SC Seeks Financial Details Of Public Sector Varsities

The top court observed that the financial viability of public sector universities is being eroded because of excessive non-academic staff and has sought details about the ratio of non-academic staff to academic staff

SC Seeks Financial Details Of Public Sector Varsities

The Supreme Court has directed all public sector universities to submit their revenue details within a month as it hears a case about headless varsities operating in the country.

"Public sector universities should also disclose the amount that they generate themselves through fees, etc., and to what extent they are dependent on funds from the public exchequer," the top court directed.

"Comprehensive reports to be submitted within one month under the signatures of federal and provincial Secretaries of the relevant ministries/departments," the top court directed. 

"And, a senior representative from each, who is well conversant with facts, should be in attendance on the next date of hearing," the top court further directed.

The top court directed this as it issued a five-page written order in response to a petition filed by the All Public Universities BPS Teachers Association (APUBTA) regarding vacant posts of Vice-Chancellors(VCs) in public sector universities.

On May 15, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa had heard the case. 

Senior Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training Abdul Sattar Khokhar informed the bench that since they had not received information from three universities in the federal capital, the comments had not been filed.

"This is hardly a justifiable reason for not complying with the order of this court," the top court in its written order observed, adding that if the complete information was not available the remaining information could have been furnished to the court.

"In any case, the information which was sought about public sector universities should have been available with the ministry," the top court said.

"If they do not have to keep such information, they should start to do so now to ensure that the universities are compliant with the laws governing them," the court order added.

"The matter is serious and involves the violation of laws by public sector universities; yet it is not taken with the seriousness it deserves," the court lamented. 

The comments from Balochistan contained a list which showed that there are 11 public sector universities in the province, of which five did not have permanent VCs, and officials were functioning as the VCs on an acting-charge basis.

"With regard to two universities, reference is made to orders of the Balochistan High Court (BHC), but the same have not been attached," the top court observed, adding, "in any event, the comments do not state that the Balochistan High Court (BHC) had restrained the appointment of Vice-Chancellors."

"The comments that have been filed do not disclose the statutory requirements of holding of meetings nor whether the universities are compliant therewith," the written order stated.

According to the order, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's (KP) law officer informed the bench that there are 34 public sector universities in the Province, of which 19 were functioning under acting VCs. 

The law officer further stated that search committees had selected eligible candidates for appointment as VCs, but the process of appointing them has yet to be completed.

"Therefore, we asked him (KP's law officer) to refer to the said recommendations, and he said that such information has not been filed as it is required to be kept secret, which surprises us and raises the question why people of the province are not entitled to know this," the top court said.

"Public sector universities are paid by taxpayers, who are entitled to know where and how their monies are spent," the top court observed, adding, "Freedom of information is also now enshrined as a fundamental right in Article 19-A of the Constitution."

The court continued: "Since the law requires that these positions should not remain vacant, therefore, we expect that if such matters are agitated before courts and that, the same shall be decided expeditiously."

Punjab's government informed the court that there are 34 public sector universities in the province (same as KP), but the positions of VCs are lying vacant in 25 of them. The Punjab government further told the court that the process of appointments was initiated during the period when a caretaker government was in charge of the province, but LHC, on writ petitions, relied upon section 230 of the Elections Act, 2017, and had restrained the appointment process.

The provincial government further apprised the court that an Intra-Court Appeal (ICA) was filed after the election, but the appeals have become infructuous.

According to SC's written order, the Punjab government informed the bench that the process for appointing vice chancellors in these universities has resumed and it is expected to be completed within a period of two months.

"The comments filed (by Punjab) also state that the positions of the Registrars are also lying vacant. The information regarding heads of department and deans of faculties is not mentioned," the court observed.

"The posts of Vice-Chancellors, Pro Vice-Chancellors, Rectors, Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Registrars, Heads of Faculties and Departments, Controller of Examination, Director Finance which are mentioned in the applicable laws, wherever lying vacant, should be filled-in as soon as practicable and this be done in accordance with the applicable law," the written order said.

The top court further observed that the financial viability of public sector universities is being eroded because of excessive non-academic staff.

The court ultimately directed the respondents to submit information regarding the number of non-academic staff and faculty, the ratio thereof and if the university is not compliant with the standards issued by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) the reason(s) for such non-compliance.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain