ISLAMABAD - As the prospects of fresh interviews for the post of chairman Higher Education Commission (HEC) fade away and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may select a candidate from the three names forwarded to him earlier in this regard, the move has disquieted some of the candidates waiting for interview calls.

A committee headed by Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal had sent three names to the prime minister to approve one of them as HEC chief in January last but the PM had initially rejected all three names and constituted a new committee to hold another round of interviews. But now it is likely that the PM may select a candidate from the three names sent to him for the slot.

Though the prime minister is the controlling authority of the commission and has prerogative to appoint anyone even without holding this exercise, the delay in appointment caused doubts and troubles for the contesting candidates.

“Why the process was reinitiated when the PM had to appoint a person out of three earlier decided by the panel,” objected a candidate who wished not to be named as the race is still going on. “The process has remained unpleasant to us,” he added. However, Ahsan says that the summary containing three names was not rejected by the PM and the he only had directed to re-interview the short-listed candidates. “The new committee headed by Federal Minister Khwaja Asif was stopped to proceed on my request because we wanted to brief the PM on the selection process before he takes any final decision regarding the selection. And if he is not convinced about the transparency of the process, he can direct the new committee to start the process afresh,” he added. 

Opinion is divided among the candidates backed by different lobbies. Some upholding the stance of Ahsan Iqbal believe that three candidates have been selected through a search process so one of the candidates be appointed as chairperson. But a lobby that does not want HEC Executive Director Dr Mukhtar Ahmed to be appointed as chairman, as he has bright chances of being selected for the slot, has started defamation campaign, leaking out information against him that has little factual basis.And some say the previous committee did not follow appointment criteria mentioned in the HEC Act that has cast doubts over the intentions of the committee members so the new high-powered search committee should be give go-ahead to start the process again.

As per HEC Act, only a qualified person of international eminence and proven ability with significant contribution to higher education as teacher, researcher or administrator, can be appointed as HEC chairman. But the previous committee short-listed a few names who were non-PhDs and even a candidate having no background of education sector was short-listed. The important member of the search committee, Dr Ishrat Hussain, was also not present on February 11 for conducting interviews. The office of chairman HEC has been lying vacant since August 26, 2013 when the first term of Dr Javaid Laghari ended. A six-member search committee to select a new chief, headed by Iqbal, was announced by the PM in January. Some 103 applications were received. Of these, 21 names were short-listed and 18 candidates were called for interview by the previous search committee on February 10-11. The committee chose three names including HEC ED Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, National Textile University Faisalabad Rector Dr Niaz Ahmad and former Karakoram International University vice chancellor Dr Najma Najam. As many have reservations on the process due to its politicisation, it may be challenged in the court again if the PM appoints one of the selected candidates, said one of the HEC officials wishing anonymity.