Contractual employments, franchises: VU education standard is in steep decline

Hamid Khan Wazir and Shah Nawaz Mohal

The old debate of quality versus quantity sounds hollow in today’s scenario of our education approaches due to inattention of the government, as the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has announced to launch new Virtual University (VU) campuses instead of improving quality of education by ensuring merit-based permanent recruitments in the university.

The sources in the university told Pakistan Today that the Virtual University has been established by the government to provide affordable high quality education within and outside Pakistan; however with the policy of outsourcing campuses not only the quality of education has been compromised but it has made education unaffordable.

They said that the VU has two kinds of campuses; one owned by VU and second is franchise (private virtual campuses). The PVCs get more than 60pc share out of the fee. In a private campus in Sialkot with 3000 students, where 65pc fee is taken by the franchise holder, is clear sign of fishy deal or else it can be avoided by establishing own campus by the university just like in the rest of the cities, because establishing VU campus is not an Herculean task, they added.

So, the officials said that the establishment of only one VU campus for a huge population in Sialkot, owned by Sohail Khan raised serious questions and it seemed to facilitate his own business in terms of fee share. Besides, they said that the standard of education could not improve due to the contractual employment, which was the main reason of the administrative irregularities such as appointment of blue-eyed officials on key positions sans having relevant degrees and experience.

The VU employees expressed concern over non-regularization of their jobs since its inception in 2002. They alleged that they were not being regularized for the past 15 years as the ministry concerned asked several times about the employees’ data to initiate regularization process, but the top officials could not provide the ministry the relevant data.

Due to job insecurity and its contractual nature, they could not raise voice against such irregularities, as in the past, whoever raised voice was kicked out due to a rule in contract which stated that service contract of any employee can be terminated without any reason anytime on one month’s notice or immediately by paying one-month salary.

Some terminated employees who are victim of this rule have tried to challenge their termination in court, but the court of law, which is supposed to give justice, also showed their helplessness as the VU is statutory body which observes its own rules. Another official said that the VU rector enjoyed tremendous authority, who could hire anyone on ad hoc basis without following any procedure. However, he added due to audit objection on this irregularity, the rector started adopting procedure of advertising such positions.

Further, he said that the statutes/rules and regulations of VU made in 2009 were not only unjustified, but prepared with intention to facilitate or give benefits to old friends, under qualified commendatory persons such as for eligibility criteria of the post of advisor includes that the advisor can be BA with 35 years’ experience whether academic or non-academic.

Talking to Pakistan Today, students of the VU, on condition of anonymity, stated that they were facing a lot of problems due to non-seriousness of the university administration, as the campuses were in pathetic condition. They said that no senior officials bothered to ever visit or give responses to their queries pertaining to the poor administration. When contacted, staff officer to VU rector refused to comment over the issue; however he said that there were all contractual employees.

However, another senior official on the condition of anonymity told Pakistan Today that the rector was not the sole hiring authority, as the board of governance (BOG) comprising 12 senior officials was the supreme authority to do the hiring, so there was no question of nepotism and favoritism in the appointments.

To a question regarding the new campuses, he said that the VU outsourced campuses to facilitate the students to get education at their doorsteps; however, the VU officials frequently visited the various campuses to ensure the promised standard.

Virtual University is a Federal Chartered University established in 2002 under the Ministry of Information and Technology aimed at providing the highest quality of education and research opportunities to all aspiring students irrespective of their age, gender, religion, and geographical location by using modern ICT with content developed by top experts of their respective fields.