Islamabad - The process of appointment of new chairperson Higher Education Commission (HEC) has taken a new turn after an official from Ministry of Federal Education issued an email asking for the candidates’ age, an official said on Tuesday.

The ministry, in February, this year had announced the vacancy for chairperson HEC. However, there was no mention of age limit in the advertisement. After the initial scrutiny, Joint Education Advisor (JEA) at federal ministry Dr. Rafique Tahir stirred up a controversy when he issued an email to all candidates requesting their date of birth, the official said.  The email said “Thank you very much for your interest in the position of Chairperson Higher Education Commission while scrutinizing the applications and attached documents, it is revealed that your date of birth has not been mentioned. You are requested to share your exact date of birth through email, latest by tomorrow, the April 4, 2018 till 1400 Hrs. PST.”

An official said that the official was assigned no role in selection procedure of new HEC head but has made the selection procedure controversial after conveying the message to candidates in a dubious capacity. In January, PM had constituted a five members committee including Syed Baber Ali, Dr. Sania Nishtar, Dr Faisal Bari, Mirza Qamar Baig and Shehnaz Wazir Ali to search and finalize three names for the higher education regulating body which will receive a budget of Rs120million in the upcoming year.

“The candidates above the age of 62 have not received the interview letter after this email was sent by JEA,” the official said.  He said that such a step was in violation of the advertisement as a number of candidates applied for the post and are now feeling discriminated as they may not receive a call for interview.

Meanwhile, all the candidates based in the capital city and below the age of 62 have received the interview letter. Their interviews will begin on April 19.

“A junior bureaucrat has taken steps regarding the selection procedure without taking the search committee into confidence,” said the official. 

One of the candidates, Dr Tahir Rasheed, through a letter written to prime Minister said that it was a matter of misfortune that many senior academicians were being deprived of the opportunity to serve on the position, on the basis of their age while some controversial candidates against whom inquiries are taking place for illegal appointments and irregularities, are being considered in the selection process.

“In case of position of HEC head, such (age limit) condition has not been mentioned in the HEC Ordinance or advertisement”.

“He is hijacking the committee mandate,” the candidate said.

Two members of the committee who wished not to be named informed that they have been told that interview letters to all candidates after the scrutiny have been issued, and committee has not imposed any age bar for candidates.

“The age was not mentioned on resumes submitted by candidates because it was not an issue,” said the committee member.  “Age is not an issue for the committee, however it could be for the government,” said the member.  Joint Education Advisor (JEA) Dr. Rafique Tahir was repeatedly contacted for his version but was unavailable for comment

Meanwhile, Federal secretary Education Akbar Hussain Durrani who denied explaining the role of JEA in hiring process of new chairperson HEC said that all the decisions are taken in accordance with rule and law and direction of the committee.  Some candidates shortlisted for interview include Dr. Nizam uddin, Dr. Iqbal Chaudry, Dr. Mohammad Ali Sheikh, Dr. Khalid Iraqi,Dr. Lubna Baig, Dr. Arshad Ali, Dr. Qasim Bhagiyo, Dr. Najma Najam, Dr. Tahir Amin, Dr. Ameer Hassan Shah, Dr. Zabta Shinwar, Dr. Rasool Jan, Dr. Qaiser, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed and others.