Higher education and universities

The efficacy of a system depends on accountability, transparency, enforcement of law and policies

Syed Akhtar Ali Shah July 01, 2020
The writer is a former secretary to the Home and Tribal Affairs Department and a retired IG. He holds a PhD in Political Science. He currently heads a think tank, Good Governance Forum, and can be reached at aashah7@yahoo.com

Last week’s article that focused on a critical appraisal of higher education received a tremendous response from a broad cross-section of society besides members of academia. Commentators seemed to agree that the quality of education had deteriorated to a pathetic level. In this week’s article, I will take up other issues for appraisal.

Universities are established as autonomous statutory bodies so that they can act independently, efficiently and effectively. However, transparency and accountability are also the essentials of good governance. The preamble of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa University Act 2012 postulates to reconstitute and reorganise universities and their governance and management by ensuring accountability, transparency and giving due representation to all stakeholders in decision making, to enhance the quality of higher education. In this context I will take a university of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) as a case study.

The case study university boasts of “Quest for Excellence” as its vision, making it imperative to set a strategy for achieving the vision in the process of admission criterion, matters of recruitment and promotion, careful use of funds, adhering to mandatory provisions of law and rules and ruthlessly acting against forgery, cheating and fraud in issuance of degrees and Detail Marks Certificates (DMCs). The irony is that in most departments, composition of the the board of studies did not fulfil the mandatory statutory requirements as those were without regular faculty. Urdu, psychology, biotechnology, botany, tourism and hotel management, computer science and management sciences are some examples. Without the required faculty for launching of departments and starting BS programmes, the university had also launched MS/MPhil programmes in departments where the majority of the faculty were on visiting terms. The university did not pay any heed to the instructions of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and launched MS/MPhil and PhD programmes without fulfilling the mandatory standards and obtaining NOC from the HEC. In many cases well connected candidates whose results of dissertations were not declared were allowed to appear in the admission test to facilitate their entry.

Sometime back the scandal of issuance of fake degrees and DMCs made headlines in the media. The syndicate of the university took cognisance of the scandal and appointed an inquiry committee. The inquiry was however hushed up. The chancellor (governor of K-P) of the university ultimately taking cognisance three years ago thundered that he would not spare anyone. He referred the matter to the Governor’s Inspection Team. The Inspection Team in its findings held guilty scores of employees including the treasurer, for having obtained office on the basis of a BBA degree issued by a fake Orient University. The process of accountability was further delayed as the chancellor, instead of taking action against the responsible officials, referred the matter to the FIA. Now ping pong is being played between the university and the FIA in the form of letters. The FIA officials were found to be so naïve that they accepted the reply of the university that the matter was with the NAB. Although, NAB had not asked the FIA to transfer the case to them, the FIA on their own sat on the inquiry. This is how accountability is being done.

The efficacy of a system depends on ruthless accountability, transparency, enforcement of law and policies. But, in the case of universities, the decisions of the syndicate, Senate and chancellor are being floated with impunity. The University Act categorically specifies that administrative positions, such as registrar, treasurer, controller of examinations, auditor and other key positions should be on a regular basis and bars appointment of teachers on these positions. The findings of the Governor’s Inspection Team into the affairs of the university highlighted the violation of the statutory provisions in respect of appointments, budget and manipulation of minutes three years ago whereupon the chancellor, with the approval of the Senate, ordered the vice chancellor to be sent on forced leave during the course of inquiry. However, the High Court stayed the order on a writ petition filed by the VC. The stay order did not, however, forbid a formal inquiry. The abuse of the process of law can be gauged from the fact that the VC completed his tenure on the strength of that stay order. After the expiry of his tenure the VC withdrew the writ petition which was never conclusively disposed of on merit. However, the order of the chancellor still holds good and the question remains what would happen to the accountability of the former VC and legality of decisions made by him during his tenure.

In another instance, one official, holding three positions as a member of a subcommittee, altered the qualifications to his own favour and after relaxation paved his own way to be appointed as the treasurer despite adverse observations made by the members of the syndicate. Severe anomalies had also been also observed in the 8th and 9th Selection Board in terms of eligibility, scrutiny, preparation of merit list, concealing facts about the merit list before the selection board in violating of the statutes. Although the issues were brought in subsequent meetings of the syndicate, appointment letters were issued by the university administration.

The upshot of the case study is that although the University Act 2012 and law and procedure under the the Act pronounce accountability, no regard is ever shown to such provisions. Barring few exceptions, the VCs, instead of making use of the autonomy in an efficient manner within the legal framework, have unfortunately turned universities into personal fiefdoms. This does not augur well for the future of higher education in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2020.

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