Universities under dark shadows

Higher education in the province of K-P is in a precarious state

Dr Syed Akhtar Ali Shah September 22, 2021
The writer is a practising lawyer. He holds PHD in Political Science and heads a think-tank ‘Good Governance Forum’. He can be reached at [email protected]

In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the seats of higher education are under dark shadows. The Governor as a Chancellor of the universities believes that most of the Vice-Chancellors (VCs) are inept and corrupt. According to reports, promoting a ‘word of mouth’ version of public conversation and bashing VCs in public and private has become his favourite pastime. The VCs, as strategic managers of universities, have the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.

Consequently, universities are experiencing uncertainty and a doubtful future. Universities equip students with knowledge and skills to perform better in society. They allow students to explore their creativity and passions through innovation, learning and inventions. Considering universities are often labelled engines of change, they require a free environment without administrative coercion. Ideas and creativity only flourish in an environment geared by freedom of thought and dialogue. It leads to development and progress.

The University Act of 2012 gave universities autonomy to function efficiently and effectively. The Act invited all the stakeholders to participate in the decisionmaking process with the objective of enhancing the quality of higher education. In addition, it included the enforcement of a system to regulate the university curriculum. Within this autonomous system, the VC holds most of the responsibility and implements the values they wish to inculcate in the student body.

Under the same Act, the VCs have been designated the positions of Chief Executive and Principal Accounting Officer of the universities. The VC is responsible for all administrative, academic and financial tasks of the university. The lawmakers understand that, like big organisations, universities also experience emergencies and urgencies. Therefore, the VC has been given vast administrative powers to deal with different emergencies. The law gives VCs the power to undertake a range of actions to ensure the smooth functioning of the universities.

To ensure the provision of quality education, the VC attributes different tasks and responsibilities to the administrative staff and teaching faculty. In addition, the VC will need to ensure that the university budget is appropriately allocated to different departments and branches. To improve the allocation of funds, teaching staff should be employed on a contract basis. There should be more temporary positions that last for a year. The VC will be required to fill in teaching positions for a short period to prioritise different interests of the university. The authority and power given to the VC are not unbridled, they are regularly reviewed by supervising bodies such as Syndicate and Senate. Under the University Act 2012, like the VC, the chancellor is one of the officers of the university. Therefore, the chancellor must conform to the Act and enact policies accordingly.

The chancellor can refer proceedings to the Senate if he feels that university affairs are being mismanaged, directing those proceedings should be reconsidered within a month. In case if the reconsideration fails or the chancellor is dissatisfied with it, he can call upon the Senate to show cause why proceedings should not be annulled. Under section 20, any matters concerning any authority can be referred to the Senate. Even though the chancellor has the authority to conduct an inquiry under section 21, the report must be referred to the Senate. The Act provides an inbuilt mechanism of checks and balances over the VC and other bodies. If different actions are not in conformity with the law or policy, the chancellor can call a meeting of the Senate to seek an explanation from the VC.

Unfortunately, the chancellor refers the smallest of matters for inquiry. This questions the authority of the reputable institute of the VC and upsets the entire system envisioned by the Act. Universities have lost their autonomy to these mechanisms. The VCs refrain from making any decisions at all to avoid further humiliation at the hands of the chancellor. Therefore, higher education in the province of K-P is in a precarious state. To rectify this, the institution of VC needs to be strengthened. Leaders of the universities must be allowed to exercise their powers freely within the framework of the Act.

In case of any alleged or suspected violations, the VC’s orders should be annulled through the mechanism provided by the Act. Only the regulatory bodies such as Syndicate and the Senate should deal with these issues. Other bodies that are not relevant to the Act should not be involved. Moreover, universities across the world are considered centres of excellence. Therefore, they need affirmative action and patronage of the government of the day to bear expected results


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