MULTAN - The Higher Education Commission has traced serious irregularities in the selection of foreign scholarships, recruitments, grant of affiliations, promotions, development work contracts and distance learning programme in Bahauddin Zakariya University, dubbing the lapses as serious academic crime, nepotism, favouritism and malpractices, revealed a report compiled by the Monitoring and Evaluation Division of the HEC.

The 16-page report originated from a meeting held with HEC Executive Director Dr Arshad Ali in the chair last month during which it was disclosed that at least 15 foreign scholarships of Faculty Development Programme worth Rs 150 million were granted to ineligible or non-deserving candidates on the basis of nepotism, contracts for development projects worth Rs 124 million granted without tendering competition and 775 lower grade jobs created irrationally, causing a massive financial liability worth Rs 357.042 million for the varsity.

The meeting was also attended by BZU Vice Chancellor Dr Tahir Ameen and registrar who were advised by the HEC to identify the persons involved in all the mentioned scams and take strict action against them, says the report.

A four-member team of the HEC carried out a visit to BZU a couple of months back on receiving numerous complaints regarding serious irregularities in processes like faculty development programme scholarships, appointments/recruitments, distance learning programme etc. The HEC sources disclosed the team returned with the data and documents obtained from BZU, which were thoroughly reviewed. “This review resulted in revelation of grave malpractices,” the sources added. 

Vice Chancellor Dr Tahir Ameen had recently boasted about his achievements in the first year of his tenure which included revival of foreign scholarships and progress in research and recruitments. However, the HEC report has put a question mark on the transparency of the processes like selection of candidates for scholarships, besides dubbing BZU’s research side as “quite bleak.”

Former VC Dr Khawaja Alqama and Registrar Malik Munir are currently facing NAB cases on corruption charges while the questions raised by the HEC in the current report may also lead to the same consequences.

Scholarships saga

The HEC directed the BZU VC to abandon the cases of 15 ineligible candidates for scholarships, review all other scholarship cases in the light of HEC observations and identify as well as punish the persons responsible for the fraud.

It was disclosed in the report that the university advertised 58 foreign scholarships on June 4, 2015, with a minimum requirement of 18-year education. However, three candidates, M Asif (Sociology), Ms Tehreem Yousaf (Physics) and Kamran Shabbir (Architectural Engineering) were selected with 16-year education.

Similarly, the dean’s committee changed the criterion for 2nd divisioners going “beyond jurisdiction” to facilitate the selection of “kith and kin” of senior faculty members of the university, it was described in the report. The second division holder candidates included Ammara Akram (daughter of a retired senior faculty member), Sohail Ayaz (son of a serving senior faculty member), Javeria Abbas, Bushra Baig and Huma Jamshaid.

The HEC team traced another big anomaly. The candidates with a certain degree were granted scholarships against the quota fixed for another discipline. It was pinpointed in the report that Ms Farasat Kanwal (sister of HoD, Psychology) was awarded a foreign scholarship for psychology, but she was teaching HRM in Institute of Management Sciences.

“Allowing such adjustments for the incumbents deprived many applicants of being shortlisted and receiving interview calls,” reads the HEC report.

The HEC authorities expressed astonishment over the fact that the university presented a table item to the selection board held on September 3-4, 2015, where scholarships against 15 vacant slots that remained vacant at previous selection board meeting were awarded to the persons who were neither applicants nor appeared before any of the selection boards.

CIVIL WORKS WITHOUT TENDERING

The report pointed out that civil work contracts costing over Rs 124 million were awarded by the university without following prescribed procedure of tendering/competition and the Campus Construction Committee granted ex-post facto approval for the projects.

The HEC authorities advised the BZU VC to take measures to improve transparency and efficiency of its system/procedures besides strengthening its monitoring mechanisms to avoid divergence from prescribed rules and procedures. “The university should avoid such practice in future,” says the report.

CREATION OF 775 BUDGETED POSTS

The HEC authorities declared the creation of 775 new lower grade posts as unjustifiable and a liability worth over Rs 357 million a year, giving a warning to the BZU that the posts may not be supported by the HEC.

It was disclosed at the meeting that the posts were recommended by a non-statutory body known as “Sanction to New Establishment Committee.” The BZU notification says the Sanction to New Establishment Committee has been constituted to prepare a rational and balanced budget of the varsity. “But the committee has grown up as a powerful financial forum that dictates budget priorities, creation of new posts and allocations in all non-salary heads,” the HEC authorities regretted.

RESEARCH PERFORMANCE

Comparing the performance of BZU in the field of research with a relatively younger institution GCU Lahore, the HEC authorities observed in the meeting: “Unfortunately, BZ University’s performance on research side remained quite bleak during last two years which is alarming and calls for resolution.”

The HEC report disclosed the BZU management was asked to play its role in developing and promoting a culture in the varsity that should encourage faculty to improve quality of teaching and research.

DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAMME

The Distance Learning Programme surfaced as a big financial scam, prompting the HEC authorities to advise BZU admin its complete financial review by a third party.

The report disclosed the programme director spent Rs 160.973 million on purchase of books during last three years while his financial limit for the said head was just Rs 200,000. “It is surprising to note that the total spending on purchase of books for entire university (except for distance learning) during the similar period remained Rs 45 million. More amazing fact is that not a single book has been issued to any student till date,” reveals the report.

Besides other multi-million likely embezzlement, expenditure of Rs 100 million was traced on installation of solar system, but the physical inspection revealed that no solar system existed at the department.

The HEC authorities also took notice of the BZU authorities’ attempt to give out of way promotion to an assistant engineer as university engineer and numerous complaints about nepotism, favouritism, low-quality teaching, manipulation in assessment and admissions to Psychology Department.

Talking to The Nation, Public Relations Director Dr Abdul Quddoos Sohaib said the HEC had not issued any formal report; rather they were minutes of a meeting chaired by the HEC executive director and attended by the VC.

He added the scholarships were processed under the rules and regulations via the selection board and the syndicate had approved the decisions. “As soon as we started implementing the decisions, the registrar and controller were replaced, which coincided with the visit of the HEC team. The team met with irrelevant people and collected data on its own. These minutes are the result of that visit,” he asserted, while challenging the report.

He said the BZU administration had talked to the HEC chairman and a point-wise reply would be submitted to the HEC in three weeks on the issues. He revealed the BZU had constituted a three-member committee to investigate the HEC report and answer all the issues raised in the report.

He affirmed the contracts of all development projects were given after observing legal requirements while the 775 seats were proposed to regularise daily-wages workers of the university. “These seats have been approved by F&PC, Syndicate and Senate. There is no point in raising objection to legally done things,” he added.