Democratising education in Balochistan

April 24, 2022

New law will ensure merit-based selection of VCs

Democratising education in Balochistan


On April 11, the provincial assembly of Balochistan passed a landmark piece of legislation, the Balochistan Universities Bill 2022, to replace the individual acts passed earlier for nine public sector universities.

The bill has democratised the public sector universities of Balochistan.

Prior to this legislation, the governor, appointed by the federal government, made the key decisions for the universities. Among others, the governor had the power to appoint anyone he pleased as vice-chancellor or pro-vice chancellor of a public sector university. No search committees were required and competitive recruitment was not demanded. It was sometimes alleged that the governors used public sector universities to dispense favours, appointing those close to them or party workers. This arrangement tended to politicise the administration of the universities in Balochistan. Such politicisation undermined the quality of higher education in the province.

The civil society had been campaigning for years for this legislation in order to rectify this fundamental flaw in the higher education sector. The campaign culminated in the drafting of the bill that has now been passed.

Under the new legislation, the arbitrary power of the governor to appoint VCs has been removed. Now, the provincial government will constitute a search committee every time a VC has to be appointed. The committee will be led by an eminent academician and comprise university professors, VCs of other universities and two bureaucrats. This committee will evaluate the applicants, who must meet the basic criterion mentioned in the bill, based on a detailed scorecard also mentioned in the bill. Based on the score obtained by applicants, the committee will send three names to the provincial cabinet that will then select one. The governorwill then appoint the person selected by the cabinet.

The VCs will be appointed for a period of three years only. Their terms will not be extended. They will be allowed to apply for a second term but in doing that will have to go through the same selection process. Previously the VCs were appointed for a term of four years and the governor could extend the term. The BUITEMS, for instance, has had the same VC for 15 years. The new arrangement will require that the serve a fixed tenure and then be replaced. Unlike in the past they cannot continue in the office simply because the governor of the province is satisfied with their performance.

The new legislation has also rationalised the membership of the Senate and the Syndicate of the universities. Previously, there were hundreds of members in these bodies. This made it nearly impossible for them to function well. Pro-VCs will also be appointed through search committees and not the governor’s office.

The legislation is in line with the 18th Amendment which increased provincial autonomy. Previously, the universities were practically under the control of the federal government. Being an unelected official, the governor was not accountable to the people of the province. Hence, the higher education sector was beyond local accountably. Under the new legislation, the provincial cabinet has been empowered whose members are accountable to the people of the province. The provincial government has thus claimed the control of universities in Balochistan.

While many in the civil society are celebrating this legislation, certain groups, including some associations of university employees are opposing it. They are holding protest demonstrations and demanding that the legislation be reversed. It cannot however be denied that the new legislation will make for greater accountability in the universities. Consequently, these groups, which have been beneficiaries of the old system, will lose their influence. It appears that it is in order to protect their own interests that they are opposing this legislation on frivolous grounds. No substantive arguments have so far been made against the new law.

In defence of the new law, MPA Zahoor Buledi, a former minister of higher education, says: “The cabinet, not the CM, is the appointing authority after the recommendations of search committee based on KPIs. In Balochistan, we have a history of coalition [governments] where all parties, areas and ethnicities have representation.” He says the provincial government has already owned the universities through Universities Finance Commission and is providing Rs 2.5 billion a year for them.

When the legislation was sent to the governor’s office for his assent, the governor sent it back with an eight-page objection letter. This can be seen as a case of conflict of interest. On April 19, the assembly again took up the bill and passed it. The governor’s office has no choice now but to assent to the bill that will then become an Act of the assembly.

It is hoped that this legislation will open a new chapter in the higher education sector in Balochistan.

The writer is a journalist covering Balochistan, CPEC, politics andeconomy. He can be reached on   twitter: @iAdnanAamir.

Democratising education in Balochistan