Compromising the autonomy of Universities in Punjab may harm higher education: VCs

Call for massive changes in draft Punjab Public Sector Universities Amendment Act 2020

ISLAMABAD: The draft ‘Punjab Public Sector Universities Amendment Act 2020’ undermines the autonomy of the Universities by allowing the appointment of the retired bureaucrats and judges as chairpersons of the syndicates of the universities depriving the vice-chancellors and teachers of their right.

Speaking at a webinar on ‘The Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions in Pakistan’ organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Saturday, the senior academicians including the vice-chancellors of various unive rsities 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.

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 Vice-Chancellors of the Universities in Punjab, they should be given autonomy to appoint their teams including Deans, Chairpersons of Departments and centers, pro vice-chance llors 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.

Dr Fateh Mari, Executive Director, Higher Education Commission (HEC), Islamabad, 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 hav e 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.

Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Executive Director, SDPI, 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. &nbsp ;   

Dr Syed Muhammad Ali, Vice-Chancellor, Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) 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, appoint ing someone else than the VC as Chair of the syndicate will hugely undermine the administrative and intellectual freedom of the VC.

 Dr Shahid Siddiqui, Dean Social Sciences, National University of Modern Languages (NUML), 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. “The positive sign, however, is the resistance that is coming from academia and civil society.” He said that enabling environment is a prerequisite to ensure quality education.

 Dr Rukhsana David, Principal, Kinnaird College University, Lahore, said that 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. 

Dr Iqrar A. Kahn, Former Vice-Chancellor, Agriculture University, Faisalabad, 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. He said that we may amend the act with a view to improving the governance of our higher educational institutions with accountability but not by compromising their autonomy. If a VC is not empowered to choose her/his team, how can she/he be held responsible for not delivering?

Dr Naseer Pasha, Vice Chancellor, University of Education, said that the vice-chancellors of the universities are major stakeholders that haven’t been consulted before the preparation of the said draft. He said that it would be important for the government to get a vibe of real issues that the universities are facing at the moment.  

Dr Uzma Qureshi, Vice Chancellor, Women University, Multan, said that 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. 

Dr A thar Mehboob, Vice Chancellor, Islamia University Bahawalpur, was of the view that the proposed draft is just a reflection of the institutional decay we are witnessing at every level in our country. He said that the universities are given autonomy world over as they are expected to serve a greater cause of the society.