Conspiracy against higher education

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 16.07.14

What is the convention for advertising the eligibility of any post of national significance? Is it
not qualification first and experience later? This point is known to all but not to the ministry
of education, training and standards in higher education. On January 12, 2014, the ministry
made history by reversing the order by mentioning experience first and qualification later in
its advertisement (published in various dailies of Pakistan) to search for the chairperson of
the Higher Education Commission (HEC). In the eligibility section of the advertisement, the
ministry wrote: “The candidate should have at least 20 years of relevant experience and
preferably hold [a] PhD degree.” This sentence means that the emphasis was on the
experience of the candidate and not on their degree. That is, the experience was more
important than the PhD degree, which was an advantage additional to experience. The
question is, what is the relevance of the words “relevant experience” without mentioning the
field concerned? The quoted sentence cleverly separated the condition of “relevant
experience” from the condition of having a “PhD degree”. If qualification (i.e. PhD degree)
had been mentioned first and the words “relevant experience” had been mentioned later,
the meaning and the relevance of the “relevant experience” (in the field in which the PhD
was earned) could have been understood clearly.

The relationship between “relevant experience” and “PhD degree” is understood when the
four ‘factors’ are read that are mentioned as selection criteria in the summary for the prime
minister sent by Ahsan Iqbal, the chairman search committee and Federal Minister for
Planning, Development and Reforms, on February 12, 2014. The first criterion says: “The
candidate should preferably hold a PhD degree, as announced in the media advertisement
for inviting applications because he/she will be required to provide leadership in the higher
education sector with a large pool of academicians holding PhD degrees.” In this criterion,
there is an emphasis on the word “leadership” and justification for a candidate’s holding a
PhD degree is given. The second criterion says: “The candidate should possess a clear
vision for the future of higher education in Pakistan, relevant leadership experience in this
field and good understanding of the HEC’s mandate and scope.” In this criterion, the
possession of three qualities is required. In this regard, the questions are these: first, on
what benchmarks did the search committee judge that a candidate has a clear vision for the
future of higher education in Pakistan? Second, on what standards did the search
committee evaluate that a candidate had relevant leadership experience in the field of
higher education? Third, on what basis did the search committee gauge that a candidate
had a good understanding of the HEC’s mandate and scope? Nevertheless, the words
“relevant experience” published in the advertisement are implied in the words “relevant
leadership experience”, as mentioned in this criterion. Unfortunately, there is no mention of
the definition of leadership experience. If both the aforementioned criteria are taken
together, it becomes clear that the search committee was looking for a candidate who had
had at least 20 years of leadership experience in higher education with or without a PhD
degree.

The third criterion says: “The suitable candidate should preferably be under 65 years of
age, in no case over 70 years of age because the chairman HEC will be required to
manage a vast network of higher education institutions throughout the country for the next
four years.” In this criterion, the bar of age was introduced. Furthermore, this criterion
assumes that a candidate over 70 years of age is incapable of running the affairs of the
HEC as its chairperson. The fourth criterion says: “Since the HEC is a recipient of heavy
funds from the development budget, the selected candidates must have strong integrity.” In
this criterion, the condition of “integrity” was introduced with its classification — strong or
weak — overlooking the absoluteness of the word “integrity” in itself. One of the intriguing
— or disappointing — aspects of the summary is that the search committee took upon itself
the task of constructing the four factors as criteria to make a final selection. Otherwise,
these four factors were not mentioned in the advertisement to meet the needs of fair play.

Above all, neither the four factors nor the advertisement were in accordance with the laid
down criteria stated clearly in section five of the HEC Ordinance, 2002, regarding the
appointment of the HEC chairperson: “The controlling authority [i.e. the prime minister] shall
appoint a person of international eminence and proven ability who has made significant
contribution to higher education as teacher, researcher or administrator, as chairperson on
such terms and conditions as it may determine.” Under this section, the search committee
was supposed to evaluate the candidates on the basis of their “international eminence” and
“proven ability” in the light of their “significant contribution to higher education”.

In these words, it is implied that the candidate should compulsorily have a PhD degree and
certain years of experience in the field in which they earned the PhD degree. Nevertheless,
the laid down criteria enshrined in the HEC Ordinance, 2002, dwarf the criteria constructed
by the search committee, which included the “vision for the future of higher education”,
“relevant leadership experience” in higher education and a “good understanding of the HEC’
s mandate and scope”. It is obvious that malpractices were done to exclude some
candidates from the race for selection. Furthermore, a disappointing and dangerous aspect
related to the fourth factor/criterion was that the candidates who could not be selected were
perhaps considered persons without “strong integrity” as compared to the one who was
finally selected. Above all, it is not yet known why the Ministry of Education proposed to the
prime minister the composition of the search committee, the chairman of which was the
Federal Minister for Planning and not the Federal Minister for Education.

Back to columns in 2014