Here’s why public university professors are protesting against HEC

Faculty members representing nearly 200 public universities staged a sit-in in front of the Higher Education Commission (HEC)Twitter: @APUBTA_Official

Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Rome has the Colosseum, Karachi has the Quaid Mausoleum and Islamabad has protest sit-ins in D-chowk and government offices – no visit to these cities is complete without witnessing their main attractions.

Last week, faculty members representing nearly 200 public universities staged a sit-in protest outside the Higher Education Commission (HEC) blocking traffic on half of the east 9th Avenue service road. .

The protesters at HEC represent the 88% of faculty appointed under the old base pay scale system (BPS). In many ways, BPS faculty are like other public sector employees. They are paid according to the same BPS salary structure, receive similar benefits, are governed by similar rules, receive a pension upon retirement and are equally difficult to fire or remove once appointed. Like other government employees, they become eligible for promotion once they have completed the required years of service, largely independent of any stringent productivity or performance requirements. However, unlike their colleagues in other departments, to get a promotion they have to wait for a position to be advertised and compete with all other candidates, internal and external.

The process is flexible enough to justify the selection of almost all candidates, which politicizes the process. At many universities, professors appointed under this legacy system are divided into two camps: pro-VC and everyone else. Anyone on the wrong side can expect to be denied opportunities and have their careers put on hold. There are people who haven’t seen a promotion in over a decade. BPS professors at HEC demanded last week the end of the pyramid structure of posts which blocks promotions for many BPS professors.

Shortly after the establishment of HEC in 2002, a parallel faculty appointment system was introduced at universities. Called the Tenure Track System (TTS), approximately 12% of faculty members are currently appointed to it. The TTS, unlike the BPS system, established rigid and uniform promotion criteria that left no room for personal interpretation. A TTS faculty member who meets the benchmark criteria will be promoted without the prerequisite of an opening for a higher position, allowing them to advance to the rank of professor, equivalent to BPS-21.

In this regard, the TTS solves a problem that has been a key request from BPS faculty. On the other hand, however, TTS appointees do not earn pensions upon retirement. They are effectively appointed on long-term contracts. A few universities have attempted to establish a retirement plan for their TTS faculty. A university went bankrupt and quickly repaid the contributions that professors had made to the fund. Another public university in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ended up misappropriating pension contributions paid by its faculty. The lack of retirement benefits means that TTS professors have nothing that binds them to a particular university, which gives them the opportunity to be much more mobile. Until recently, their salaries were not tied to any of the existing government salary scales like the BPS, which often leaves them overlooked. Last year, TTS salaries were revised for the first time after nearly a decade.

The TTS takes its name from the tenure-track appointment system at American universities. The main feature of (American) tenure is that it grants faculty members the right to freedom of expression and inquiry without fear of dismissal or reprisal from within or outside their own institution. Our version, the TTS, does not provide such protections. For example, on February 23, a professor from the University of Peshawar organized a seminar on “Higher Education in Pakistan, Past, Present and Future” with Dr. Tariq Banuri, President of HEC as guest speaker. On March 10, the professor who organized the seminar received a written notice from the assistant clerk to explain himself since this seminar would have violated not one, not two, but four rules. So much for freedom of inquiry in Pakistani universities.

The TTS promotional requirement of publishing a certain number of journal articles introduced perverse incentives. The HEC maintains a white list of journals whose articles are taken into account to fulfill these requirements. Unfortunately, for various reasons, these journals now contain many local journals that are universally of dubious quality. Many faculty members unable to publish in highly respected journals (which are free to publish but have high standards) do not publish in these local journals to quickly meet career advancement requirements. This gives the owners/publishers of these HEC-recognized local journals great power.

Recent years have also seen the emergence of another publishing model, called Open Access, in which people pay to have their articles published in journals. Historically, journals made their money by selling subscriptions to libraries. In the Open Access (online) model of journals (i.e. universities and HECs often bear all or a significant portion of these burdens.

While there are legitimate and reputable journals and publishers that now give authors the option to publish their work under either model (publish for free but charge readers, or charge authors but make it freely available to readers), many predatory journals have jumped on the open access bandwagon seeing it as an opportunity to make money. Over the past few years, predatory Open Access-labeled journals for all fields have sprung up overnight and essentially staged a pay-to-publish racket. Arshad Yousafzai, journalist for The newsregularly reports this problem and many others.

To get an idea of ​​the cost of publishing in open access journals to the treasury, consider that a head of the University of Karachi who has been in the headlines lately spent more than Rs83 lacs (46,000 $) due to this item processing fee in 2021 alone. Meanwhile, when academic VCs come across this wasteful practice or other cases of academic dishonesty that led to papers being withdrawn, they ignore this saying that such cases are even fewer in Pakistan than elsewhere. . Meanwhile, the architect of this TTS system can’t help but sing his own praises. That’s what the TTS did.

Pakistani university professors have been working under a kind of caste system for about two decades. Early-career BPS faculty aspire to the higher salaries and barrier-free promotions of the TTS. Mid-career TTS faculty yearn for the relaxed work-life balance, job security and guaranteed pension of BPS appointments. The grass always looks greener on the other side, and no one is happy.

In response to the BPS faculty protest last week, on March 11, HEC issued a letter establishing a committee to develop recommendations for the appointment and promotion of BPS faculty members. Ultimately, however, having appointees on two streams with vastly different service structures working side by side will inevitably breed resentment.

The long-term solution is to merge or unify these disparate service structures into one. Since all government departments are trying to reduce pension liabilities, it is more than likely that this will not involve government pension benefits. Also, universities in the US and UK offer different types of contracts with different expectations for faculty members; Most contracts fall into one of three categories: research plus teaching, teaching or research. Each has its own (institution-specific) rewards, opportunities and expectations. A new unified service structure will need to be flexible enough to meet the different needs of universities.

The vision and mission statements of National University of Science and Technology (NUST) Islamabad, Buner University and Swabi University all proclaim that they are championing the causes of excellence in teaching and research, and in other fields. But only one of them is located in a major urban center and is able to attract and retain the type of professors capable of conducting credible research. Contrary to what the architect of the TTS system may claim, a faculty member at Buner will not have the tools, resources, or graduate students to do the same kind of work as a faculty member at NUST at. heart of Islamabad.

Yet the people who implemented the inflexible TTS system and created the BPS vs TTS caste system continue to resist tooth and nail any reform. And why would they when they figured out how to game the system?

The author (she) holds a doctorate in education.