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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A concept of University for UNITECH's learning community


Lecture By Vice Chancellor Dr Albert Schram for New Students And UNITECH Community


Good evening students, staff, faculty and honoured guests.

Thank you Chancellor for the introduction. Personally, I believe that together we must not only keep the university afloat, but in fact we can make UNITECH fly!

Before talking about the concept of university, allow me to introduce myself, to reflect on the theme chosen for this orientation week, and to devote a few words about the rules we live by here on campus.

I am a European academic, with almost 20 years work experience. My life's mission is to contribute to university development in low- and middle- income countries. My Dutch father comes from a family of small farmers, and sailors. One of my ancestors in fact was a colonizer in the 17th century, and made himself a great nuisance to the good people of Sri Lanka in 1656. My Italian mother is from a family of university professors all the way back to the 17th century.

In 1994, I obtained my doctorate in economic history from the European University Institute, near Florence Italy. This is the premier research institute of the European Commission in social sciences. Since then I have always worked at university, in the economics and business studies departments, obtaining the grade of associate professor at the university of Costa Rica in 1999. I have ample international work experience in higher education in the field of management and in environmental and health economics and policy.

I have taken up residence in 7 different countries in Latin America, Asia and Europe, which has taught me to be adaptive. It has also made clear to me that all over everybody can escape the constraints and limitations of the conditions and societies they grew up in. Tomorrow with prof. Gonduan will tell you more about this, don't miss his talk.

I have not only worked as an academic but also as a university executive. since 2005, I worked as a university manager and executive at some of Europe's leading business schools, and as a lecturer in management and leadership. I have been invited lecturer at universities in the USA, China and India. I am not an engineer, so I will rely on matters related to content of teaching to the other members of the management team, most of whom have a PhD. in engineering.

For those interested in my background, you can find more information about me on there you will also find the text of this speech, and other material related to UNITECH. This is my private communication channel with you, and i invite you to react to what you read there.

The theme of this year's orientation and registration week is "imitating Christ's humility for academic excellence". 'Humility' is a virtue for human co-existence and a necessary though not sufficient condition for learning. When we humble ourselves and commit to serve our calling in life, will there be respect, order and harmony. At UNITECH we are all humble learners, although we may have different roles. Likewise if we commit and dedicate ourselves to humbly serve in our capacities as staff and students here at UNITECH, will there be respect for each other and our common material and intellectual property.

Many of us will find in Christ the inspiration for maintaining this humility, but we are open to those who find this same inspiration in other great spiritual leaders, or ancient and more modern religions. 'Academic excellence' relates to the ambitions for UNITECH as a university. 'academic' refers to the core function of the university in research and teaching and 'excellence' describes the quality of operations and programs.

Both should determine the ultimate goal of the university to "produce graduates of world class standard". Those graduates will be highly employable, able to solve problems using the latest technologies, and by working together in professional teams, made up of widely diverse members. I am also advised that this weeks theme is the combined thinking of the university community regarding the crisis that befell Lae late last year, the terrible ferry disaster. These terrible events make one humble, let us never forget the innocent victims.

Let me spend a few words on UNITECH's rules, which maintain and sustain our learning in this community. By talking about rules, I do not wish to imply you can not be trusted. I talk about rules because I want to make sure you are familiar with the underlying concepts, and incite you to learn exactly what they are, since you may not yet be familiar with them.

I stress that the university is fully committed to ensuring the health and safety of the faculty, staff and students. When I or any other university official a rule we do this for the common good in the name of the university council, in which the students are represented. Remember that just as you need to live by these rules, every university official and staff member, including your VC, has to follow them, and help enforce them in the name of the university council, which is our boss and employer.

Let me give an example of two basic rules, which will not change. the "zero tolerance on alcohol and drug abuse" for which a banner has been posted at the front gate, as well as the amendments to the SRC constitution to disallow manifestations by regional groupings on the campuses are the reminders that these behaviours are unacceptable for our community. I am pleased that these two rules have achieved some of the desired results. the most obvious was that year 2011 started and was completed without any major mishaps.

As students you must take note of all the rules and to conduct yourselves accordingly. There will be no exceptions based on personal or other preferences. The rules will be applied fairly but strictly. Security and safety are important but the university and the management can only do so much. It must start with every individual. We all must think before we do anything, that is why we have been given a brain, and not just emotions, impulses and desires.

The rules are in place not to unnecessarily punish anyone but to ensure that a climate of peace and harmony is maintained at all times for staff and students to live, work and study. these are the conditions for a learning community to thrive.

The university admits students from all provinces of the country as well as from pacific islands so harmonious co-existence is of vital essence. here we must all learn to live, work and study together, just as later in our professional life we have to work together in diverse, multi-cultural teams.

The concept of university.
At few occasions i can address you all directly on a topic so close to my hear. today i am happy to share 3 things that you will hopefully remember and serve you as guidance during your time at this university, and afterward.
1- First, I want to reflect on essence of the university experience for a student.
2- Secondly, I wish to describe the university ethos, or ethical standards, which will your membership to the community of graduates.
3- Finally, I will briefly outline what the university council and management team want to achieve in the coming years in order to give you an idea in which the direction we believe UNITECH should be moving, and what your role will be in this process.

We live in an exciting age, the 3rd great age of globalization. for the first time globalization is not based on building colonial empires through the force of arms, but on empires of the mind through universal learning.

Information is now available through mobile devices almost anywhere, at very low cost. Information in the hands of the educated, can kill prejudice, create positive collaboration, and can build the space to realize your dreams.

Knowledge based on valid and reliable information is power, power not for powers sake but power to do good and to contribute to development. that is your quest, that is your mission: to acquire valid and reliable knowledge, to learn. You will find in this you will have a lot in common with similar young adults elsewhere in the world who are on a similar quest.

1- What is the essence of a university experience for a student?
Why is this question relevant? Well, if in 4 years you are not able to capture the essence of the experience, you may have wasted your time here. Is it the knowledge that is reviewed at the exams? It can not be since most at my age would probably fail all the exams we did when we were 20 something years old. Is it the example of the teachers? Well some may provide an example, but others exhibit all human weaknesses, they are after all human, too human perhaps.

In order to answer this question and better understand the university experience, we must consult university history. The first university in Western Europe, the university of Bologna in Italy which was created in 1088, 901 years before the great wall between capitalist and communist ideologies came crashing down, and made the false dichotomy between capitalist and communist ideology, between first and second world obsolete.

Allow to elaborate a bit on the history of universities. "University" is short for universitas scolarum, which means learning community. What was taught then in Bologna, now is neither relevant, valid, or interesting. what remained the same, however, is how it was taught and how the body of students was organised and interacted among each other and with their teachers.

Let's look at teaching. In those days, teachers were paid directly by the students, not as today indirectly by public taxes. That is why then , as today, each speech at university commences with the words "dear students". The activities of a university then as now are focused on the students, and their families which are our ultimate customers. students would gather in small groups and due to the shortage of books a lector. if the lector was a doctor he was likely to be moving around. other patrons. nowadays more interactive student centred classroom. there is nothing, however, like a well structured course with relevant reading and a final assignment or exam to promote learning.

You need to trust your teacher in order to learn and change. After all, he or she will take you from the point where you are, to a point where you have never been. your guide has followed the same path, and beyond.

Universities would have the sole right to extend a doctors degree to a teacher, which is called the ius promovendi. once a doctor, This would give the right to teach and found another learning community, or university, in any city in the world. Doctor is therefore the universal academic title, which I proudly use. professor is an administrative, legal category which known different conditions in each country. The university spirit is international and expansive, and open, not confined and closed to foreigners. It is not expansive, however, in the sense of building a colonial empire, instead it build an empire of the mind.

Now let look at structure of this learning community. In Europe, each nation would organize for practical purpose along the lines of naciones, who would live together in colleges. there was beneficial competition for honours, but no instances of violence between naciones have been known. a remnant of this is college system at Oxford or Cambridge, and indeed Bologna.

So what is and what has been the essence of the university experience for a student? When you talk to university graduates all over the world, you will find the essence of the university experience for most is what was learned by the open exchange of views among a diverse learning community. At university the barriers for this open exchange, originating from our upbringing in different communities, are no longer relevant. In order to perform as a professional engineer or otherwise in today's world you must be able to work in multi-national teams, and engage in problem solving in a creative and efficient manner. In order to achieve this positive exchange which leads to learning, the members of the community need to exhibit specific behaviour, which is based on certain minimum ethical rules.

2- Now let me reflect on the ethics of a learning community. this is my second point.

Let's look first what is not part of acceptable behaviour in a learning community. First, violence or the threat of violence has never offered a solution to conflicts between people of groups. Although violence may seem to solve a problem in the immediacy of the moment, if we think ahead, it will only lead to more violence and vengeance by the aggrieved parties. PNG as a christian nation should have this firmly enshrined in all its dealings. If violence nevertheless occurs we will respond in an adequate and effective manner as a management team with the backing of the university council with the purpose of dissuading anyone to using violent means, and restoring climate of peaceful negotiation.

Secondly, behaving according to a certain ethos requires moral integrity. this means we can not use one set of rules in one situation, or with one group of people, and another set of rules with others. we can take account of differences between groups, but we all groups have to follow certain basic rules. this applies to differences between religious, ethnics, wantok, or national groups. If for instance, you see someone do something which is clearly wrong – stealing for example – you can not turn away and turn a blind eye just because the individual is member of you wantok, church, or nationality. you have the obligation to dissuade him or her, and stop the wrongful behaviour. Integrity does not only apply to actions but also to words. You can not say one thing to one group and another thing to another. truthfulness, clear communication and honesty are required when living in a learning communication.

Now let's look at the positive side, and see what a university ethos could consist of. The 10 commandments in our Christian tradition are specific and contain don't as well as do's. Let's keep it simple, and easy to remember. It is interesting to see that among the older Inca empire in the Andes in Peru, lived according only 3 positive commandments, or ground rules: to love, to work, and to learn.

First to love. Love what you are doing. There is no place in a university for indifference. Only passion for what you are doing will carry you through the many years of study required to master a discipline.

Secondly, indeed we need to work. There is no place at this or any other university for laziness or passivity. Sitting passively back, insisting on rights and not duties, and blaming others when things go wrong, just won't cut it at university.

Finally, to learn. There is no place at this university for stubbornness, and for those who refuse to learn or make learning in others impossible.

Never forget that we are here to learn and take responsibility for your learning. Don't blame the teacher if you don' t know the answer to a question. Don't blame other students who took a book out of the library. Don't blame low internet for not completing an assignment. there is always something you can do.

You will see that when you take responsibility for your own learning this is tremendously liberating and it frees up huge amount of positive energy. Instead of worrying and complaining you focus on your next positive action.

While learning, you as a person will change, that is inevitable, and the point of it really. You will change your points of view when you become acquainted with the evidence rooted in science. There will be no more place for hearsay, gossip, conspiracy theory or belief in magic.

University is not a place for people who do not know how to behave or respect others. It is not a place for people who are negative and always complain. Nor is it a place for people who don't mind or forget their manners. Make no mistake the university rules will be enforced by myself and the registrar's office, and when your attitude impedes your own learning or that of others, you will be called upon it by your teachers.

In short, at university we learn and grow through exchange in a learning community, which obeys certain rules or follows an ethos, that enhances open and honest communication for the purpose of learning.

3- now my third remark, where will we be taking UNITECH in the coming years?

As stated in UNITECH 2030 strategy, we will make this the most innovative and entrepreneurial university in our fields of learning in the South Pacific. Prof. Gonduan will lecture you in more detail about the UNITECH 2030 and png 2050 visions. In order to interpret the UNITECH 2030 strategy and convert it into a work plan, in the medium term we will encourage and enhance the masters degrees, and recruit experienced and qualified academic staff with a doctorate to teach you. we will create an entrepreneurship program, because we want to prepare you for the situation where you may not quickly find a job, and have to create a job for yourself.

We will increase external activities that enhance the reputation of UNITECH through contract research and teaching. The activities of ATCDI in community service - after teaching and research UNITECH's third mission - will be enhanced. In order to achieve this international accreditation will be sought for some programs. r&d funds for innovation will be sought. the hiring process will be accelerated and improved. Finally, of utmost importance for UNITECH's community we will make efforts to improve liveability and quality of services on campus.

Before we can confident in saying where we are going, we have to know where we are coming from and where we are now. We need to understand how universities are developing these days, and how we can steer this process. You will see that you will be affected by these processes, and again we invite you to take an active role in university life in this sense. after all, our activities here as faculty and staff are focused on your needs.

What drives change for universities, as for many other institutions (original speech). in my view, there are three drivers of change, the same which drive change in society at large.
a- information technology, and the disappearance of intellectual property rights law, and withering away of national laws.

Older professors, here as well as in Europe, do not bother to read email. last week, I told one professor for example, that I sent him an email about a specific topic. He answered "oh today i did not check my email." 

The young, on the other hand, are tremendous. In fact, the first facebook friend here on campus is a high school student. The young and very young are tremendous. Let' s all learn from them the good things, while we give them the direction they still need.

We can all publish now, and we can all copy and paste. we do not need to buy our articles from publishers at a high price, we can publish under a creative commons license. It is essential to understand the different manners in which universities can respond to this.

b- internationalization and globalization
At UNITECH we may think we do not need to look from outside in, having a national monopoly on technical education. our students and graduates however, will enter a world in which they will be compared, and will compete with anyone anywhere.

For students this means suddenly you have a large number of unseen competitors, who will compete with you through the international labour and other markets.

At this point I like to tell a story: Indian students work 20 hours a day and are noisy only at 4 am.

You have much more confidence than earlier generations of PNG's, because circumstance have improved, and your knowledge about the world has increased. Apartheid has fallen in South africa, white Australia policy has ended, and the USA have a African-american president. Don't be afraid to open your eyes, and in your journey of learning travel wide and far when you are offered the opportunity.

c- value for money .
The primacy of politics and ideology is gone in giving you an idea of the world around you. you can find this out by yourself nowadays. When you know what is for sale, and you know the prices, you are able to drive a harder bargain. instead university students are increasingly aware of the full cost, or opportunity costs of happy about this.

Given these tremendous changes, we need a different type of leadership, less political, more adaptive. in the past, the leaders knew the answers to the problems, and needed alliances to be respected. some were so consumed by public approval, that they forgot to focus on the effect of their decisions, and their value added to the organisation.

In order to illustrate the importance of adaptive leadership in this rapidly changing global environment allow me to tell you the gorilla story, told by Prof. Heifetz author of the book on adaptive leadership. (Disclaimer any likeness between gorillas and your current university or other leaders is purely coincidental.)

To sum up, (1) the essence of a university education at UNITECH is the open and honest exchange of views with the aim of enhancing your learning about the topics of your interest.

(2) This learning experience requires us to behave in certain ways, and exhibit a certain ethos. We will not try to achieve our aims through violence. Violence is the instrument of the weak and insecure. you will have to demonstrate moral integrity through our action. only then, you will be free in responsibility.Finally, if you are capture this essence, you will hopefully enjoy a great learning experience at UNITECH and a long and fruitful professional life.

(3) UNITECH'S reputation as a great institution of the PNG state, and its worldwide reputation as an innovative and entrepreneurial university will be re-established and strengthened. For you this means, your UNITECH degree will contribute to a long and fruitful professional life, during which you will never stop learning where you will be able and equipped to answer the challenges of leadership as a person and a professional.

Concluding remarks
I feel honoured and privileged to serve this great institution, and its vibrant learning community, as you should feel honoured and privileged to be a student at UNITECH. I am grateful to the council for having confidence in me to appoint me as vice chancellor for the university of technology, which I will humbly serve with the purpose of promoting excellence in teaching in research.

Finally, I want to thank my predecessor professor Misty Baloiloi and his management for their hard work and commitment that have ensured that this university has not only survived during the most difficult and trying times, but also moved forward in terms of new curriculum development, new programs, post graduate studies and rehabilitation of study facilities.

Thank you and God bless everyone during the academic year 2012.

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