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How to overcome inordinate delays in recruitment and selection in Universities in Pakistan?

 “Seats of higher learning are not only characterized or defined in terms of bricks and mortar but rather also more importantly in terms of the people that run and serve them. It is therefore essential that the higher education institutions (HEIs) of Pakistan are staffed with the best human resource available- and such can only be ensured if the process of appointments in the HEIs are executed in the most effective, efficient and procedurally apt manner”. This is the brief intro of a recent communique from the office of Prof. Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad, Chairman Higher Education Commission, Islam addressed to all Vice Chancellors/Rectors/Heads of public and private sector universities, Director of Degrees Awarding Institutes (DAIs) and Research Centers in the country.

The official letter went on to state, “unfortunately, however, Higher Education Commission(HEC) has, with serious concern taken note of the fact that HEIs at times either consciously delay for the multiple reasons are unable to finalize the recruitment process against advertised positions, in some cases, even for more than two years. Such a practice is not only against the principle of good governance  but also renders the advertisement infructuous and discriminatory for the other talented candidates who at the time of advertisement may not have been eligible to apply for the position advertised but are eligible for consideration by the time applicants are called for the interview. Moreover, such unwarranted delays also cause legal challenges, stir unnecessary controversies and raise doubts on meritocracy of the process”.

The HEC head, for that reason, recommends that in future the recruitment process for advertised position should be completed within one year of the date of the advertisement.  “As far the position already advertised, the HEC recommends that the ones advertised earlier than March 1st 2022 be withdrawn forthwith and the ones advertised later than the said date be revived and recruitment against the same be completed if so required latest by June 30th, 2024. Any selection Board conducted beyond the advised cut off period will not carry the endorsement of HEC.”

Through this letter, the HEC reiterates its commitment to formulate effective policies, guiding principles and priorities for the development of higher education sector for promotion of socio-economic development of the country- and, in that stead, expect all the Vice Chancellors/Rectors /Heads of public and private sector universities, DAIs and Research Centers to be resolute in fulfilling their obligations to adopt, follow and adhere to them in all earnestness.   

This the first time, I came across an official letter, well-articulated and beautifully written, from the head of the top regulatory body in the country taking up an issue that is deep-rooted in the higher education system having long term implications for good governance and effective management of both public and private sector universities, DAIs and Research Centers in the country.

Being a matter of my personal, professional and academic interest, I admire this initiative by the HEC, nevertheless, it is highly concerning that this area has received very limited attention from the concerned authorities as this letter is barely the tip of the iceberg withal HEC has a bigger issue to deal with.

As a PhD scholar, I pursued this area during the course of my doctoral research and found that the issue is pervasive, deeply ingrained and intrinsic in the higher education institutions. My doctoral research while carrying out a comprehensive scrutiny of the current staffing function identified various loopholes in the system of recruitment and selection in the selected universities and the underlying bottlenecks which need to be taken care of in order to shape the higher education institutions meet emerging challenges of the competitive academic world and growing expectations of stakeholders.

One of the most important gray areas, the study underlined, was that the entire function of recruitment and selection in the selected universities operated in a picture-perfect vacuum. Conflict of interest was not declared, recorded and managed. There was a pervasive misuse of authority. Universities generally did not have detailed policies and procedures in place for an objective, fair, equitable and consistent disposal of this function. There were found to be numerous contradictions and several deficiencies in the existing by-laws statutes and rules governing the subject matter in the universities.

The study revealed some of the micro and macro environmental factors impacting system of recruitment and selection in the universities embracing political, legal, regulatory, technological and socio-demographic forces. Lack of system approach towards recruitment and selection, dearth of a comprehensive policy on conflict of interest, centralized decision making, poor human resource planning, excessive bureaucracy and ineffective system of check & balance are some of the rudimentary factors influencing system of recruitment and selection in the universities.

The study, therefore, recommended a number of measures which would help the policymakers in improving the system of recruitment and selection in the universities. Academia, in the first instance, needs to adopt a systematic approach towards staffing function (Recruitment and Selection). The universities should have a statutory body such as Human Resource (HR) Council reinforced by an independent HR Section/Department to have an oversight role over the HR affairs in the universities. These measures would ultimately help the universities in overcoming problematic areas in the system of recruitment and selection.

As far as HEC is concerned, it has a sinewy role in improving HR system in the universities. The Commission shall have to make it mandatory for the universities to establish a full-fledged HR Directorate/Department on the analogy of QEC and ORIC as was executed effectively in the past to transform the HR function in the universities.

I strongly believe that such a full-scale intervention from the top brass of the key national level regularity authority shall help in revamping the HR dynamics in public sector universities which will ultimately transform the landscape of higher education in the country.

From a more professional standpoint, addressing inordinate delays in recruitment and selection processes in universities in Pakistan requires a multi-faceted approach involving procedural reforms, technological advancements, and administrative efficiency. There are some key areas that need urgent attention on the part of the universities as well as HEC to tackle this issue:

  1. Reviewing and streamlining procedures: Conduct a thorough review of existing recruitment and selection procedures in universities. Identify bottlenecks, redundancies, and areas prone to delays. Simplify and Streamline the recruitment and selection process to eliminate unnecessary steps and paperwork. Ensure that each stage of the process serves a clear purpose and adds value.
  2. Standardizing criteria and job descriptions: Develop clear and standardized criteria for job qualifications and job descriptions of the staff involved in the recruitment and selection process and the vacant positions as well. This ensures transparency and objectivity in the selection process and minimizes subjectivity that can lead to delays.
  3. Utilizing technology: Introduce technology-driven solutions such as online application systems, applicant tracking software, and electronic document management systems. This reduces paperwork, facilitates faster communication, and enables real-time tracking of applications and candidate evaluations.
  4. Training and capacity building: Provide training to the staff involved in the recruitment and selection process. This includes HR personnel, selection committee members, and administrative staff. Training should focus on best practices, compliance with regulations, and the effective use of technology.
  5. Establishing timelines and accountability: Implement clear timelines for each stage of the recruitment and selection process. Set deadlines for application submission, review of applications, scheduling of interviews, and final selection. Hold individuals and departments accountable for meeting these deadlines.
  6. Increasing transparency: Enhance transparency in the recruitment and selection process by providing regular updates to applicants regarding the status of their applications. Publish vacancy announcements, selection criteria, and selection committee compositions on university as well as HEC websites.
  7. Reducing bureaucratic hurdles: Simplify administrative procedures and minimize bureaucratic hurdles that often contribute to delays. Encourage a culture of efficiency and responsiveness within university administrations.
  8. Engaging stakeholders: Seek input from relevant stakeholders such as faculty members, student representatives, and administrative staff on ways to improve the recruitment and selection process. Foster collaboration and communication among all parties involved.
  9. Regular monitoring and evaluation: Establish mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of recruitment and selection processes. Collect feedback from applicants, selection committee members, and other stakeholders to identify areas for further improvement.
  10. Addressing root causes: Address underlying issues such as understaffing, lack of resources, and institutional inefficiencies that contribute to delays in recruitment and selection. Implement structural reforms to create a conducive environment for efficient HR management in universities. Foster a culture of continuous improvement by regularly reviewing and updating recruitment and selection procedures. Stay abreast of best practices and emerging trends in HR management across the globe to optimize the process over time.

By implementing these measures, universities in Pakistan can significantly reduce inordinate delays in recruitment and selection processes, thereby ensuring timely hiring of qualified candidates and enhancing organizational effectiveness.