Flux in Universities

Recently, university affairs have been in the news for various reasons. First, the appointment of a regular vice-chancellor (VC) is imperative for good governance. However, many universities have been running without properly appointed VCs. It has been reported in the press that around fifty out of 154 universities across Pakistan, of which 39 universities in Punjab, are performing day-to-day functions without regular vice-chancellors, raising question marks on the efficiency of provincial governments as well as other authorities. The absence of VCs has led to a stagnation of vital administrative and academic matters within the universities, hampering their ability to fulfill their academic missions effectively. This delay in VC appointment is not only detrimental to the universities’ functioning but also undermines the overall educational landscape. Therefore, it is imperative that qualified, professional vice chancellors (VCs) are selected through a transparent, rigorous process against clear, non-ambiguous criteria. Accordingly, anomalies in the selection process need to be removed to promote merit and transparency.

Second, the higher education sector of the country struggles to stay afloat amid a shortage of funds which hampers the hiring of competent and qualified staff. Public sector universities in Pakistan are grappling with financial uncertainty, and VCs and other stakeholders have voiced their alarm over the lack of an increase in the recurring budget for higher education in the budget for the new fiscal year. Of particular concern is the unchanging recurring budget which, according to them, has left universities struggling to manage salary and pension increases.

Third, there is disappointment and despondency among the academia over the affairs of the universities, especially among the younger lot, who have recently completed PhDs and post-doctorates in Western institutions, where they were taught to question and discuss things before drawing conclusions and making decisions. They also learn about inclusivity and pluralism in these institutions, where every decision and policy is formulated and implemented after thorough open debates. These youngsters, with newly infused ideas merged with youthful vigor, come back to join the leading HEIs, ready to impart newly acquired skills and ideas to the new generation. However, while Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, with the backing of President Musharraf, has been credited with policy formulation for sending young, competent graduates abroad for higher studies and establishing the Higher Education Commission (HEC), he could not change the decades-old mindset prevalent in the HEIs which stifle individual thinking, expression of opinions and suggestions for change, and more open discussion about the formulation of policies which affect the campuses.

Moreover, non-professional, lateral entry of personnel into academic institutes did not help the cause of universities, as the lateral entries bring ideas and views that might not work well in the given milieu. Resultantly, in most universities, we have people who are complacently looking towards their last years of service; while the younger lot is leaving in droves for greener pastures abroad because of the obduracy of a few at the top. Resultantly, advertisements have been appearing in the newspapers for the hiring of entire faculties by leading universities. Thus, all the money spent by the federal and provincial HECs on the training of our youth is being wasted at the altar ego of a few in the management; and no key performance indicators exist to monitor the performance of the management of universities.

The recently inducted government has vowed to reverse the brain drain and retain the highly trained and talented workforce for the interests of the country and has accordingly solicited suggestions. Stopping brain drain from universities is surely one place to start from. If all the talented, highly educated, and experienced workforce leaves then who will be imparting education to the younger generation? There are obdurate people who claim that there are others willing to fill up the vacant places. But what is an institution(s) which is in constant flux? What is the future of such an intuition? And how this flux would impact the studies of its students and the reputation of the institution?

Ahsan Munir
The writer is a freelance columnist

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