EducationVolume 12 Issue # 14

Higher education – another neglected area in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

About five months back (August 28, 2016), the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial government released a progress report about achievements and successes in the field of education, especially higher education. The report claimed more than a 100% hike in funding for higher education, promotion of quality education and access to higher education and research, and unprecedented utilisation of budgetary allocations in the province.

The progress report, issued by the Education Department, claimed that the budget utilisation remained 104% in 2013-14, 103% in 2014-15 and 111% in 2015-16. The budgetary allocation for four years stood at Rs22.8billion, compared with Rs10.348 billion during the earlier four years.

The report revealed the opening of 39 new colleges in the province, while 41 colleges were under construction. Under the capacity and human resource development plan, Rs81 million have been spent during the last three years for in-service and pre-service training of teachers.

However, the report failed to mention that 213 male and female lecturers working on ad hoc basis in different colleges of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were not provided their salaries for over a year. The provincial government released their salaries in July last year only after the Peshawar High Court issued an order in this regard. These lecturers, appointed in 2011, by the provincial government, continued their sit-in for around 50 days for the release of their salaries.

A major issue afflicting higher education in the province is politics at the Higher Education Department, established under the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Universities Act 2013, to regulate higher education institutions in the province. The department has witnessed change of seven administrative secretaries during the past two years, which has virtually brought official work at the department to a standstill.

According to a report, published in an English-language daily, the changes in HED started when its former secretary, Farah Hamid Khan, was transferred on November 18, 2014. She served as secretary of the department for more than four years. She was replaced by Mohammad Ali Shehzada, who worked for a few months before leaving for mandatory training. In his absence, Dr. Atta-ur Rehman, secretary of the Mines and Minerals Department, was given the additional charge of the department. However, he was transferred on February 18, 2016, and replaced by Farah Hamid Khan. But, to the surprise of many in the provincial bureaucracy, she was again transferred within three months, on May15, 2016. “An influential Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader, who is known for interference in the HED, was not happy with her posting as secretary of the department. He used his influence to remove her from the department,” sources disclosed. She was replaced by Mohammad Saleem, who worked in the department for two-and-a-half months. However, he also went for mandatory training and the department was handed over to Mohammad Fahim Wazir, the chairman of the Higher Education Regulatory Authority, as an additional charge. Again, Mohammad Saleem was transferred on November 8, 2016, and Syed Zafar Ali Shah was posted as the HED secretary. The back-to-back changes at the HED showed that both the PTI-led provincial government and the bureaucracy were not interested in promotion of higher education in the province.

Mushtaq Ahmed Ghani, adviser to the chief minister on HED, also appeared worried about the situation. In a telephonic talk with Cutting Edge, he said that implementation of reforms in colleges and universities was also delayed owing to frequent change of the HED heads. He admitted that several other important positions were also lying vacant since long. He was hopeful that the HED affairs would be put on track with the posting of the new chief secretary.

And now the burning issue of higher education in KP: delay in appointment of regular vice-chancellors and pro-vice-chancellors to top 10 universities and colleges of the province, shows lack of seriousness of the PTI-led coalition government about promotion of higher education in the province. These public sector educational institutions have been functioning without permanent VCs, exposing the inefficiency of the authorities tasked with filling the posts. Under the law, the process to appoint a VC is to begin six months before the tenure of the incumbent ends. Currently, pro-VCs or senior faculty members of these universities are acting as stand-ins for the permanent VCs.
The top universities and colleges without heads include the University of Peshawar; University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar; University of Swat; Kohat University of Science and Technology; University of Swabi; Bacha Khan University, Charsadda; Khushal Khan Khattak University, Karak; Malakand University and University of Science and Technology, Bannu.

According to the Higher Education Department official website, the office at the University of Peshawar fell vacant on January 24, with the retirement of Prof. Dr. Rasul Jan, while three other universities have been without a vice-chancellor since January 16. The VCs of the University of Haripur, Khushal Khan University, Karak, and Bannu University of Science and Technology also completed their term on January 16. UET Peshawar, University of Swat and Kohat University of Science and Technology have been functioning without a regular VC for more than a year.

Prof. Nasrullah Khan Yousafzai, president of Pakhtunkhwa Professors and Lecturers Association (KPPLA), says that government failure to make timely appointment of regular VCs and pro-VCs is a violation of the Universities Act. In a talk with Cutting Edge in Islamabad recently, he said that the Higher Education Department (HED) was bound by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Universities Act 2013, to advertise the vacant VC posts six months before the retirement of the incumbents. The relevant clause i.e. Section 12(3) was made part of the KPUA a year ago to keep the VC posts from lying vacant. The educationist said that the provincial government specially created the post of pro-vice chancellors at the public sector universities through the KPUA 2013 so that the practice of ad hocism could be ended. However, the HED as well as the PTI-led provincial government have badly failed to act according to the law, passed by the incumbent assembly, and complete the process of appointing VCs to the said universities on time.
The situation is severe at the Malakand University, where all the powers are vice-chancellor-centric. This is the university which has not got any full time registrar and treasurer and the vice-chancellor has been all-in-all. Now, as there is no vice-chancellor; even minor decisions pertaining to administration or academics keep lingering for months, the KPPLA president complains.

However, government authorities are hesitant to admit that they are at fault. Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani, adviser to the chief minister on higher education, insists that the process of appointing VCs was launched long before the incumbents retired. Talking to Cutting
Edge by telephone, he claimed that the HED and the provincial government were thoroughly scrutinising the VC candidates to avoid any litigation later on, which was causing a delay in the appointments. Ghani said that the academic search committee on the appointment of VCs would meet in the first week of March.

On the other hand, Khalid Khan, additional secretary HED, has more details to share with Cutting Edge. He claims that summaries for appointment of pro-vice-chancellors have already been moved and a final decision was expected. But the KPPLA president reveals that the summaries for appointment of pro-VCs to the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Peshawar and University of Peshawar were moved nine months back, and the process has not been completed so far due to “political pressure”. That’s why the UET Peshawar had been functioning under an acting VC for more than one year. In a telephonic talk, Khalid Khan relates some technical reasons also, hindering the process of VC’s appointment. He says that managing and scrutinising hundreds of candidates for the post of VC is a very tough job, which requires several employees to deal with it. The department’s staff was sufficient when the province had from 10 to 12 universities. But, he adds, with the jumping of the number of higher educational institutions to 25, the staff members have become overburdened with work. He reveals that several posts of section officers have long been lying vacant, adversely affecting the overall performance of the department.

Yet another issue is non-appointment of a project director and fulfilment of other legal requirements for the establishment of Lakki Marwat University. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, during his visit to KP a few months ago, had announced establishment of a university there. The federal Higher Education Commission had sent a summary to the provincial government for the appointment of a project director and identification of land for the site. However, the PTI-led provincial government neither passed a bill to approve establishment of the university, nor appointed the project director to practically materialise the plan despite passage of about six months.