ISLAMABAD - Higher Education Commission’s refusal to pay attention to the orders of the Ministry of Technical Education, calls and memos of the Prime Minister office as well as ministers and parliamentarians and  giving exemptions and stopping grants and questioning performance of  HEJ Centre for Chemistry and other research centres across the country have led to the removal of Dr Tariq Banuri as chairman HEC, The Nation has learnt.

Sources said the former Chairman wanted complete non-interference from the government in the day to day affairs of Higher Education Commission and complete autonomy which was unacceptable to the federal government and PM office.

Education Minister Shafaqat Mehmood, who was strong supporter of Dr Banuri, finally withdrew his support and signed the cabinet summary for the removal of Dr banuri.

Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry was the only minister who opposed his removal on technical grounds in the summary.

Former Chairman HEC Dr Atta Ur Rehman, who is also Chairman PM Task Force on Science and Technology, played a vital role in convincing the PM office in removing Dr Banuri.

When contacted, Dr Banuri strongly defended his actions and performance as HEC chairman and said he revamped the entire higher education sector. He said he was in touch with his legal team for future course of action in response to the government action which terminated his four-year contract.

“I totally revamped the HEC R&D grants system. HEC had hundreds of previously funded projects on its books with no impact and no closure. R&D Department chased PIs and Universities and closed many of these. We streamlined future project streams so only substantive grants were given and peer reviews happened in time,” claimed Dr Banuri.

He said HEC set up disciplinary panels for peer review headed by well-reputed scholars such as Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, Dr Noman ul Haq, Dr Tariq Hassan, Dr Sarosh Lodhi to properly organise peer reviews. So now instead of a bureaucrat pushing your proposal forward and back there is actually a scholar who is likely to be more accomplished than you evaluating proposals and making fund/no-fund decisions in Committee. Everything is recorded and conflict of interests is declared. It has never been like this before at HEC.

When asked about one of the major and most controversial reforms that HEC did (which was initiated by Dr Arshad Ali), he said it was to introduce a scientific journal ranking system. By doing so, HEC found majority of local Pakistani journals on the basis of which people got promotions that were crappy and HEC later de-notified them. 

“This created hue and cry because people had got published these crappy articles in the hope of counting towards promotion and now they were gone. This is something that even we were very hesitant in introducing (we had suggested that this be introduced from a future date) but Tariq put his foot down and insisted that we can count crappy articles towards promotions - not today, not tomorrow! A major and much needed reform”, Dr Banuri remarked.

When asked why HEC brought massive changes in HEC research system, he justified it by saying that it was revamped to make its research funding more responsive to national needs.

“Two new grants systems have been added: The Local Challenge Fund and the Grand Challenge Fund - both geared towards solving national problems. We’ve had issues in getting results but these are major changes and will require a shift in thinking and culture of academia,” he said

On the ORIC policy, he said HEC has also revamped and gotten approved from the Commission, the new ORIC policy aimed at making them more performance oriented and accountable.

“Now you can’t appoint a part-time professor to become ORIC head anymore. You need to have somebody with commercial experience and working full-time. ORICs are also now required to make public IP disclosures and licence IP to industry. A major reform of the system created under Sohail Naqvi that wasn’t working,” he said.

When asked about stopping the funding to various research centres, he said HEC funds about 50 or so Research Centers across the higher education systems (these have been created at various times as Centers of Excellence, Regional Study Centers, Centers for Advanced Studies, International Centers, and National Centers). Most of these Centers are just in the name only and do not carry out any research (people get salaries and hold positions and go about their lives).

Former Chairman HEC Dr Atta ur Rehman also gave his version and claimed that HEC was at the brink of collapse due to massive wrongdoings committed by Dr Tariq Banuri.

“There are thousands of overseas scholarships for PhD studies that are parked at HEC without progress. These were funded through PSDP and they can make a huge difference if utilised for sending our brightest students to top universities. It is not in the interest of certain negative forces controlling HEC that our students should be trained abroad. So these scholarships have not been utilised for last three years,” Dr Atta claimed.

He also said there were about a thousand post-doctoral fellowships approved through PSDP funding, but only 20 faculty members could be given this.

“My Center (International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences at University of Karachi) is the only center in this region to be chosen as UNESCO Center of Excellence, WHO Center of Excellence, TWAS (Italy) Center of Excellence and its financial autonomy is guaranteed through agreements between the government of Pakistan with UNESCO. Tariq Banuri tried to merge its budget with that of the Karachi University which was illegal. So he was stopped by the Ministry of Education,” Dr Atta said.

When asked to comment on the statement claimed to be from Syed Babar Ali, addressed to Federal Minister Shafqat Mahmood, is circulating with comments about him, Dr Atta ur Rehman said his only response is the story of his life at a glance with key achievements and international recognition which are public.