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LAHORE: The Higher Education Commission (HEC), Pakistan, has asked Punjab government to also make hiring of vice chancellors of two agriculture varsities a part of the ongoing process for recruiting of heads of four public sector varsities in the light of a recent decision of the Lahore High Court.

A search committee of the Punjab government having representation of the agriculture department is scheduled to interview during next month’s first week as many as 60 candidates, who are in race for the slots to get vacant after completion of the tenures of the VCs of University of Faisalabad and Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University (Rawalpindi) in the same month.

The LHC in its decision of December 1st had set aside the Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) notification of March 3, 2015 regarding constitution of a search committee for the appointment of the VCs of four public sector universities (general)—Punjab University, University of Sargodha, Lahore College for Women University and the Nawaz Sharif Engineering University, Multan.

“The Notification by the Higher Education Department dated March 3, 2015 setting up a Search Committee for the appointment of VCs of public sector varsities offends the clear provisions of the various Statutes relating to those public sector universities and is, therefore, set aside,” reads the LHC verdict. “The search committees shall be reconstituted within a period of one month from the receipt of the order of this court in terms of the observations made herein above,” The verdict also sought the Government of Punjab shall, after the criteria has been settled by the HEC and search committees constituted, initiate fresh process for appointment of VCs for the Public sector varsities in issue.

“We think that the HEC’s role is important in hiring the VCs for all public sector universities, including those falling in the category of agriculture etc. Though the LHC decision was about four general category universities, we think that the same also applies to hiring of the VCs for other varsities too, including these two agriculture varsities,” says Dr Mukhtar Ahmad, HEC Pakistan’s chairman.

Talking to Dawn on Monday, he said the LHC’s decision had raised various legal issues that recognise the role of HEC in process of hiring for the VC slots. “Since we came to know sometimes ago about the ongoing process to hire VCs for these agriculture varsities by a search committee of the provincial government, we sent the LHC’s verdict to the agriculture department. However, it has not yet contacted us in this regard,” the HEC chairman explained.

He said the provincial search committee, which would interview the candidates, was headed by Syed Babar Ali and its members included retired Gen Akram and the agriculture secretary. There was no representation of the HEC in the committee, he said.

According to a senior official, the 60 candidates, who had applied for the two jobs, also include the present VCs of the UAF and PMAS arid varsity—Prof Dr Iqrar Ahmad Khan and Rai Niaz, respectively. “The incumbent VCs—Dr Iqrar and Dr Niaz -- had been appointed by the Chancellor (Punjab governor) in January 2013 for a period of four years. And now their tenure is ending in January, 2017,” the official, who preferred anonymity, added. He said all candidates have been issued interview call letters for January 7 and 8.

Another official, who also wished not to be named, said since the LHC decision was temporarily suspended by a division bench on the government’s appeal, it was still lying pending in the court for a detailed judgment. “Therefore, I am of the view that the government must involve the HEC in the process to hire VC for any public sector university in a qualitative manner. And if the government didn’t do this, it may face the same troublesome situation in future as it faced earlier on December 1 in the form of the LHC verdict,” the official warned.

It may be recalled that the LHC in its decision had also directed the HEC to lay down criteria for the appointment of VCs to the public sector universities by specifying concrete and clear terms. “It would be a preferred mode of undertaking such an exercise that the criteria be set down through rules in terms of Section 21 of the HEC Ordinance, 2002. However, if this is not possible for the HEC to do so, the eligibility criteria ought to be laid down under the current dispensation and the procedure prescribed by the HEC Ordinance, 2002 within a period of one month (starting) from the receipt of the order of this Court,” the verdict reads.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2016