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Bureaucratic varsities

Public-sector universities are the only hope of those from the middle class for a better future in Pakistan. However, across Pakistan, varsities are facing financial cuts and their autonomy is continuously impeded by predatory governments.

University of Karachi, one the biggest and oldest varsities, is worst affected. Catering to 40,000 students and more than 50 disciplines this once-topnotch university is going through a brain drain. Unending delays in the process of hiring and promoting faculty members take six to eight years to complete while other universities in Sindh take between six months and a year to do the same.

Underfunding, lack of accountability and disregard of standards allow bureaucratic delays, frustrating KU faculty that now stands at the brink of disorder. Faculty with over 25 years of service are retiring as assistant professors.

Attempts were made to reform governance and the Sindh Universities Amendment 2018 simplified the process of recruitment but Karachi University continues without policy reforms. Over 400 faculty members applied for the next cadre in 2019, scores have retired and hundreds will superannuate in next five years but are denied the right to present their case to the Selection Board. Recently Dr Zafar Iqbal of Environmental Sciences retired after 25 years of service as assistant professor despite a court order to hold his Board. Similarly, Dr Ameer Ahsan of Pharmacy is to retire in October after serving Baqai, Ziauddin and lastly Karachi University while waiting for a Board.

Universities only need to follow the University Act that requires three experts with eight board members to select a suitable candidate. Instead Karachi University allows deans, chairpersons, foreign expert reports and secretary boards and universities to further the red-tape in the process.

The University of Karachi needs an overhaul of the existing bureaucratic mindset and to get rid of the assumption that red- tape is a substitute for standards. Discrimination against varsities and within a varsity must end by following same procedures of hiring.

As reported in this paper recently, KU faculty members have extended their protest from demonstrations to a hunger strike onto death. This escalation not only highlights the sense of frustration amongst the faculty but also shows the blatant disregard for faculty by the KU administration and the Sindh government. The protesting faculty say this is the time for policy reforms that abolish the hindrances and speed up the already delayed processes.

Varsities should be a benchmark for academic standards, hubs of knowledge, and arenas for debate and disagreement with a sense that changing the world is possible. Instead, the varsity bureaucracy has abandoned research and replaced it with a business sense where research culture is shamelessly suppressed and denied official support and the only function of the administration is to ensure salaries.

When teachers turn to hunger strikes to press for their demands, society at large must acknowledge its disbelief at the state of affairs of what should have been a centre of excellence.

Dr Faizan Naqvi, "Bureaucratic varsities," The News. 2022-09-15.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Policy reforms , Public Sector Universities , Bureaucracy , Dr. Zafar Iqbal , Dr Ameer Ahsan , Karachi , Sindh