Realising the importance of Pakistani chairs in various international universities, the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training has urged the concerned authorities to fill these positions without further delay.
Pakistan has chairs in 14 international universities, all of which are reportedly currently vacant – many for the last five to 10 years.
Federal Education Minister Balighur Rehman on Wednesday was briefed on the vacant positions by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) chairman. A source said the minister expressed great concern over the vacant chairs during the meeting, and urged the authorities to fill the positions on a priority basis.
During the meeting, HEC Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed told the minister that there are 14 chairs of Pakistan abroad, including in Germany, Egypt, Turkey and China.
He said according to his information, the majority of these chairs are vacant. He told the minister that these chairs are mainly looked after by the Cabinet Division and the HEC.
When contacted, Cabinet Secretary Nadeem Hassan Asif said: “Against all lying chairs, we have formulated a comprehensive policy. Very soon we will appoint suitable people to these chairs.”
When asked how all 14 chairs were vacant, the secretary said he could not confirm that all the chairs were vacant. “Some of them are filled, but we are going to fill all the lying chairs.”
Prior to the 18th Amendment, the federal education ministry was responsible for dealing with the appointments to these chairs. This task was then given to the Cabinet Division, which has yet to make the appointments.
These chairs can be instrumental to build the country’s image, but due to negligence on the part of the concerned authorities, Pakistani chairs have nearly lost their importance.
In comparison, India’s almost 300 chairs are said to be filled, and are playing a key academic and image-building role for their country.
Some 10 months ago, a selection board recommended suitable candidates to fill seven chairs, but no decision has been taken thus far.
The chairs were set up on a reciprocal basis, and their holders deliver lectures aimed at promoting the Urdu language and the culture and history of Pakistan.
“Filling all the vacant Pakistani chairs abroad with competent scholars will make a huge difference in overcoming the acute image problem we face in the world. Especially in the western world, independent academic opinions count more than official diplomatic voices in influencing policy and public discourse,” said Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, who served on the Pakistan Chair at Oxford University for five years between 2010 and 2015.
Another Pakistani academic, Dr Sayed Wiqar Ali Shah, who served on the Allama Iqbal Chair at the University of Heidelberg from 2009 to 2014, also said these chairs were very important to image building.
“The scholars on these chairs can play a more important role than the ambassador, because they hold talks with think tanks, academia and they remain in contact with overseas Pakistanis,” he said.
Dr Ahmed told Dawn that the HEC and the Cabinet Division have been finalising working papers to appointment suitable candidates to foreign chairs.
“I do agree that these chairs are highly important, because these are sources of improving academic links and image-building of the country,” he said. He added that the vacant positions would be filled soon.
During their meeting, the HEC chairman also briefed the federal education minister on scholarship programmes monitored and facilitated by the HEC. He said around 2,654 students have been sent on scholarships from 2009 to date, through various agreed programmes between the HEC and other countries.
The minister also directed the chairman to design a new website – with the proposed name ‘Learning Opportunities Abroad’ – which would connect the HEC and ministry websites. The website would contain information on available scholarships, available destinations and accreditations of foreign universities.
The chairman also told the minister about the criteria of selection of PhDs. He said a study was recently conducted which identified areas in which PhDs are required. Textiles, sports, logistics, transport and supply chains are among the areas that need experts.
Access this interview at www.dawn.com