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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A speech about real heroes & the value of higher education - Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG ATTITUDE

Original: A speech about real heroes & the value of higher education - Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG ATTITUDE
18 May 2014


Vice-Chancellor's Speech at the 46th Graduation, 16 May 2014, Taraka Campus, PNG University of Technology

A FEW weeks ago I received a hero's welcome when I returned to Papua New Guinea after a forced absence of more than a year.

The real heroes of this story were, however, UNITECH staff and students, some of whom stood up for what is right and supported me during the year that I was kept far away and in the dark.

This year, the exceptional leadership of our Chancellor, Sir Nagora Bogan, the united staff organisations, and the peaceful efforts of students, who successfully convinced all parties, will never be forgotten.

You wrote history, and you saved UNITECH as an autonomous institution of higher learning, where academic freedom and tolerance are cultivated.

These people all peacefully but persistently convinced the government to do the right thing, and restore academic freedom and institutional autonomy at UNITECH with an aim of providing transparent, efficient, and effective management.

We now have a new Council, and we have formed a new management team.

I am aware, that my sudden popularity in the country was based on the results my management team achieved in the 11 months I was on campus.

I am firmly convinced that this team under my leadership will continue to implement UNITECH's common agenda of necessary reform and transformation, and we can provide the necessary management and leadership to see it through.

On Friday 10 May we presented the new management team during the Appreciation Ceremony organised by the Students Representative Council for the whole UNITECH community.

The team consists of UNITECH faculty of long standing and excellent reputation: Dr Ora Renagi as Deputy Vice-Chancellor; Dr. Augustine Moshi as Pro Vice Chancellor Academic; and Dr Kaul Gena as Pro Vice Chancellor Administration were confirmed yesterday in their positions in the Vice-Chancellor's office, with the hope and expectation that in August they can be made substantive by Council.

Let me share a few short reflections on this occasion. First, about our continuous improvement of academic quality. Secondly, about the role of UNITECH in national development. Thirdly, about the need for life-long learning. Finally, some reflections and words of advice for the new graduates,

Despite some recent negative publicity about UNITECH, over the last few years we can confidently say the quality of our graduates has substantially improved.

At UNITECH our teaching and students are constantly being assessed. All departments have an industrial advisory committee, which provides advice on bringing our curriculum up to date and how to enhance the learning and living experience at UNITECH.

We managed to hire around two new academics per department with a doctorate degree. Finally, we engaged with the Office of Higher Education in a program of institutional assessment, which will be finalized in the coming weeks.

We thank the government and Council for its continuous support for this great institution, and their trust in our management team. We are looking forward to continuing to work with all our stakeholders on our agenda of academic quality improvement and bringing UNITECH up to international standards.

It is of course not only the quantity of graduates that matters, it is mostly the quality of a country's graduates that will determine whether the country can convert economic growth into development with adequate levels of health care and primary and secondary education.

It is university graduates which will provide the professionals which will ensure all institutions of the state and other organisations will function properly, and it is in particular our graduates in science and engineering and management who will create the businesses that will provide employment for the masses. It is extremely worrying today that of the 16,000 or so secondary school leavers, only 4,000 or so enjoy further or higher education.

As established by the Magna Carta Universitatum of 1988, and like all universities in the world, UNITECH strives to combine teaching, research and outreach (the third mission) of excellent quality. It is research that set a university apart from other institutes of higher learning, and keeps our teaching relevant and up to date. It is outreach that ensures that the fruits of this research benefit society.

After starting five years ago with postgraduate research in the Agriculture department, we have now an active research culture at UNITECH. Weekly research seminars are now being held for the whole university. In addition, the Mathematics and Electrical Engineering departments are running their own workshops. The appointment of a Dean of Research, Dr Shamsul Akanda, has accelerated progress substantially.

We cultivate close relations with industry through the Lae Chamber of Commerce and Industry, through the corporate sponsors of our students, and we include industry representatives in our departmental industrial advisory committees.

It is through our close relation with all stakeholders in the industrial heartland of PNG that we manage to run the Rainforest Habitat, one of the prime tourist attractions in Lae, where visitors can see all iconic species of PNG.

The Rainforest Habitat is also a place staff and students like to visit, and where visiting researchers are hosted in our lodges. We also allow companies to participate in our industrial advisory committees and sponsor our students, so that they can take the first pick amongst our graduates.

We gratefully acknowledge the government's support for our agenda of improvement of academic quality, in the first place by embarking on a salary review, which is now overdue.

We need real, tangible commitment from the government to upgrade our infrastructure, in particular all our laboratories, which now must comply with standards of international accreditation. We will do our share by creating revenue from our commercial operations, but this barely covers the costs of necessary maintenance. We depend, therefore, on the government to make the necessary investment because no one else will do it. There is no university in the world that can find external sponsors for infrastructure investments.

To all new graduates I wish to say, your journey of learning has only just begun. Despite the pride you feel today in your accomplishment, you should always conserve the necessary humility necessary to continue your journey.

In today's competitive world, we only have one certainty, that we need to continue to learn, or whole life long. Lifelong, self-directed learning is how we can assure we can thrive in a rapidly changing environment and advance ourselves both professionally and personally. In this journey, you will UNITECH is your partner of choice, through its offerings of MBA and short courses, and on-line programs.

We trust that in the coming years you will demonstrate through your knowledge and skills – your intellectual capacity - and the strength of your character – your values - that you are able to leverage the education we offered you here, and perform as is expected of you.

Only through your life-long learning you will contribute to the development and positive transformation of Papua New Guinea. Through your education and strength of character, you will make a difference in the life of others. Nobody can take your education or your degree away from you, and you will see it will gather more shine over the years.

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