Punjab Government speeds up planning to establish three medical universities at Rawalpindi, Multan and Faisalabad

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 Punjab Government speeds up planning to
establish three medical universities at 
Rawalpindi, Multan and Faisalabad

The blunder of abolishing the Office of Principal of
Medical College should not repeated in the new set-up

Open merit policy for promotion and selection of faculty will
help all medical universities to establish their credibility faster

By Shaukat Ali Jawaid

LAHORE: Provincial Government of Punjab has accelerated the planning of establishing three new medical universities in the province at Rawalpindi, Multan and Faisalabad which needs to be commended. However, it must be remembered that by mere changing the name from medical college to a medical university is not going to help in the long run. An institution is only as good as its faculty, hence if the authorities are serious in ensuring that these universities get established and earn credibility faster, they must practice open merit policy for all new selections and promotions in the universities. This is something which is currently being practiced by Postgraduate Medical Institute/Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar and let the planners in Punjab learn some lessons from them.

 Originally it was planned and announced to set up two medical universities by upgrading the Rawalpindi Medical College and Nishter Medical College Multan but later Faisalabad was added which means that Punjab Medical College will also be upgraded to a medical university. In view of the coming elections in 2018, the authorities will try their best to make these new universities functional before elections to take political advantage of this new initiative.

After careful discussions and deliberations, finally the provincial government has decided to issue ordinances through Gazette notification for the establishment of these universities so that no time is lost and planning and execution gets under way immediately. However, it is important that they must also look at what had happened and what is its outcome when a similar decision was taken to upgrade King Edward Medical College as a medical university.

When King Edward Medical College was upgraded as a university, there was lot of opposition from various quarters because of their own vested interests, hence the then Principal of KEMC Prof. Mumtaz Hassan acted quietly, was successful in prevailing upon the then Chief Minister Ch. Pervaiz Elahi much against the wishes of the then provincial health minister as well as the federal government and he announced the up gradation of the KEMC to a university at a function in haste. The legislation which was later prepared abolished the office of Principal of the medical college, perhaps the newly designated Vice Chancellor was not prepared to share power and authority with anyone else. It attracted lot of opposition and heated arguments from the KEMCOLIANS who were keen to retain the name of their college the oldest undergraduate medical college in the sub-continent but all their pleas and arguments fell on deaf ears. Eventually it had its serious consequences.  Later when Fatima Jinnah Medical College after lot of struggle by the faculty and FJ graduates was upgraded, the same model was followed and the office of Principal was abolished. All this has in fact degraded the office of Vice Chancellor who most often works like a Principal.

It is a well-known facts that the requirements of undergraduate medical education and postgraduate medical education are different. The faculty which is involved in teaching and training of undergraduates cannot be expected to do justice while teaching and training postgraduates at the same time. While the Principal is supposed to look after the undergraduate medical education, students affairs and others issues related to the medical college, the Vice Chancellor is supposed to be an academician with a Vision and Foresight who uses his energies in planning and development of the university,  training of the faculty to ensure their professional capacity building, planning and starting various Certificate, Diploma and Master’s courses in different specialties and sub-specialties as  per requirement. One cannot and should not try to mix up the two offices and once that happens, the product that is left over can be termed as “Half Titter and Half Butair” which ends up nowhere. We are seeing it at the KEMC and will soon see it at Fatima Jinnah Medical University as well where the postgraduates are wandering in darkness.

The inefficiency of the Punjab Government is evident from the fact that it has so far failed to appoint permanent Vice Chancellors for the KEMU as well as FJMU who have been appointed as Acting Vice Chancellors. Such adhoc arrangements are a great hurdle in progress and development of these institutions since they can neither make any long term plans nor start implementing even short term plans. Under such circumstances how the provincial government is going to find Vice Chancellors for these newly established universities.  If merit is upheld and selection is made on merit and merit alone, the search for a Vice Chancellor is started six months in advance before the present incumbent is going to retire, there should not be any problem. However, when merit is compromised and political interests are taken care off, decisions on such selections for coveted posts is politicized, things  get worse and that is what is happening these days. Punjab Government must come out of this phase of in-decision, the sooner the better.

The Government of Punjab had made a similar mistake while it established a postgraduate medical institute at Lahore many years ago. Since they did not come up with a plan to have separate cadre for undergraduate and postgraduate medial teachers, any medical teacher who was transferred out of Lahore, used to manage to get himself transferred to the PGMI. As soon as the post became vacant at the King Edward Medical College or Allama Iqbal Medical College, they will get themselves transferred back to the undergraduate medical college. Since none of these faculty members had any loyalty to the PGMI, it failed to establish its own identity and credibility and the situation remains so till today.  On the contrary when Lt.Gen.Fazle Haque the then Governor of NWFP announced to establish a Postgraduate Medical Institute at Peshawar, I had a chance meeting with him at one of the medical conferences. I asked him “Are you going to make the same mistake which the Punjab Government had made while establishing a Postgraduate Medical Institute” at which he asked, what do you mean?. I told him that since there was no separate cadre for undergraduate and postgraduate teachers, PGMI Lahore has become a “transit camp” for medical teachers who do not wish to go out of Lahore. Late Lt. Gen. Fazle Haque was a very intelligent person. He kept quiet and just laughed. However, he had got a message.

When the establishment of Postgraduate Medical Institute at Lady Reading Hospital was announced, the provincial government also gave an option to the teaches to opt either for the undergraduate medical college or postgraduate medical institute. There was lot of opposition to the concept of a separate cadre for undergraduate and postgraduate faculty members particularly by the senior Professors and eventually most of them opted for Khyber Medical College and the PGMI had a very young faculty which was left out or who opted for the later. I remember one of the senior professor of surgery, a very dear friend who is now no more in this word, once asked me “I do not know who was  that idiot who had suggested this to Governor Lt. Gen.  Fazle Haque” and I just smiled at it. But look at the result, within a few years, Postgraduate Medical Institute at Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar established its own identity and credibility due to the hard work, devotion and dedication of the young faculty members something which the PGMI at Lahore has failed to earn till today despite being many years senior to the PGMI Peshawar.

One sincerely hopes that the planners seized with the issue of establishing the three new medical universities in Punjab, will not repeat the blunder which they had committed earlier. Let them retain the office of Principal in all these undergraduate medical colleges which are likely to be upgraded. Let there be clear demarcation between the duties and responsibilities of both these offices of Principal and Vice Chancellor. Even if there is no such provision in the Ordinances issues, these changes can be made before the legislation is finally approved by the Punjab Assembly after discussion.   If someone is more interested to occupy a position which has much interaction with students and public, let them opt for the post of Principal but those who has the vision and foresight to develop a medical university should be selected as Vice Chancellors.

Medical Universities are supposed to be and should be much different from a medical college. Universities must produce knowledge through research, publications.  There are quite a few talented, experienced faculty members in these institutions but it is also a fact that lot of deadwood has also managed to get place in the faculty of these institutions. They have their own varied interests, some more interested in private practice hence have not much time for teaching, training and research. At present there is no system of performing clinical audit of these universities and their different departments based on their academic output something which must be initiated immediately. Those who perform, should be retained and those who fail, should be sent to other undergraduate medical colleges in the province or given the option to take premature retirement. A lot also depends on the leadership of the institutions and one hope they are mindful of their duties and responsibilities in this regard.

At the same time, if one looks at the past history, there is very little likelihood that the provincial government will not commit the same blunder which it committed while establishing King Edward Medical University and Fatima Jinnah Medical University? Mian Shahbaz Sharif enjoys the reputation of being the most hardworking Chief Minister who gets things done and going as per schedule but at times he is short of intelligent advisors particulars as regards Medical Education and Health Services who can show him the right path. One always has the option whether to protect and safeguard the interests of a few individuals or that of the institution in the long run. To take correct decision is the test of the leadership’s Vision and Foresight as well. Time will tell if the rulers in Punjab are prepared to learn any lesson from their past mistakes.

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