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Higher Education Commission: Elusive decisions

Written by The Frontier Post

Dr. Shaukat Ali Khattak

Evolved from University Grants Commission (UGC), in 2002, by its founder Chairman, Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, a leading and a well-known organic chemist, Higher Education Commission (HEC) had garnered, understandably, a widespread reverence in the following years of its inception as it established many new Universities across the country and Excellence and Research Centers in the existed Universities, and sent thousands of students to the developed world for higher education.

In order to lure reputed researchers from abroad into the country, they were rightly offered by the commission high salaries as well as funded reasonably for establishment of research labs. While looking into the hindsight, it can be inferred that these moves were, unarguably, the right and much-awaited things to do: the number of Universities mushroomed and the Pakistani researchers got on with academic collaborations with research groups of international repute. 

Likewise, to deter the brain drain, university professors were offered to join a new service structure, known as Tenure Track System (TTS), ostensibly taken from the United States, with increased salaries. As per figures revealed in a recent live session of the Chairman of HEC, Dr. Tariq Banuri, there are 50,000 academic staff members across the public-sector universities of the country, out of which 15000 hold PhD degrees while one fifth of them, i.e., 3000 among the 15000, have joined the TTS, where their performance is evaluated after three and six years each, in addition to annual assessment, before getting tenureship/promotion: A Departmental Technical Review Committee (DTRC) assesses the performance, for a given period, of a TTS faculty such as his/her research papers, supervision of postgraduate students, conduction of and participation in conferences, review of research articles requested by the journals, review and conduction of thesis and defense/viva of research students, respectively, authorship of books or books’ chapter(s) and earning and completion of the research projects.

After evaluation by the DTRC after six years, the case of a faculty is sent to Technical Review Panel (TRP), comprising renowned subject experts of the developed countries, where members of the panel generate reports regarding the candidate and establish their adequacy for tenureship and promotion. Findings of both DTRC and TRP are forwarded to a Scrutiny Committee and Selection Board where the candidate is once again, respectively, scrutinized and recommended, followed by approval by Syndicate, an apex statutory body of a University. But the procedure doesn’t end here: Recommendations of the DTRC, TRP and Selection Board as well as approval of the Syndicate are sent to HEC for endorsement.

As found by a recent survey conducted by a committee constituted by HEC, the TTS structure has led to an increased number of research publications, students’ supervision and an enhanced research environment, in its entirety.

Despite facing a tough scrutiny mentioned above as well as the significant contribution it makes, the TTS faculty has been deprived of its basic rights such as job security, pension and increase in salary: the latter hasn’t occurred for the last five years. It is pertinent to mention that the salary of TTS has been revised only twice since its inception, i.e., in 2011 and 2015.

The Federation of All Pakistan University Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) and the All Pakistan Tenure Track Faculty Association (APTTA), a representative body of TTS faculty across Pakistan, have voiced for these rights on various occasions and HEC officials, on principle, declared these demands genuine and legitimate. The demands have been part of the agenda of 36th meeting of the HEC, held on June 13, 2020, and have been reportedly deliberated upon, at length. The Chairman of HEC stated, publicly and unequivocally, after a few weeks following the meeting that the increase in salaries has been approved and the notifications will be issued shortly. But to the surprise of the faculty, instead of communicating the decision of the 36th meeting in the form of notification letters, another meeting, 37th, took place on September 12, 2020, where the items have been again on the agenda.

Since it has taken longer to make the minutes of the last meeting public and there is no clue in the foresight how long will it take further as the matter has been lingering on, while driven by unknown reasons, the TTS faculty has rightly lost its patience and, hence, its representative body, APTTA, announced a protest for its long-awaited and due rights in the front of HEC on October 12, 2020. The protest would mean that the deprived faculty will abandon all its teaching and research activities that would obviously disrupt and jeopardize a conducive environment, essential for the learning and knowledge creation. One can wish that it may not happen if HEC released minutes of the meeting and issued the notification letters before the date of the protest. Let’s hope for the best and prevalence of sanity.

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The Frontier Post

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