The recent reports issued by international and national reputed institutions have revealed a sorry state of affairs in higher education and human resource development in Pakistan. Human Rights Commission Pakistan in its latest released report stated that higher education in the country is in “serious crisis”. World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Report 2017, has ranked Pakistan as one of the worst countries for education and skills development. According to the report, Pakistan is at the 125th spot out of a total of 130 countries in a list that ranks countries on the basis of how well they perform in the education and skills development and infrastructure. Pakistan is even far behind in South Asian countries i.e Sri Lanka (70), Nepal (98), India (103) and Bangladesh (111). As per Global Competiveness Report 2017-18, overall Pakistan was ranked at 115 position and in Higher Education and Training, Pakistan gained 120 position as compared to Sri Lanka (85), Nepal (88), India (40), Bangladesh (99), Iran (69), Bhutan (82) and Malaysia (23). In addition, according to 14th annual edition of the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2017, only four Pakistani universities were able to get a place to the top 1,000, disappointing for Pakistan as 7 Pakistani universities could make a place in top 1,000 in last year’s ranking list as compared to 60 universities from China, 30 from India and 11 from Iran. Quaid-i Azam University Islamabad was the only university out of four that made to the top 500.

The higher education sector of Pakistan is comprised of 187 public and private sector universities and more than 110 regional campuses with annual budget of more than 120 billion annual budget both at federal and provincial levels. The desired results for improving the higher education in Pakistan, cannot be achieved without dynamic, honest, committed and capable leadership. This has been long standing demand for appointment of capable and experienced heads through transparent, open, competitive and merit based appointment process, by the concerned stakeholders including elected body of university faculty, Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA. Through a recent letter addressed to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, they called upon to form an un-biased, apolitical search committee for transparent and merit based appointment of the next Chairperson of the Higher Education Commission (HEC). According to FAPUASA, the political interference in the higher education has brought a culture of extension, nepotism and non-transparent appointments of top leadership at HEC and Vice-Chancellors at universities.

Supreme Court of Pakistan through various verdicts, instructed the appointing authorities to ensure merit and transparency during selection of heads of various organizations. The historic Supreme Court judgment in Constitution Petition No.30 of 201 titled Khawaja Muhammad Asif versus Federation of Pakistan, requires that all public appointments must be governed by the overriding principle of selection based on merit, out of individuals, who through abilities, experience and qualities, have a proven record that they best match the need of the public body in question. 

Search committees play a pivotal role in key appointments in higher education sector. In order to ensure merit based transparent selection process, the search committee formed for appointments of heads in higher education sector, should be free from any external influences and all the members of search committee should maintain their neutral and impartial role. The said search committee should devise measurable selection criteria strictly in accordance of relevant prescribed provision in respective acts of Higher Education Commissions and universities. They should employ a public demo method for selection of candidates through open door process, in front of relevant stakeholders.

The current year i.e 2018 carries very significant in higher education sector as important slots including chairpersons of federal/ provincial higher education commissions and vice chancellors of more than 20 public sector universities would be filled. The tenure of current HEC chief would also end during April, 2018.

In the light of various principles and guidelines laid down by the Superior Courts, while making these important appointments, the appointing authorities and search committees need to consider certain parameters. Firstly, objectivity: in carrying out public business, including making public appointments or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choice solely on merit. Secondly, accountability: holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office. Thirdly, openness: holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands. Fourthly, honesty: holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest. Lastly, the candidates with controversial background and proven charges of misuse of authority should be not be considered for appointment as head of various organizations.

Like other sectors, the role and composition of the search committee is vivacious for merit based transparent appointments in higher education sector to avoid controversies, litigation and further damages of higher education in Pakistan. Without following the principle of “right man at right job”, the higher education sector could not be put on right direction.