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June 23, 2019

Prof at Bradford, vice-chancellor at Mardan


June 23, 2019

PESHAWAR: When Professor Dr Muhammad Khurshid Khan was appointed as the vice-chancellor of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan (AWKUM) in August 2017, it was speculated by sections of the media that he belonged to the Niazi tribe from Mianwali and was very close to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan.

As Imran Khan’s party was then in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it was hinted that Dr Khurshid got the prestigious job because he hailed from the same Pakhtun tribe and district to which the PTI founder belonged.

It later turned out that Dr Khurshid belonged to Attock district in Punjab. Though he is an ethnic Pakhtun from the Musazai sub-tribe of Sarkani-Alokazai-Abdali, the dominant language in the area, including his Malakmala village in Chhachh area, is Hindko rather than Pashto. It is true that Dr Khurshid was the first project director of the Namal University in Mianwali founded by Imran Khan and took it from an idea (Knowledge City) to its launch in 2008. However, he was a long-time member of the faculty at the University of Bradford, which was helping Imran Khan, then the university’s international chancellor, to set up the Namal University. Dr Khurshid was appointed vice-chancellor of AWKUM much later in 2017 by an academic and search committee headed by well-known scientist and former federal minister Dr Atta-ur-Rahman. Initially, he was selected as vice-chancellor of University of

Engineering and Technology, Peshawar due to his educational background and experience as he had done BEng in mechanical engineering. However, it didn’t materialize and subsequently he was offered the vice-chancellor’s job at AWKUM after having topped the list of candidates.

During a recent chat with The News, Dr Khurshid remarked that he preferred the job at AWKUM as it was more challenging. He said he had tried to put proper systems in place at the university by following the principles of competence, honesty, integrity and transparency.

When Dr Khurshid took charge, the university was slowly recovering from the shock of the Mashal Khan lynching incident that happened when AWKUM was without a regular vice- chancellor after completion of Dr Ihsan Ali’s term in March

2017. There was a need to improve the battered image of the university and lift the spirits of the demoralized faculty members and students.

Difficult and unpopular decisions had to be taken. More people had been hired than needed. A well-entrenched lobby among the faculty and other employees had to be confronted.

He faced resistance when scrutiny was done and decision taken on the basis of a probe done by the university deans’ committee followed by a re-probe conducted by several syndicate members that surplus employees illegally recruited or hired without merit should be fired.

There was a near consensus that over-employment must be probed as the provincial government, the National Assembly standing committee, the courts and the inquiry report of the Mashal Khan murder incident had all pointed out this issue.

“Nearly 500 employees were sacked. Some 170-180 were contract employees while 271 from grade 11-16 were regular but were illegally hired. Contracts weren’t renewed and those on probation were removed. Those sacked staged protests and went to the court, but we stood our ground as the university would have gone bankrupt considering the high salary bill,” Dr Khurshid explained. “I was blamed for firing poor employees, but my first responsibility is to poor parents who were paying the fee for educating their children at the university. The students’ fee and payments made by affiliated colleges fetch the university 75 percent of our income while the remaining from the Higher Education Commission (HEC),” he explained.

Dr Khurshid noted that the illegal appointments had put an additional burden on the university exchequer and the salary bill had increased to unmanageable level. “We are now saving Rs30 million a month through different cost-cutting ways and have made the university financially viable even though it has certain liabilities. We have met the HEC recommended criteria of having a ratio of two administrative staffers to one faculty member. Earlier, it was 1:4 as four administrative employees were hired compared with one faculty member. The ideal ratio though is 1:1,” he pointed out.

He said the university had recently received Rs1 billion from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to complete under-construction buildings and meet other pressing needs.

Dr Khurshid claimed no new employee has been hired on regular job during his tenure. He said about a dozen security personnel were recruited on short-term contract and certain others were temporarily hired for a particular project. He added that five positions were recently advertised, but these weren’t new jobs and had been vacant for a while. “I don’t entertain any safarish and refused recommendation from one of my close relatives,” he maintained.

Defending his high salary which is more than the vice-chancellors of public sector universities in the province, Dr Khurshid he and another vice-chancellor appointed at the Science and Technology University in Nowshera were give diaspora allowance in addition to the regular pay for giving up good jobs abroad and agreeing to serve in Pakistan. He added that it was a difficult decision for him to leave Bradford where he had lived with his family for years and taught at the university to return to Pakistan. When asked if he will seek extension in his three-year term as vice-chancellor next year, Dr Khurshid said he has no wish to do so.

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