Published Date: Jun 28, 2020
Syndicate chairpersons: Hiring retired bureaucrats, judges may weaken varsities’ autonomy: speakers
The draft ‘Punjab Public Sector Universities Amendment Act 2020’ undermines the autonomy of the universities by allowing the appointment of retired bureaucrats and judges as chairpersons of the syndicates of the universities depriving the vice chancellors and teachers of their right.
This was the crux of a webinar on ‘The Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions in Pakistan’ organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Saturday.
Senior academicians including the VCs of various universities said that the university teachers’ fraternity and the vice chancellors of the universities in Punjab are resisting the draft amendment demanding that the autonomy of the universities and VCs should not be compromised in the interest of higher education in the province.
They observed that compromising the autonomy of universities in Punjab may harm higher education:
Vice chancellors call for massive changes in draft Punjab Public Sector Universities Amendment Act 2020.
The academicians were of the view that the proposed Act has been drafted without taking the stakeholders on board who will not allow compromise on the autonomy of the universities. They were of the view that instead of curtailing the powers of VCs of the universities in Punjab, they should be given autonomy to appoint their teams including deans, chairpersons of departments and centers, pro vice chancellors and the treasures, etc.
The university teachers’ fraternity feels that such an attempt will end intellectual freedom and harm independent academic research once the University syndicates will be headed by retired non-academician bureaucrats and judges and others who do not know what is higher education and academic freedom. This may be a conspiracy to curtail intellectual freedom.
HEC Executive Director Dr Fateh Mari was of the view that any kind of law-making requires a wider debate among the stakeholders before a formal draft is finalized. Besides, he said, the draft should come in the public domain for a consultative process. “We have witnessed amendments in various university acts but the basic framework always remained intact,” he said, adding that the freedom and autonomy are important for quality higher education.
SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri earlier presented an overview of the situation that has been emerged after surfacing of the proposed draft. He said any such effort if allowed to get materialized would have a disastrous impact on the autonomy of the universities. “The civil society and think tanks would lend their complete support to academia to highlight crucial issues.” Dr Suleri said that the collective voices of the stakeholders would be duly shared at the relevant forums.
Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) VC Dr Syed Muhammad Ali and president of the Vice Chancellors of Pakistan, was of the view that any amendment in existing law should be aiming to bring some improvement in the system. However, the proposed draft, if getting implemented, would render the universities completely ungovernable. He said that one cannot expect to achieve the best results regarding higher education without paying higher level esteem to the vice chancellors that are the custodians of these institutions. He said that syndicates of different universities already get benefit from the wisdom of representatives of different walks of life. However, appointing someone else than the VC as Chair of the syndicate will hugely undermine the administrative and intellectual freedom of the VC.
National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Dean (Social Sciences) Dr Shahid Siddiqui termed it quite unfortunate that even the institutions of higher education are dragged into the politics of power. He said that we cannot expect a VC to deliver when s/he is left to face undue and consistent pressure in the name of appraisal twice every year.
Kinnaird College University principal Dr Rukhsana David said when we compare our universities with the institutions of higher education of other countries, we also need to learn about their systems that are based on a higher level of autonomy.
AUF former vice chancellor Dr Iqrar A Kahn was of the view that the governance at universities could be improved further and a serious soul searching is the need of the hour in this regard. However, he said, the presence of a powerful vice chancellor is imperative to expect him/her to deliver.
University of Education VC Dr Naseer Pasha said the vice chancellors of the universities are major stakeholders that haven’t been consulted before the preparation of the said draft. He said it would be important for the government to get a vibe of real issues that the universities are facing at the moment.
Women University Multan VC Dr Uzma Qureshi said the insinuations of higher education needs more autonomy rather than comprising whatever is available. She said that a thorough consultative process is a must to introduce any change if it’s required.