The managerial landscape in public sector universities in Punjab seems to be in flux, as does opinion over how to resolve it. After removing Vice Chancellors (VC) appointed to four public sector universities by the Punjab government on December 1, and appointing provisional ones, the Lahore High Court on appeal named four different appointees for these provisional roles, while making permanent VCs at seven other universities acting ones until the appeal filed by the Punjab government is resolved.

This constant shift in orders has left everyone confused over the actual position at any given moment, most of all the court itself – which has seemingly named Dr Uzma Qureshi as the Lahore College for Women University acting VC, after directing themselves that previous appointees need to be removed.

This confusion is highly damaging, especially for these educational institutes that are constantly forced to juggle appointments around. For the duration of the appeal, no VC, acting or otherwise, or even professors under them, will be able to conduct university business with any sort of certainty. If their policies can be aborted any minute then the university, and by extension the students, suffer. This issue needs be resolved quickly and diligently to return a modicum of stability to these universities.

Merely naming VCs to different chairs is not the issue here, it is which body – the federal Higher Education Commission (HEC), or the provincial Higher Education Department (HED) – has the right to start the process for VC appointments. The matter seemed settled after the December 1 judgement, where the court did not accept the arguments that education had been devolved to the provinces in this matter and directed HEC to restart the process, but the appeal trial has thrown the matter wide open.

The bench, headed by Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, directed the Attorney General of Pakistan and Advocate General to assist it over the constitutional question that whether the provincial governments were independent to appoint VCs or if it was a federal subject. Earlier, citing the Public Sector Universities (Amendment) Act 2012, Additional Advocate General Shan Gul argued that the subject of education had been devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, thus the appointment of VCs fell within the provincial domain, and this argument intuitively makes sense.

However, there is no guarantee that he will be able to sustain this view after consultations on the issue or that the court would accept their suggestions as is. In the near future it seems; the flux is here to stay.