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July 1, 2020

‘Autonomy, academic freedom at all costs’

National

July 1, 2020

Islamabad: Dr Syed Muhammad Ali Shah, Vice-Chancellor, Quaid-i-Azam University has said that any amendment like proposed Punjab Public-Sector Universities Amendment Act 2020 that undermines the autonomy of the universities would render the universities completely ungovernable.

Dr Shah was addressing a webinar on “The Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions in Pakistan” organised here by Sustainable Development Policy Institute. The Punjab government has proposed an amendment allowing the appointment of retired bureaucrats and judges as chairpersons of the syndicates of the universities in Punjab hitherto headed by respective VCs,

The QAU VC said that any amendment in existing law should aim at bringing some improvement in the system. 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, appointing someone else than the VC as chair of the syndicate will hugely undermine the administrative and intellectual freedom of the universities.

Dr Fateh Mari, Executive Director, Higher Education Commission, was of the view that any kind of law-making requires a wider debate among the stakeholders before a formal draft is finalised. Besides, he said, the draft should come in the public domain for a consultative process. “We have 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.

Earlier, Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Executive Director, SDPI, presented an overview of the situation that emerged after surfacing of the proposed draft. He said any such effort if allowed to get materialised 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 highlighting crucial issues.

Dr Shahid Siddiqui, Dean Social Sciences, National University of Modern Languages, termed it quite unfortunate that even the institutions of higher education are dragged into politics of power. The positive sign, however, is the resistance that is coming from academia and civil society, he said adding that enabling environment is a pre-requisite 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 Rana, former Vice-Chancellor, Agriculture University, Faisalabad, said that the presence of a powerful vice-chancellor is imperative to expect him/her to deliver. If a VC is not empowered to choose her/his team, how can she/he be held responsible for not delivering, he asked.

Dr Naseer Pasha, Vice Chancellor, University of Education, said that the VCs are major stakeholders that have not been consulted before the preparation of the said draft. Dr Uzma Qureshi, Vice-Chancellor, Women University, Multan, said that the insinuations of higher education need more autonomy rather than comprising whatever is available. Dr Athar 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.