Lahore, Sep 20: The selection of suitable vice chancellors for the public-sector universities in Punjab remains a cause for thought as 'manoeuvering' to win the coveted slots starts with framing of eligibility criteria and job advertisements.
Such a case has recently been surfaced during selection of vice chancellors of the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad (UAF); and Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi (UAAR).
An advertisement for selection of the VCs of these two universities, drafted by the Punjab Regulations Department, has been at the centre of controversy as the (parent) Punjab Agriculture Department as well as the stakeholders term the eligibility criteria 'tailor-made'.
The advertisement, say stakeholders, reflects that the Punjab Regulations Department has deviated from the Punjab Agricultural Universities (Amendment) Bill 2012, passed by the Punjab Assembly.
The department, sources said, prepared an advertisement and included conditions in the eligibility criteria that did not fall in the ambit of advertisement for the coveted posts. The conditions are alleged to be clearly person-specific.
Punjab Regulations Department Secretary Shahnaz Nawaz admitted that it had included new eligibility conditions in the advertisement because "we know the criteria of advertisement for posts of vice chancellors in all disciplines including general education, livestock and health universities."
As for the suspicion of favouritism, Ms Nawaz said: "I think the criteria forwarded by the agriculture department does reflect favouritism."
She said the chief minister had approved the advertisement which had been recommended by the regulations department.
However, she admitted that the agriculture department had sent a reference raising objection that this criteria could not be applied for the selection of agriculture universities' vice chancellors. "We are reconsidering it," she said.
The Bill's clause 14(2) about the eligibility for the selection of VCs says: "The government shall determine, by notification in the official gazette, the qualifications, experience and other relevant requirements for the post of vice chancellor."
The clause 14(4) refers to the evaluation of candidates' credentials as; "The Search Committee shall follow such procedure and criteria for selection of the panel for the post of vice-chancellor as the government may, by notification, determine."
The advertisement stated that the candidates should have "PhD in agriculture or related academic discipline from a recognised university or equivalent foreign qualification. It also stated that the candidate should have to his credit "a minimum of six quality research publications in impact factor journals of international repute duly recognised by the Higher Education Commission (HEC)."
Another clause in the eligibility criteria, which created uproar in some quarters, was the one that said "at least 10 PhDs should have been produced by the candidates."
Sources claimed that the 'framed' advertisement received from the regulations department was forwarded by the agriculture department to the Directorate-General Public Relations for advertisement in newspapers. The advertisement has reportedly been blocked.
Explaining the repercussions of the advertisement, sources said there were 144 professors in three agricultural universities and more than half of them were local PhDs and hence rendered ineligible.
With reference to 'six' quality research publications in impact factor journals of international repute, sources said the agriculture universities were comprehensive varsities having five to six faculties of science and arts. They said there were several disciplines in these universities, where impact factor publications were not expected. These disciplines were economics, marketing, extension, agribusiness and rural sociology, they said.
Similarly, there were many departments with no PhD programme like agricultural engineering sciences and they could not compete with others in impact factor publications. "This should not be interpreted as incompetence of professors working in such departments," the sources said. Even the HEC had given relaxation for such disciplines by allowing publications in its recognised journals. Sources said that using impact factor publications as eligibility criteria was discriminatory.
As for the condition of supervision of 10 PhDs, the sources cited an example of the UAF, stating that there were 47 departments and 33 of them offer PhD programmes. The remaining 14 departments offer education up to MSc level.
Of the 33 departments, many had started offering PhD programmes after 2000 when the HEC was established and massive funding came to universities for research purposes.
Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi and the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore, are very young universities and they have PhD programmes less than 10-year-old.
At Arid Agriculture University, the sources said only two professors had produced six PhDs each and both had served as acting VCs of the varsity and proved to be administrative failure. "Higher number of PhDs is not a proof of leadership," they said.
Shortlisting candidates further in terms of the regulation department's advertisement, the sources said that only 12 out of 144 potential candidates had produced 10 or more PhDs. Only four of the 12 belonged to the agriculture faculty and two of the four professors were foreign qualified, they added.
Further assessing the credentials of professors, the sources said 12 of the 91 professors at the UAF had 10 or more PhDs to their credit. And of these 12, only four had BSc in agriculture and rest were from non-agriculture background, thus, ineligible if the expression "related academic discipline" would be applied strictly. Also several of them were local PhDs and ineligible owing to a lack of foreign qualification.
The stakeholders suggest that the regulations department could have benchmarked the evaluation statutes for the grant of BS-22 to professors, which allowed marks both for master's and PhD level work. Dawn.