ISLAMABAD: Pakistan chairs in 14 universities abroad have been vacant for several years, but the concerned authorities appear uninterested in filling them.

There are Pakistan chairs at universities in Germany, Egypt, Turkey, the United Kingdom and China. Sources said that these chairs have been empty for six to 10 years.

In comparison, India has more than 300 chairs at international institutions and all of them are filled.

When the PTI government took over, Minister for Federal Education Shafqat Mehmood had said that six of these chairs would be filled.

Mr Mahmood was reportedlyinvolved in the process and keen to make the appointments; he interviewed 31 shortlisted candidates, but after five candidates were finalised in July 2019 their formal appointments were not made.

Some officials in the education sector have questioned the delay, but Mr Mahmood told Dawn that the process would be finalised soon and candidates have been finalised already.

Govt’s move to fill six vacant chairs virtually at a halt since last summer

Discussing the delay, he said: “Since the chairs unfortunately remained unfilled for years, we were not sure whether they still exist or not... We received an unconfirmed report that Columbia University has abolished our chair, so we have involved the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get the up-to-date status.”

He said the foreign affairs ministry is looking into the status and will update the education ministry.

Sources said that scholars selected for the five chairs are Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash, Dr Saad S. Khan, Dr Razia Sultan, Dr Syed Hussain Shaheed Soherwordiand Dr Syed Qandil Abbas.

They said that after each scholar was cleared by security establishments against the chair concerned, the education ministry collected their Higher Education Commission-attested testimonials. But since then, the process has come to a virtual halt.

“The present government appointed a large number of ambassadors and consul generals in a short period of time. Likewise, the number of trade ministers, commercial counsellors and military attachés were appointed, but the years-long delay in the appointment of Pakistani scholars on chairs abroad is reflective of the previous government and PTI government’s priorities,” a faculty member at a public sector university said.

The Pakistan chairs were advertised twice during the tenure of the last PML-N government, in 2015 and in 2017. The 2015 selections were set aside by the government on complaints of favouritism and the chairs were advertised again two years later.

A high-powered selection board made new recommendations that were approved by then prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi 10 days before the government’s tenure ended.

These were shelved by the PTI government when it took over and the process began anew, with the chairs reduced from 14 to six.

Dr Syed Wiqar Ali Shah, an academic who served on the Allama Iqbal Chair at the University of Heidelberg from 2009 to 2014 said it was unfortunate that these chairs were vacant.

He said India has around 300 chairs at foreign universities, where Indian scholars play effective roles.

Dr Shah said that the appointed scholars act as academic ambassadors for their countries, adding: “The academic ambassador plays a key role in making links with the top think tanks in the host country, while keeping in close contact with overseas Pakistanis.”

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2020

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