ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Monday appointed educationist Dr Tariq Banuri chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

Mr Banuri is a former professor at the University of Utah and holds a PhD in economics from Harvard University. He completed his masters in development economics from Williams College after finishing his bachelors in Civil Engineering from the University of Peshawar.

He has authorized 20 books and 30 research papers, and was at the top of the list of four candidates who had been selected by a committee for the post.

His name was followed by Dr Mukhtar – former vice chancellor of Islamia University, Dr Iqbal Chaudhry and Anwarul Hasan Gilani. The committee shortlisted the candidates after interviewing over 90 people.

“Today, the prime minister approved the name of Dr Banuri as HEC chairman,” Education Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani told a group of parliamentarians before a meeting of the standing committee on education that could not be held due to a shortage of quorum.

He said the ministry would issue a notification in this regard as soon as possible.

Minister for Education Balighur Rehman, who was also present, said: “I guess the name of Dr Banuri was at the top of the list.”

The new chairman will face many challenges when it comes to improving higher education in the country.

The last chairman, Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, completed his term on April 14. He has left behind a mix of successes and failures. Funding for the HEC saw significant improvement in his tenure, and he took some steps to improve the quality of education in universities.

At the same time, his tenure left much to be desired. The new chairman must attend to restoring the HEC’s role as a supportive and facilitative body, while the 18-member commission has been ineffective and dysfunctional for the last two years.

A good working relationship with provincial governments and higher education commissions, bringing ad-hocism to an end in the commission and ensuring quality teaching and research at universities should also be among the chairman’s top priorities.

Only two Pakistani universities are ranked among the top 500 in the world, and the quality of education has also become a matter of growing concern, with many educationists claiming that universities have been focused on the number of students instead of the quality of students.

“Could you imagine, here in our country, there are hundreds of jobless PhD holders, who could be seen protesting sometimes outside the HEC and press club,” said an education ministry official who asked not to be named.

Education experts have said the quality of education at universities needs to be checked, as in many cases teachers are working on administrative posts and compromising on academic activities.

The over 150 unregistered educational institutions – whose details are available on the HEC website – are also a challenge for the new HEC chairman, as is grouping within HEC employees.

The appointment of Dr Banuri has been hailed by the education sector. In a statement, the Inter-University Consortium National Coordination Murtaza Noor, Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association Central President Dr Kaleemullah and others welcomed the decision for ensuring a merit-based appointment.

They also praised the search committee for making a transparent decision despite pressure from various corners.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2018