Province empowered to appoint VCs, set rules: LHC

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has ruled that the provincial government is fully empowered to make rules and appoint vice-chancellors (VCs) of public universities.

“The provincial legislature has the power to set standards i.e., procedures and criteria for selection of the VC, as long as, they are not below the minimum and baseline standards set by the federation,” said a verdict announced by a division bench in the VCs appointment case.

The bench, consisting of Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shan and Justice Shujaat Ali Khan, had reserved the judgement in February last on intra-court appeals by the Punjab government and others challenging a single bench decision that struck down appointments of acting VCs at four public sector universities and the process initiated by the provincial higher education department for new incumbents.

Tells govt to follow search body’s panels for four varsities

The four varsities include: the Lahore College for Women’s University, the University of Sargodha, the University of Punjab, and the Muhammad Nawaz Sharif University of Engineering & Technology, Multan.

The single bench comprising Justice Shahid Karim had in 2016 directed the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to make the appointments of the VCs.

The division bench allowed the appeals and ruled that the federation could set standards in institutions of higher education, however, they will always pass as minimum national standards, as they cater to all the public universities in the country and maintain national unity and federal compact.

It said, the province, under the legislative subject of ‘education’ in the unwritten residuary legislative list, was empowered to develop standards in institutions of higher education for the province; these standards could be higher and more stringent as compared to the federal standards, but they could not be below the federal standards.

The verdict authored by the chief justice added the HEC Ordinance of 2002 set minimum and non-binding guidelines for the appointment of VCs in public universities.

However, any future legislation under the federal legislative list for mandatory minimum standards would be binding on the provincial government, but in no manner restrain the provincial government to develop standards higher than the federal in order to improve quality of higher education in the province.

Setting aside the single bench’s decision, the ruling said section 14(2) and (4) of the University of the Punjab Act, 1973 and the corresponding provisions in the statutes of other public sector universities were intra vires (lawful) the Constitution.

It held that the single judge had over-emphasized on exclusivity of the federal legislature, sidelining the overarching constitutional structure of federalism and cooperative federalism, which prevailed over Article 142 of the Constitution.

The judgement also questioned the performance of Council of Common Interest (CCI), saying that the role of the council over the years had been disturbingly dormant.

The chief justice directed the CCI to review all the standards in institutions of higher education framed by the HEC in order to make them constitutionally compliant in the next six months.

He also directed the HEC as well as, federal government that in the future, the commission will work under the supervision and control of the CCI and any policies or regulations prepared by the commission shall be routed through the CCI and will only be considered to be legally binding, if approved by the CCI.

The division bench directed government/chancellor to proceed with the appointment of the VCs for the four public sector universities in question strictly on the basis of recommendations of the search committee by considering a panel of three people in the case of each university.

“However, all future appointments in the public universities in Punjab will be made in accordance with law settled in this judgment,” the bench said and added the appointment of provisional VCs at the universities made by the court would come to an end when appointment of the regular incumbents was made in compliance of the judgment.

In a statement, Chairman of Punjab HEC Dr Nizamuddin hailed the judgement saying it would help in developing new landscape of quality education in Pakistan with effective role of federation and provinces.

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