed criteria divides the process of appointment and the marks obtained by a candidate into two phase. In the first phase, 100 marks are to be earned by VC candidates for various parameters. Of the 100, 35 are reserved for research publications, 30 for professional experience and 30 for academic experience. Candidates obtaining the highest marks in the first phase according to the set parameters will move on to the second phase. However, a candidate must obtain at least 75 marks in the first phase to get shortlisted for the interview.
In the latter part of the selection process, the shortlisted candidates will be evaluated on the basis of an interview having a total of 100 marks as well. The interview and the marking will be conducted by the search committee, which will then forward the names of the top three candidates to the chief minister for a final notification of appointment.
Previously, the interview only carried a weight of 35 percent in the entire process, while the remaining 65 percent marks were reserved for academic experience.
The committee has also proposed abolishing 10 marks for international experience reserved in the existing criteria, as well as getting rid of four marks awarded for each patent held by a candidate. The new criteria will, however, add marks for experience of working on administrative posts.
The search committees that will vet candidates for appointments as VCs will also be constituted per a new criteria, according to the floated proposals. A single committee will be instituted for which the criteria and names of 12 members will be advertised after approval from the Punjab cabinet. Later, a five-member search committee will be constituted for public universities of the entire province, while separate notifications will be issued for each varsity according to their respective acts.
The committee will have two governmental ex-officio members, including HED Secretary, PHEC Chairman, while two members will be included from the academia and one either from the civil society, a retired judge or a bureaucrat.
The new criteria, when finalised and codified, will be presented before the cabinet for approval.
Once the entire process is given a go ahead by the cabinet, the government will eventually face a monumental task of appointing vice chancellors at 16 public sector universities across the province. According to the official source, the PTI government intends to fill these vacant slots by March 2019.
The changes in criteria is a touchy subject for academic circles in Punjab, as previous attempts by the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) government led to severe backlash, criticism and protests from academics in the public as well as the private sector.
“As a pre-emptive measure and to maintain impartiality, the reforms committee included several VCs of public sector universities in the round of deliberations this time around,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity. On the other hand, the government claims that the new criteria will bring transparency and merit to the appointment procedure of vice chancellors in Punjab.
But of course, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.