“Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long range missiles, just lowering the education standards”. Education, specifically Higher Education is the building block of a nation. Quality education creates an enlightened society, meritocratic bureaucracy and ensures increased democratic participation and is the only pathway to exterminate extremism and to create a diverse society, where the difference of opinion is honored. Higher education in Pakistan, now-a-days is facing a number of problems of severe nature, which has damaged its image and impeded its progress. The political interference in the higher education has brought a culture of extension, nepotism and non-transparent appointments of top leadership at Higher Education Commission (HEC) and Vice-Chancellors/ Presidents at universities.
Apparently, either the government is ignorant or deliberately appointing Vice Chancellors (VCs) who do not fulfill the criteria. The statutory bodies in the universities that have democratic traditions are being sidelined by these VCs. Usually, the politically appointed VCs execute their authority with in university by behaving like bosses to faculty, instead of putting their efforts for quality assurance and outside the varsities for linkages, funding etc, which has also introduced a culture of malpractices and illegal appointments within varsities. Disappointingly, the discourse about academic leadership shifts into discourse about so called successful management. The credentials of several Vice Chancellors are hidden, and it seems quite difficult to find out Curriculum Vitae of many VCs.
While the political and bureaucratic elite is playing their role for the desolation of the Higher Education, the honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar has taken a suo moto against the appointments of Vice Chancellors in universities of Punjab. Due to his timely intervention more than half dozen VCs either resigned or has been suspended by the CJP. The number is increasing day by day, owing to CJP’s action, the faculty across the universities in Pakistan have raised their hopes of appointments of these VCs purely on merit which were otherwise, considered as purely political positions.
Unfortunately, a number of VCs appointed by the government are not willing to play the role of an academic leader and are facing charges of malpractices and incompetence. Generally speaking, such VCs start campaigning for next tenure right from the time they took charge as VC.
The recent suo moto action against Vice Chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design (PIFD) Ms Hina Tayyabia has exposed the system badly, during proceeding the advocate general presented an inquiry report submitted by the Ministry of Commerce mentioning that she did not posses the required experience. Earlier an officer nominated to inquire the malpractices in PIFD was appointed as Registrar in PIFD. A number of contract employees were terminated allegedly because they requested CJP for suo moto action against the incumbent VC. Fortunately, CJP suspended the decision and passed the order to verify, implement and report the action taken against the inquiry report by Secretary Ministry of Commerce. Declared as incompetent by the inquiry committee after governing PIFD in different capacities for approximately seventeen years during suo moto proceedings, responsibility should be fixed immediately for the huge academic and financial loss to the prestigious institute of fashion and Design in particular and whole higher education in general.
In a similar move and on the petition of Dr. Syed Husnain Abbas, an Assistant Professor in International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI), CJP issued notices to Federal Government on the appointment of President IIUI without any search committee rather no competitive process was initiated. The President IIUI who is a pure foreigner with diplomatic passport knows only Arabic language, which has restricted him to communicate with faculty and students via translators. President IIUI is also facing severe charges of unfair award of BS International Relations degree to his son despite the fact, he allegedly remained in Pakistan for approximately 220 days during his 4 years BS program and allegedly used a fake transcript for exemption of 42 credit hours course work. Furthermore, the committee to investigate the matter also includes the accused officials. CJP also issued notices to the VC of University of Sargodha Dr. Ishtiaq Ali, who is also allegedly victimizing the faculty members.
The top ranked Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad is also in a state of turmoil since the incumbent VC Dr. Javed Ashraf took charge. Although, an inquiry committee constituted by the Chancellor has mentioned the incompetence of the VC for running university affairs in February 2017, still government is not serious for removing him from the post of VC. The Acting Rector Comsats University is also facing severe charges of plagiarism and victimization of faculty and employees. Dr. Raheel Qamar appointed as interim Rector in April 2017, is also allegedly terminated more than 200 employees and a number of faculty members are given terminal contracts after serving even more than a decade. The Vice Chancellor of Mirpur University of Science and Technology is also serving as VC for last 11 years. VCs of Agriculture University Faisalabad and Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi left their offices only after the intervention of the high court. One of them spent almost a decade as VC and both are facing NAB inquiries. The abysmal state of varsities across Pakistan is mainly the result of extension culture at top positions and illegal appointments of Vice Chancellors.
Removing the illegally appointed incompetent Vice Chancellors is not the sustainable solution, but the initiation of court proceedings against those responsible for such appointments may avoid further devastation of Higher Education in Pakistan. The recent merit-based appointment of Prof. Dr. Tariq Banuri as chairman Higher Education Commission is appreciated by all stake holders; hopefully, it may be proved as a first step towards all merit-based appointments in Higher Education sector. The political and bureaucratic elite should reconsider their priorities and atleast spare the Higher Education Sector with funding just below 2.4% of GDP. Primarily, its not the lack of funding, its the malpractices playing the worst devastative role in Higher Education. it is very unfortunate that most of the higher education leadership appointed during the previous government is incompetent and they have destroyed the whole higher education setup.
Although, the actions of CJP got some criticism, the academia, student bodies and civil society at large appreciate the actions taken to avoid further devastation of Higher Education and respected CJP is seen as a savior of Higher Education. During mean time, the political government is busy in appointing and supporting illegalities of such incompetent VCs, the only hope exists in CJP to address the plights of Higher Education in Pakistan and all eyes are on honorable CJP to save the future of nation.
The writer is the elected President of FAPUASA-Islamabad and works as Assistant Professor of Computer Science at International Islamic University Islamabad, Pakistan.