Poltical interference in universities | HEC funding

Public university chancellors and everything in between
Karachi, Feb 10: Academics, students and members of civil society are concerned about political interference in university affairs from the offices of the President, federal education ministers, governors and provincial education ministers, who serve as Chancellors and Pro Chancellors respectively of federal and provincial public sector universities.

Stakeholders of the higher education sector are concerned that the continuous interference of politicians in university affairs is corroding educational standards. It has been observed that secretaries in the Governor House pressure universities to appoint their candidates at open positions, admit students without the merit and sometimes even alter results as happened in Final Professional MBBS examinations a couple of years ago.

Vice Chancellor of the University of Karachi (KU) Prof. Pirzada Qasim said: "There is no doubt that the post of Chancellors and Pro Chancellors should be given to the senior academics or highly educated members of civil society that are familiar with the intricacies of higher education. It was a general trend in undivided India to appoint retired Justices of Supreme Court as the Chancellors of the universities. The same practice is still in vogue in India and other countries from the Western Europe and North America. In my opinion such person should have character and be devoted to education and be highly educated."

Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology (FUUAST) Vice Chancellor Dr Muhammad Qaisar thought that the government officials could do more with the university if they wanted to. "I think it is not a bad idea. We are a Federal University and the President is our Chancellor while the Federal Education Minister is the Pro Chancellor. If we want some monetary help from the government, it could be done in no time if President heeds our request. An academic, whatever his educational excellence, might not be as effective in acquiring financial aid from the government."

A senior Faculty Member at KU, who has a PhD from an American university, openly gave her opinions in this regard. "It is unfortunate that some one who does not have the academic credentials becomes a chancellor while the Vice Chancellors and other senior faculty members have to be his subordinate. It is a situation that often embarrasses me. Recently I saw a Vice Chancellor with an academic pedigree of more than 40 years standing in the presence of Federal Education Minister during the convocation. It is shameful."

Another senior faculty member from the Arts faculty reminded that Higher Education Commission (HEC), thankfully, had the regulation that its Chairman would be a PhD and that is why Shahnaz Vazir Ali, a non-PhD, is an acting Chairperson of HEC until the newly appointed Chairperson Dr Shirin Tahirkheli comes from the US to take charge. "Look at it this way", the Professor said, "The requirements for the VC of a university include the ability to command respect from colleagues and students, managerial qualities and an impeccable academic background. However, there are no requirements for a Chancellor. They are political appointees. I remember a Chancellor, member of a prominent family of Sindh, who had no respect for teachers. The person had no any other qualification than being a blue-eyed boy from a family that has clout in Sindh and whole of Pakistan".

A senior professor in NED University of Engineering & Technology agreed that the practice was highly objectionable and a matter of concern but it was the way in Pakistan. "The Vice Chancellors at public sector universities have become non-entities. They are neither respected by their seniors (chancellors) nor by the staff under them. It is a very thankless job. It is the result of government clout in the affairs of the university. I had a personal encounter with the Governor Sindh Dr Ishratul Ebad who was very respectful to me. But that is rare, in most cases chancellors have no respect for the teachers". The same Professor said about a retired Major from the Governor House who is dictating the administration of many public universities. The News

VCs ask govt not to cut HEC funding
Islamabad: A meeting of the vice-chancellors' committee held here on Monday called upon the government not to stop the steep trajectory of development varsities were put on during the last five years.

The meeting was held to seek suggestions from the heads of varsities to devise a resolution on the issue.

The meeting brought together about sixty vice-chancellors of public sector varsities from all over the country.

Due to the huge budgetary cuts, only 30 per cent of the allocated funds were released to Higher Education Commission (HEC) in the last quarter. The reductions resulted in withdrawal of as many as 85 projects initiated by the HEC. The commission was also deprived of more allocations for foreign scholarships.

About 500 scholars who were selected for scholarships in the current year could not be sent abroad due to the financial constraints, while those already sent abroad were also facing financial hardships.

The participants were unanimous in their opinion that if not given due importance, the situation could lead to devastating consequences including lawlessness on the campuses.

They said the drastic cuts could also affect the quality of education being imparted at the public varsities as it was affecting various projects initiated by the varsities.

They feared that if treated like public schools, the varsities too will soon lose status among the public.

They also felt the need for a strong political will on part of the government to deal with the issue on a priority basis. The level of commitment shown by the government at present is very low and there is a need for rethinking as setting the priorities was concerned, they noted.

"The government has not taken any step to improve the situation rather is depending on mere slogans and good will gestures to run the affairs," remarked one of the participants.

The committee after a thorough discussion passed a resolution demanding priority for higher education in particular inclusion of education as the first item in the national budget, increase in education budget in line with norms in the world especially in the regional countries. Dawn

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40pc cut in HEC budget on cards
Islamabad: Against the orders of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani who directed the Finance Ministry to sustain the recurring budget of the Higher Education Commission up to Rs23 billion the cabinet has approved 30pc to 40pc budget cut in real terms annually for the next three years.

The cabinet has approved a three-year budgetary framework for HEC in which the recurring budgets will be increased only by 10 per cent, 8 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.

With an annual inflation of 23.5 per cent and rupee depreciation against the dollar by 20-30 per cent, this will mean a decrease in operating budgets of at least 40 per cent annually, a sure way to kill all the good work done in the last 6 years.

On May 12, 2008 Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani had directed the restoration of a cut of Rs 5 billion made in the recurring grant of the financial year of 2007-08 for universities and sustain the recurring budget requirement of Rs. 23 billion for the financial year 2008-09.

The current total operating budget of all 60 public sector universities taken together amounts to a paltry Rs18 billion which works out to Rs300 million per university per year that is only US$ 3.7 million per university per year.

The cabinet decision to cut university budgets in real terms by 30 to 40 per cent annually for the next three years therefore come as a huge shock.

"There seems to be a conspiracy cooking up to downgrade the already very weak higher education sector. How can one think of improvement in the affairs of the HEC in spite of the fact that there has been no increase in the budget and the universities have no amount to give 20 per cent raise to the employees in the salaries announced by the government," said one of the officials of the commission.

Moreover the future of the 4,000 scholars sent abroad for Ph.D. is at stake. The government has been spending about Rs9 million on each student making it around Rs36 billion on the total 4,000 students.

The commission needs Rs8 billion to Rs10 billion extra to absorb all these students to provide them research facilities and equipment and Rs4 billion for their salaries as they all will be back with in three years.

Babar calls for proper study of HEC law varsity project
Islamabad: Establishment of law university with its campuses at different cities of the country, is unique and wonderful idea but there is a need for comprehensive and revised study of the project to make the university one of the best in the region.

Federal Minister for Preliminary Affairs Dr Babar Awan said this while chairing a meeting regarding launch of the National Law University at HEC Headquarters Friday. He stressed that input of professional lawyers and experts should be there to bring the university at par with international standards.
The university should be market-oriented and degree-holders of the university should be assured for their jobs.

He suggested that an independent survey of existing public and private law colleges should be conducted to get know-how of their curriculum as well as market trends.

He assured all his assistance and cooperation for getting the charter of the university approved from the Parliament.

Dr Awan said that besides other theoretical components, the focus on the ethics law should be given priority.

Begum Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Adviser to Prime Minister and Chairperson HEC welcomed Dr Awan and said that his guidelines and cooperation would be of immense value for the HEC particularly in the establishment of the law university.

She also suggested that the modern courses should be included in the curriculum like economic law, e-crime, environmental law and aviation law. She further suggested that public-private partnership would be an added advantage for establishment of the university as well as quality assurance.

Dr Sohail H Naqvi, Executive Director HEC briefed the federal minister about the ongoing programmes of the HEC including scarcity of funds faced by the commission in the prevailing financial crunch across the country.

As many as 18 HEC scholars, who have completed their LLM studies abroad, are awaiting launch of the university for their services. In this regard, a huge amount has already been spent on the infrastructure of the university but due to financial restraints, all the development works have come to a halt. The Nation

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