ISLAMABAD-Scholars on Monday opposed Higher Education Commission decision of shifting the Research Travel Grant programme to universities, fearing victimisation by the administrations of higher education institutions while availing the grant in future.

The HEC recently updated the information for PhD scholars and faculty members that it had stopped the Travel Grant programme and had revised policy of shifting the programme to the universities was under process and no new application would be entertained in this connection until further order.

However, later, the HEC revised its order and clarified that the travel grant/conference programme had not been stopped. Instead, the modalities of the programme are being reviewed in order to transfer the decision making directly to the universities, it said.  For this purpose, new guidelines are under preparation and will soon be shared with universities. The applications already being received have been processed and applicants will be informed of the decision as soon as possible, said the notice.  The scholars viewed that the decision would though devolve the power to universities but apparently a common scholar will suffer with it.

Dr Faheem Khan at Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University (PMAS-AAU), Rawalpindi viewed that the decision would though empower the universities but candidates availing the grant would have different impact on grounds.

“Nepotism culture is strongly rooted in universities and a lot of scholars miss opportunities as they are not in good books of the administration,” he said. He added that after implementation of the decision, the candidate will be solely dependent on the university authorities.

Dr Faheem said that earlier, time frame of reimbursement of the expenses was an issue for candidates, but now availing the grant will be not an easy task for all scholars at all.

Prof Tahir Malik said that universities had complex culture of favouritism, and mostly, a faculty member was judged by his or her obedience with the administration instead of contribution in academics.  

He said that there were plenty of examples when scholars received invitation for foreign conferences, but the candidates was not issued NOCs despite there were no financial liability on the university.

“The autonomy of the universities is already being misused,” he said.

He said that there were always biases in universities and faculty member criticising the administration were victimised.

“The knowledge community should not have restrictions, but the opposite practice is being performed by universities and the HEC,” he said.  

Another faculty member Dr Ashfaq Khan said that universities were already struggling administratively, while faculty and the administration in number of public sector universities remained at loggerheads.

“There is victimisation in universities and non-awarding of No Objection Certificates (NOC) is a common practice there,” he said.

He added that the candidates’ at least had a relief that their expenses would be reimbursed, while this hope will be faded when universities would be given authority to award it.

The HEC Travel Grant Programme (TGP) was aimed to facilitate PhD scholars and faculty in registered universities for preceding their further studies in foreign universities, attending international conferences, post-doctoral studies and cultural exchange programmes.

The TGP was covering airfare and accommodation expenses of the scholar visiting a foreign country, which was reimbursed by the HEC after the claim was made with it.

According to the HEC standard operating procedures, the candidates willing to apply for TGP to attend any international conference was supposed to submit the application six weeks prior to the HEC, while applicants to proceed studies abroad had to apply 3 months before.

The applications also required the endorsement of relevant head department of any university or Higher Education Institution (HEI).

The reimbursement of the amount was claimed by the candidates after attending the conference which took around two months.

Spokesperson HEC Aayesha Ikram talking to The Nation said that HEC had not stopped the TGP, but it was being shifted to universities. She said that only modalities of the programme were being reviewed.