Controversy surrounds changes in criteria for hiring VCs of three universities

Updated November 13, 2019

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The government move to change the selection criteria for appointment of vice chancellors at three public sector universities and appointing an acting vice chancellor at a Sukkur university yet to start functioning has stirred controversy, it emerged on Tuesday. — Creative Commons/File
The government move to change the selection criteria for appointment of vice chancellors at three public sector universities and appointing an acting vice chancellor at a Sukkur university yet to start functioning has stirred controversy, it emerged on Tuesday. — Creative Commons/File

KARACHI: The government move to change the selection criteria for appointment of vice chancellors at three public sector universities and appointing an acting vice chancellor at a Sukkur university yet to start functioning has stirred controversy, it emerged on Tuesday.

Describing the changes in the selection criteria as an attempt to appoint handpicked individuals, representatives of teachers have condemned the step.

According to sources, the government initially advertised the vacant post of a vice chancellor at Karachi University, and later advertised the same position for two other universities; Shaikh Ayaz University, Shikarpur and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University, Shaheed Benazirabad in February and June this year, respectively.

This was followed by a corrigendum in which the criteria relating to experience, research work and age was changed.

The corrigendum published last month reduced the number of research publications required for the post of vice chancellor from 25 to 15 and changed the experience criteria for the position.

Teachers question appointment of a relative of Sindh HEC chief as VC of an under-construction university

“Twenty years’ experience in academic positions of which a minimum of 10 years experience in senior administrative positions.

“Age on closing date of application (October 31) must not be above 65 years instead of 62 years,” the corrigendum says.

The earlier advertisements, however, had asked for 20 years’ experience in teaching/academic positions with substantial experience of working in senior/administrative positions.

Sources said the changes made in the selection criteria eight months after the publication of the first advertisement in February this year indicated that the candidates, who initially applied for the post, apparently “didn’t meet the requirements the government was looking for” and the criteria was amended to “favour” certain candidates.

Another important development, the sources said, was the appointment of an acting vice chancellor at the Begum Nusrat Bhutto Women’s University in Sukkur, currently in the construction phase.

This appointment, the sources said, was being criticised on multiple grounds, including the fact that the appointee was a member of the Sindh Higher Education Commission and a family member of the incumbent chairman of the commission.

Case of nepotism

“How could the government appoint an acting vice chancellor of a university yet to start functioning and that, too, a person who is a family member of chairman [of the] Sindh HEC?” questioned a Sindh University teacher, adding that it’s a clear case of nepotism.

Speaking to Dawn on condition of anonymity, teachers said the rules and regulations required that the post of acting vice chancellor was offered to a senior faculty member within the university.

Teachers also raised concerns over the state of affairs of some other public sector universities and said they were facing serious administrative issues only because the government either ignored seniority or merit in appointment of VCs.

They also criticised the government strategy of opening new universities despite the fact that it faced serious funding constraints and was unable to meet financial needs of existing universities.

Sharing his concerns, Dr Nek Mohammad Sheikh representing the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (Fapuasa) said the association had condemned the changes made in the advertisements for appointment of vice chancellors.

“We also spoke against the appointment of Dr Samreen Hussain as the acting vice chancellor of the under-construction university in Sukkur when we met secretary of the boards and universities recently. He, however, had no logical explanation to defend the government actions,” he said, adding that the changes in the advertisement seemed to have been made under some pressures and to adjust “certain people”.

Criticising the changes in the selection criteria, Dr Arfana Mallah representing the Sindh University Teachers Association (Suta) was of the opinion that the government lacked the political will to make decisions on merit.

“They will find one way or the other to favour a candidate if they don’t want to make appointments on merit,” she remarked.

She also referred to the deteriorating state of affairs at Sindh University and said this situation could have been avoided if the government had ensured that the appointee for the post of vice chancellor had no inquiry pending against him.

Changes in selection criteria defended

Universities and Boards Secretary Mohammad Riazuddin, however, defended the changes in the selection criteria and said: “This was done on the recommendation of the selection committee [tasked by the government to shortlist candidates and recommend appropriate candidates for the post].

“The candidates who applied earlier didn’t meet the requirements as the department was looking for a candidate with extensive administrative experience,” he said.

The amended criteria were also now according to the HEC’s requirements, he argued.

About the university being established in Sukkur, he said: “Right now, it’s [a] nascent university with no faculty and students [hence it doesn’t really matter who is appointed]. Besides, Dr Samreen Hussain has been appointed on the recommendation of the chief minister.”

To another question, he said: “I can’t really comment on the relationship she might have with the HEC chairman because this is their personal matter.”

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2019