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Friday, 22 August 2014

Minister Tabar Visit, 23 August 2014

Speech for the visit of Minister of Higher Education, Research Science and Technology, the Hon. Malakai Tabar.

Papua New Guinea University of Technology, Taraka Campus, 23 August 2014

Hon. Malakai Tabar, Minister HERST addressing UNITECH community

Dear Students, Minister, Honoured Guests, Chancellor, Councillors, UNITECH Faculty and Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today, is a happy day. We have our Minister of Higher Education, Research Science and Technology, the Hon. Malakai Tabar on our campus, and this time there is not even a boycott or a strike.

We are impressed and grateful that the first University our Minister is visiting is UNITECH.

We are happy because today we are showing to the world that finally UNITECH has become a true and normal university, a community of learning, where peace, respect and tolerance prevail.

I am determined that under my leadership peace will continue to reign, and we will all work hard to re-establish the reputation of this University as the leading University of Technology in PNG and the South Pacific.

When we do this, the State will support us more strongly, and our international partners will come back to work with us, and send us their students. This year, for example, we are already receiving foreign postgraduate students from the Caribbean through the Erasmus Mundus program of the European Commission: 2 this year, 9 next year, and hopefully 16 in two years time.

Today, you may have seen several Faculty and staff wearing t-shirts saying, "I Make UNITECH Fly". DVC Dr. Renagi and myself gave you one such t-shirt last Monday. But what does this slogan mean?

It started on 8 June 2011, when as a candidate for the Vice-Chancellor's position I  promised transformational leadership, and turning UNITECH in a entrepreneurial, innovative and student-centred University. When I was hired, that was my vision and that is what I came to do.

The slogan was launched on 7 Feb. 2012, on the day of my hand-over/take over. The former Chancellor was lecturing the incoming students about how UNITECH was a big, leaky ship and he was working hard not to make it sink. I found this a depressing metaphor, and decided to use another one. I said that if we came together we could make UNITECH fly. The SRC president in 2012, Joe Kaowai, immediately took over this motto, and the rest is our proud history.

The campaign "I Make UNITECH Fly" is centred around our 5 core values. Abbreivated they read AIPE - II - PP:

1- Accountability & Integrity. Accountability means that we tell our colleagues what we really do. We do not believe in telling them stories and excuses. Every day we hold each other accountable for results. Accountability means also that we do, what we say we are doing.

Integrity means that we do, what we say. As Ghandi said "Happiness is when what we think, what we feel, and what we say are the same". I might add "and what we do". Only in this manner we can be happy in our personal, professional, and civil life.

2- Professionalism. We try to be efficient and effective as members of a rule based organisation. We believe we can achieve our goals through: hardwork, team work and network.

The motto is "I make UNITECH Fly". It is not the VC, or the DVC, or anybody else. Everybody's contribution is required and it starts with yourself.

3- Excellence. We strive every day to be better than the day before. We do not tolerate complacency and mediocrity.

We know we can be a good university, and when we strive for excellence every day, we will get there.

4- Innovation & Initiative. We are a University of science and technology, which stimulates the critical application of scientific and technological knowledge for PNG and the South Pacific. That is our specific mission.

We can only achieve our vision, by focusing relentlessly on our mission. This requires a capacity to deal with the changing environment around us, it requires innovation. We can not be passive spectators, it requires initiative.

5-Pride & Passion. There is no place for indifference at UNITECH. We take pride in what we do, and we are passionate about achieving our results. We have developed a "UNITECH way" of solving our differences, and we take pride in belonging to a great learning community.

Minister, we can't fly before we can walk. We need some basic resources here, and I will be frank with you today. I know you will listen and take it well.

We understand you are part of a government, which has set broad targets for the country and the higher education sector. We also understand that PNG has a dismally low GER for higher education, and as educators we want to be part of the solution.

We recommend you go back to your colleagues in government next week, and impress upon them that at this point in time we can not achieve a 20% growth in student intake in the coming years, as outlined in Vision 2050. You have seen our campus now, where do you want us to put an extra 600 students next year? 

Our mess is too small, even for the current student population. Our laboratories are too small. Our library is too small and in dire need of books and repair. We have no reliable, campus wide broadband internet.

While we try to scale-up and increase the quantity of our intake, we must continue to work on the quality agenda for higher education. In June 2012, the government approved the implementation plan of the Independent Review of the PNG University System, the Namaliu/Garnaut report. The two key recommendations are:
  1. to improve university governance and reduce the Council to a size of max. 13.
  2. to improve the quality of education before increasing the quantity of the intake.
We have worked hard at UNITECH to implement these two recommendations. First, our new Council is committed to reform itself, while at the same time giving strategic direction to the transformation of the University. We have re-established legitimate governance at UNITECH, and made significant progress under the leadership of our Chancellor Sir Nagora Bogan.

Secondly, according to the Namaliu/Garnaut report, if we excessively increase the quantity of intake now, we risk the collapse of our University. The coming 3 years, therefore will see only moderate growth, while we prepare for higher growth in student intake afterwards.

We have therefore focused on improving our quality of education, by hiring more academics with a PhD. We are currently revising our curriculum and make it competence based in line with the requirements of international accreditation, such as the Washington Accords. We built 23 new staff houses which allow us to attract foreign professors.

We developed our postgraduate program, now the largest in the country (with 122 enrolled, and 32 graduates this year). Our PG program is driving research and development at our University, and the improvement of our teaching. We made all those investment, from our own resources, receiving very little help from outside.

We also understand that the government can not cover all our expenses and plans. You should impress on your colleagues in cabinet, however, that there is no state in the world, however, that refuses to cover the basic expenses of a University such as salaries, taxes, utilities, and basic operational expenses. There is simply no one else who will pay for this. The State can not continue to cover less than 70% of our primary expenses.

The goal of generating 40% of our budget from our own resources is at the moment not feasible. We made some first steps in restructuring our university companies, which have been showing increasing losses over the last years. We are turning around those units which have been showing deficits. The next step, is for us to learn how to use our assets and intellectual property to generate some resources.

We are a University of Science and Technology and that does not come cheap. More than half of our 13 department require extensive laboratory facilities and sophisticated infrastructure. We require specialised technical staff, consumable for the laboratories, reliable water and power supplies, university wide broadband internet, advanced instruments and computing facilities, etc.

We will pay for the many un-budgeted expenses such as our maintenance of academic buildings and staff houses, security measures, and a host of other expenses. We are already doing this. Through our successful partnership with New Horizons (formerly Datec) Learning Centres, for example, we were able to save 10 staff houses in urgent need of repair, and extend Wifi to all academic buildings, the female dorms and one housing area.

This week, Council approved the rolling out of the laptop project for the first year students next year. The students will pay half the price of the laptop, and we will finance the other half from our own resources. We want to do this because we want to work towards an excellent learning experience for our students, and without internet or computers nowadays that is not possible.

We gave you 5 briefs today on themes we want to work with you. Our Management team is asking you:

1- to repeal Article 109 of the Higher Education Act, which calls for the approval of the appointment of the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor by the NEC. 

I speak here as Vice-Chancellor whose main responsibility according to article 29b of our University of Technology Act is to uphold the provision of the University Act, in which the autonomy of Council and dual academic and corporate governance are firmly enshrined as guiding principles.

I speak on this occasion, since our esteemed guest, Minister Tabar is in a position to take a similar measure leading to the repeal of Art. 109.

If government has to approve key decisions, what is the point of having an autonomous University Council? In our view, this merely increases the risk of political interference in our autonomous institution, where academic freedom and dual governance through Council and Academic Board must prevail.

Other oddities in the new Higher Education Act are that no such extensive powers of intervention for the Minister are given in the case of private Universities. Finally, it seems the board of higher education keeps complete control over the tertiary education assistance scheme, without the need to consult with or use information from the Universities.

We are not concerned because we are afraid our Minister will abuse these new powers granted to him. We can not forget, however that not so long ago we had someone in his position, who was publicly and openly captured by particular and narrow minded interests, unnecessarily took sides, blocked for over 1 year the solution of the UNITECH Council and Vice-Chancellor crises, and the publication of the Sevua Investigation. We must learn from our recent past.

Our concerns today are not only based on these principles, but also on the likely impact article 109 is going to have for the management of the University. Since Art. 109 effectively ends institutional autonomy and academic freedom, UNITECH will be expelled from the Association of Common Wealth Universities. This in turn will have direct effects on our ability to hire internationally mobile Faculty members.

As member of this Association we subscribe to certain criteria for promotion and renewal of contracts, which implies that times served at UNITECH will count towards an individuals academic career all over the world.

Conversely, we are happy with the Council reduction to 13 in the new Higher Education Act, and the creation of the Department of Higher Education, but we must insist Article 109 be repealed in its entirety, for the reasons mentioned above.

Moreover, article 109 is unnecessary since the Emergency Act and the Financial Management Act give the Minister more than enough powers to intervene if Council and management were not to act as good custodians of the assets of the State of Papua New Guinea.

2- We request 10 PhD scholarships for our University, costing only about K1M each year. This is a minor investment in the education of Papua New Guineans, which will have a tremendous effect on the academic quality. We were promised PG scholarships for 2014, then 2015, and now they are pushed back to 2016, if ever.

Through a series of initiatives, we are creating a much broader pipeline for Papua New Guineans to get their Masters and doctorate degrees abroad. Yesterday, for example we sent our first student to Sardar Patel University in India to do her Masters and possibly her PhD in food science. We need our own PG scholarships, however, to have a real impact in our organisation.

3- We request the transfer or use of the Telikom College in order to increase our capacity to deliver and develop new programs. The new CEO of Telikom is open to negotiation, so we ask you to facilitate this process. We can not develop our Master plan for the campus, and our 10 year investment plan, as long as uncertainty over the use of the Telikom college by UNITECH continues to exist.

We are working on a Master Plan which will be presented to Council next year, and be subject of broad consultation with all UNITECH stakeholders. We can not finalize the Masterplan unless we have a decision on Telikom College.

4- We ask you to follow up with the Chief Secretary and provide us with mobile student houses and class rooms we requested, which were decommissioned from the LNG project.

Our international and corporate student villages are in dire need of repair, and need upgrading. At the moment, we are not being good hosts for our international and corporate students, who deserve at least the same standard as the rest of the students.

5- Last but most importantly, we want you to commission a serious benchmark study as a basis for a Salary Review which must lead to higher take-home pay for all categories of staff and Faculty.

For many years, staff has been patient, postponing their demands. This can not last however. Staff can only be productive if they need not worry about finding additional sources of income.

For many years now, we keep having a 100 academic vacancies on an establishment of 253, that is almost 40% of positions are vacant. As a consequence, all our Faculty is experience high work loads because of the need to teach. We must offer decent packages, otherwise we can not attract or retain Faculty and staff.

We are grateful for the K50M we received last year for the accreditation of the 4 engineering departments and 3 support departments. All our department are working hard revising their curriculum and rehabilitating their laboratories and teaching resources. We also hope the K100M for our university hall, library rehabilitation and student mess can be disbursed this year.

We need a new Agriculture Building, which had already been approved. Ironically, the only department that has made the transition to an almost 80% faculty members with a PhD is housed in one of our worst buildings. The current building is designed half the students we have now, and is at the end of its life. You will understand however that in order to carry out higher education policies of this government, we need all the help we can get.

We must now follow through with comprehensive Salary Review, based on a solid benchmark study, and resulting in higher take-home pay for all categories of staff and Faculty.

To round up, the UNITECH story is a story of transformation, determination and hope. Our Chancellor Sir Nagora Bogan, the SRC President Eddie Nagual and his team, and many individual staff members have fought hard and long to establish legitimate governance and effective management. They are the true hero's of the UNITECH story, and we must not forget what they fought for.

The UNITECH story is a strong story, attracting a lot of interest here and abroad. Yesterday, on our open day we had 3 times more visitors than the previous years. Principals, and guidance officers from all over the country came to visit us. We had 6 Lae based secondary schools send their pupils to us. Today, we have our Career fair, for the very first time, and attracted many companies who spoke with our students and staff.

During your hand-over/take-over last Monday, DVC Dr. Renagi and myself understood you care deeply about the higher education sector in this country. We ask you now to go back to your colleagues in government, and act as our ambassador and friend. We hope you will hear us, and the government will help us. After several dark decades, we believe we deserve a better future.

In my personal view, UNITECH is the greatest University in the world. Uniquely, after the crisis Council, management, Faculty, Staff and students all have come together in a determination to create a better future for ourselves. Our partners from private sector are jealous. They say that with Council, management and the wider UNITECH community united after our long and protracted crises, we have something no money can buy. It is therefore a do or die moment.

We have learned to solve our difference in a constructive, positive and productive way, the UNITECH way. We know you are our friend, and you will put some fuel in the plane, so as to Make Unitech Fly.

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