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Punjab governor accords approval to ‘illegal’ sub-campus

Punjab governor accords approval to ‘illegal’ sub-campus

LAHORE: Ignoring the advice of the Higher Education Department, official accreditation committee and the law department, Governor/Chancellor Chaudhry Sarwar has given approval ‘in principle’ to an illegal sub-campus of a Lahore-based private university in Pakpattan.

The issue of illegal sub-campuses of private sector universities in Punjab has been lingering on for a long time after the HED declared 23 sub-campuses of six private universities as illegal on January 10, 2020 and asked their managements to stop further intake of students and also shift the enrolled students to the main campuses to complete their degrees.

Earlier, on Dec 23, 2019, the chancellor had ordered an inspection/ inquiry into the affairs of the University of Lahore (UoL) on account of its unauthorized sub-campuses at Gujrat, Pakpattan and Islamabad under section 7 (1) of the University of Lahore Ordinance 2002.

The HED had also constituted a five-member committee to ascertain whether the Ibadat Trust (the sponsoring body) of the UoL was functioning in line with aims and objectives stated in the trust deed and to conduct forensic audit of the trust.

When the private universities strongly opposed the HED move of declaring 23 sub-campuses illegal, the government constituted a six-member committee to re-inspect these sub-campuses under the ToRs of conducting forensic audit.

Ignores advice of HED, accreditation committee, law dept

Rejecting the forensic audit, the private universities formed an association and held a meeting with the chancellor, who stopped the six-member committee from proceeding ahead and rather constituted a new eleven-member committee, involving the PHEC to soften the terms of reference (ToRs) to conduct inspection of the 23 sub-campuses.

The committee was mandated to conduct inspection of sub-campuses of Hajvery University, Qarshi University, University of Central Punjab (UCP), National College of Business Administration and Economics (NCBA&E), University of Lahore and Superior College in the light of criteria and guidelines notified by the provincial government vide a notification No SO (Univ) 5-6/2004 dated 20.09.2006.

In its report, the 11-member committee headed by Quaid-i-Azam University VC Prof Dr Muhammad Ali Shah recommended grant of approval to the UoL sub-campus in Pakpattan but did not attach any supporting document to substantiate any claims made or information provided by the UoL.

The committee declared the sub-campuses of rest of the five universities as illegal on the ground of not having purchased land and faculty shortage. However, it treated the case of UoL’s Pakpattan sub-campus differently despite the fact that it has been established on leased land and there is shortage of faculty as well. The case of UoL’s Gujrat sub-campus was also rejected on same grounds.

In the light of the inspection committee report, the chancellor again issued directions to the HED to implement the recommendations in consultation with the PHEC.

The HED referred the report to the PHEC with a reminder that the chief minister had already endorsed the view of the accreditation committee that a society or trust applying for a university campus must own in its name at least 10 acres of land and minimum tangible assets of Rs 100 million. The land obtained on lease might not be relevant for the purpose.

Documents reveal that during consultation at the PHEC, there was a clear divide among its members on the implementation of inspection committee recommendations. Five members opposed the recommendations while as many endorsed them. The 11th member (from the HED) stayed away from voting since the HED was the implementing body.

Dr M Khaleeq, former GCU VC, attended the PHEC meeting on 23.10.2020 though his term of appointment had already expired on 18.10.2020. Accreditation Committee Chairman Prof Dr. Khalid Aftab also submitted his dissenting note.

Giving its observation on the PHEC summary, the HED observed that “One of the major reasons due to which the Gujrat sub-campus of UoL does not qualify to be a legally valid sub-campus, is the fact that infrastructure/ purpose-built campus has been constructed on leased land rather than on purchased land. Regarding the Pakpattan sub-campus of UoL, it was observed that there is deficiency of faculty as per notified criteria issued with the approval of the provincial cabinet. Secondly, it remains unclear whether a purpose-built campus is built on the owned land or leased land”.

It further observed that the “government can only process the case for opening of a sub-campus if all the requirements of the notified criteria of 2006 are fulfilled. The inspection committee’s report is self-contradictory as Gujrat and Pakpattan campuses have been treated differently while both are on leased land.”

On the constitution of inspection committee by the governor/chancellor, the law department stated that the governor/chancellor is bound by the advice of the chief minister which was not obtained while constituting the new inquiry committee (the earlier inquiry committee constituted on the advice of CM was superseded by Mr Sarwar). It further said that any decision on the issue is also subject to the advice of the chief minister.

However, the chancellor ignored the observations of the HED and advice of the Law Department and during the pendency of the summary, acted in contravention to the prescribed rules and granted approval ‘in principle’ to the UoL’s Pakpattan campus directly from his own office.

A senior officer told Dawn that approval ‘in principle’ cannot be construed as ‘final approval’ until all legal requirements are met and no admission can be announced in such a sub-campus till the formal notification of ‘final approval’.

HED Secretary Nadeem Mehboob told Dawn the department had moved a summary on the matter of ‘in principle approval’ to the Chief Minister Office and response was awaited.

The Governor House spokesperson said the approval of the sub-campus charter was granted on the recommendation of the committee formed to inspect the sub-campuses.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2021

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