Pakistan HEC head faces sector resistance as challenges loom

Critics highlight historic plagiarism allegations and ‘flawed’ selection process

August 11, 2022
University of peshawar campus historical building, Peshawar pakistan
Source: iStock

Scholars have questioned whether the new head of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission has the authority needed to tackle major sector issues, noting historic plagiarism allegations against him.

Mukhtar Ahmed was confirmed as HEC chair by prime minister Shehbaz Sharif last month, having previously led the organisation from 2014 to 2018. The HEC allocates and distributes funds to Pakistan’s universities, and monitors sector standards, with its chair also serving as a federal minister.

But critics of the appointment highlighted an investigation conducted by the HEC shortly after Dr Ahmed’s last term that examined allegations of plagiarism in two publications listed as books on Dr Ahmed’s CV. According to the minutes of a fact-finding committee made up of academics and HEC officials, seen by Times Higher Education, Turnitin analysis found high levels of similarity with other texts provided by a complainant.

The panel concluded that the issue “warrants [a] further in-depth probe”, although THE understands that this did not subsequently occur.

Although Dr Ahmed did not respond to THE’s request for comment, he previously called the allegations against him “baseless”. In a 2020 message on his Facebook page, Dr Ahmed said that criticisms of his “credibility and skill” were part of a smear campaign against him driven by a “personal vendetta” linked to closures of university campuses. In 2018, Dr Ahmed said the books listed on his CV were actually transcripts of four courses he had taught at the Virtual University of Pakistan – “a collection of my study of various theories, concepts, etc, that are part of different textbooks”.

“It is a sad fact that such disinformation and [a] malicious campaign is being mounted to discredit me,” he said.

While some scholars declined to comment publicly on this issue, they told THE that they were concerned about the process through which Dr Ahmed was selected.

Writing in a national newspaper, Ayesha Razzaque, an independent HE consultant, claimed that applicants had only been given five days to submit their applications, suggesting that there was already a preferred candidate in mind.

Dr Ahmed has a PhD in botany from the University of California, Riverside, and has served as a professor of management at a number of Pakistani universities. As well as heading the HEC, he previously served as deputy director general of the Morocco-based Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

A former vice-chancellor of a Pakistani university, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that many of his colleagues at other institutions were “extremely unhappy” with the appointment and suggested that the reputation of the HEC was at risk.

“If the person who heads an organisation is not respected…people will of course get grants, but there’ll be constant conflict…and [problems] for those vice-chancellors in the public sector who stand up and speak,” the former vice-chancellor said.

Javaid Laghari, a former HEC chair who also served in Pakistan’s senate and led the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, highlighted that the incoming HEC chair will face substantial pressure in the coming months, as universities contend with mounting financial difficulties.

“You will see universities, faculty and students, going on strike and boycotting classes, faculty refusing to teach – this new person will face a big financial crunch,” he said.  

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

The recent selection of new chairman HEC of Pakistan’s - Mukhtar Ahmed is questionable and voices against the process of HEC selection. Nepotism and pressure from outside quarters has caused heartache among students and educators in Pakistan. It’s deplorable to see a corrupt leadership like Shebaz Sharif and others in his cabinet are dishonest. The recent selection of HEC should be evaluated and corrected by properly evaluating all the candidates that applied of the HEC post by an independent teams of educators of high esteem & credentials.

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