This week a very important committee will be meeting, where the deliberations will have a far reaching effect on the future of Pakistan, an effect greater than most of the current political machinations. The meeting will be of the Selection Committee for the next Chairman of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC), which will begin conducting interviews for this coveted post. Notified by the Prime Minister (PM) a couple of months ago, this committee is composed of distinguished individuals, all of whom have served for decades in the education sector. The committee is convened by Syed Babar Ali, who is the founder of LUMS, among other illustrious accomplishments, with members of the likes of Ms Shahnaz Wazir Ali, the President of SZABIST, Dr Sania Nishtar from the WHO, and Dr Faisal Bari from LUMS. While I stand in no position to advise the Committee, considering their expertise and seniority, let me underscore a few points.First, the position of the Chairman of the HEC needs very careful scrutiny. In the past, people have been interviewed for as little as fifteen minutes, showing grave disregard for this important task. Even the post of assistant professor at a major research university in the West (or even at certain universities in Pakistan), involves at least two rounds of interviews, a presentation and at least an interview at least an hour long. Hence it is not clear why there is such a lax procedure for selecting someone who is going to be at the top the academia in Pakistan, when there is such a rigorous process for someone who is just starting their academic journey. The job of the Chairman of the HEC, who rank as a federal minister, is that of setting the tone for the higher education establishment in the country. The Chairman leading the commission, administers a budget of over a hundred billion rupees, sets the standards for universities, and creates policies for research, hiring and promotion. With such critical responsibilities, the selection process must reflect the importance of the position. The HEC as it is presently constituted is largely a science-oriented organism, where the arts, social sciences and humanities are considered mere appendages to scholarshipSecondly, the process for selection must include either a firm or people who are experts in head hunting. A number of people who might do wonders for the higher education milieu of Pakistan, might not apply themselves for various reasons. Therefore, the committee must look beyond the red tape of bureaucracy which limits selection to the ‘applicants’ to identify a scholar and leader who will head the commission for the next four years. Head hunting is now a norm for all of the world’s top research universities, and there is no reason why such expertise, and thought, should not be used in the case of Pakistan.Thirdly, it is high time that the HEC moves away from only appointing scientists to this office. Ever since the establishment of the HEC in 2002, scientists have been at its helm: Dr Atta Ur Rehman, Dr Javaid Leghari, and Dr Mukhtar Ahmed. Even its Acting Chairman from 2013 to 2014, was an engineer, Dr Syed Imtiaz Hussain Gillani. I have no objection to the appointment of these aforementioned gentlemen, as they are all distinguished scholars, but when chairman are appointed from one general discipline consistently, it creates a certain bias and a particular culture in the organisation they are heading. The HEC as it is presently constituted is largely a science-oriented organism, where the arts, social sciences and humanities are considered mere appendages to scholarship. This distinction is clear in terms of funding — money for science and engineering far outstrips that for the social sciences, arts and humanities. Most research programmes are geared towards science research, and even the promotion criteria is solely based on the sciences and engineering. One high ranking HEC official once even told me that he did not see a ‘point’ in the study of history as it was not ‘applied’. Therefore, it is high time that a non-scientist — be it a social scientist or from the arts or humanities, be chosen — of course on merit — as the head of the organisation. This move will not only empower those who work in these fields in Pakistan, but also balance the now very skewed focus on science in the HEC.Fourthly, if one thing were to be a paramount consideration for the selection of the new HEC chief, it should be ‘sustainability.’ Over the past couple of decades the higher education budget has increased dramatically in Pakistan, the number of universities has more than tripled, and there are now more PhD’s in Pakistan (both produced locally and completed abroad), than there were during the first fifty years of Pakistan put together. But one thing has suffered greatly in this rapid, and in some ways, impressive growth: ‘quality.’ Due to an extraordinary focus on ‘numbers,’ quality has suffered dramatically, and continues to deteriorate. While improved numbers are good too, it is the quality of higher education in a country which really matters. I often remind others that when Britain emerged as a global power, England only had two universities — Oxford and Cambridge, and Scotland, four. For Britain to produce people who then ruled the world, it didn’t matter how many universities the country had, but the quality of men and women it produced. Therefore, Pakistan needs someone who can now consolidate the gains made over the last couple of decades and put their primary focus on the improvement of quality and sustainability. The HEC Chairman Selection Committee certainly has its task cut out, and I hope and pray that it succeeds in this critical endeavour.The writer teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ He tweets at @BangashYKPublished in Daily Times, April 17th 2018.