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Monday, 2 February 2015

On Being a Good University 1: opening of academic year

Speech held by Dr. Albert Schram, Vice Chancellor, at the opening of the academic year on 2 February 2015, Duncanson Hall, West Taraka Campus

Published at http://albertschram.blogspot.com/2015/02/on-being-good-university-papua-new.html
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INTRODUCTION

Students, honoured guests, Council members, Heads of Departments, Faculty, Support Staff, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the PNG University of Technology. Hereby, I declare the Academic Year 2015 officially opened.

To the first years, congratulations that you have been selected among many. We are sorry that we can not accept more students on campus, and so many excellent grade 12 leavers are left out of the University system.

Anybody can see that no new academic or service buildings on our campus were built, since independence by the state of PNG. Since next year we celebrate our 50th anniversary - our Golden Jubilee - , this year we are particularly disappointed that our requests for a better library and a multi-purpose hall were declined, and funds promised earlier were diverted for other purposes. Our messing and library facility, for example, is designed for 500 students, and now adapted to serve 2.000. We are full.

We are delighted to welcome everybody in this hall, but we also must observe there should be 3.000 registered students now, among which 700 first year students, not a mere 200 registered students, as we see today.

We would be much happier if OHE would not as usual send the students their tickets late, and thus disrupt the start of the first semester. This happens every year due to their continuing lack of foresight, planning and communication capability, lack of budget management skills, in short because of incompetence.

If we want things to change in this country, as academic leaders we need to name them using the appropriate words (incompetence), and recognise reality. Only then, can we hope change eventually will happen.

After presenting our management team, today I would like to talk about three things. First, let me tell you "who is who" in the University Council and management of UNITECH.

Secondly, I will explain why UNITECH this year is at a crossroads: it is a do or die moment, now or never. From today onwards, our 1st year students will realize, that they are part of almost 50 years of history. We have a powerful story to tell of a University that never gave up, and never gave in, or surrendered its commitment to academic excellence, institutional autonomy and freedom of speech and thought.

Finally, I will look forward to what we plan to achieve this year and the next, and remind you of the purpose of your stay here as a student.

GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE OF THE UNIVERSITY

Let me tell you now "who is who" in the management of the University. Please read your student guide so that you become aware of how we are organized. When you understand the structure and processes of the university, you will find it easier to find your way, and channel your concerns or requests more successfully through the proper channels.

The Vice Chancellor is called Rector on the European continent, and President in the Americas. The Vice Chancellor's main duty is to assure the provisions of the University Act are upheld, which establishes UNITECH as an autonomous, statutory state institution.

The Vice Chancellor is responsible for carrying out the decision of the University Council and Academic Board, as taken in their regular meetings three times per year. Universities do not have one but two boards, which is what we called dual governance.

The Vice Chancellor is therefore restricted in his decisions by the decisions of the Council and the Academic Board. He only deals with individual cases when Committees have not followed the right process, or relevant evidence has been ignored. Normally, he can't, simply because he does not have the necessary information.

The Vice Chancellor has been given the responsibility by the University Council to manage the day-to-day business of the university, and provide leadership. UNITECH is a rule based organisation, ruled by Committees, not by one person, or a few executives. I am not a chief, a big man, or for that matter, merely a CEO. Rules are important. They do not distinguish by ethnicity, language or creed. They preclude favouritism, nepotism, and promote fairness and transparency.

The university is too large to be administered with one person, which is why a management team of 6 executives is responsible for specific areas. Present members of the team, or the Vice-Chancellors office are:

- Deputy VC - Vice President: Dr. Ora Renagi.
- PVC Administration - VP Administration: Dr. Kaul Gena.
- PVC Academic - VP Academic: Dr. Augustine Moshi,
- who is helped by Dean Post Graduate Studies - VP Post Graduate Studies: Prof. Shamsul Akanda

As you see, we are all academics with a final academic qualification: the doctorate. Universities are professional organisations, in which academics are led by academics. We are self governed, because we know that those who do not understand our core business - teaching and research - can not provide us with relevant guidance in academic affairs.

Our Team has been appointed by Council and our terms end at the end of 2019. As a consequence, you are our special generation of students for us, because your are the only batch that we see entering the university today, and we will see you graduate hopefully in 2019.

Other members of the management team are the Registrar, Mrs. Veronica Thomas, and the Bursar, a position which is currently vacant, an occupied in an Acting position by Mr. Bapa Bomoteng. The Registrar and the Bursar do not carry responsibility for setting the policies of the university as the members of the Vice Chancellor's office do, but they are responsible for their implementation.

Bursary and the Registry staff interact regularly with the students. We must stress here that students must accept their directions. If our staff is ever intimidated or extorted by students, the students will violate our core values, and will bear the consequences.

Students generally do not need to see members of the VC's office, unless something goes seriously wrong, or students are in deep trouble . Nevertheless, the SRC and many other students have our phone numbers, and can make an appointment between 4-5 pm every day if they need to see us. Students seldom abuse the privilege.

The management team is accountable to the University Council, which is chaired by the Chancellor, who is deputized by the Pro Chancellor. Our Chancellor is Sir Nagora Bogan. He is one of the most renowned and respected Papua New Guineans. He is a lawyer, a former diplomat, and member of many public and private sector boards. Our Pro Chancellor is equally distinguished: Jean Kekedo, a PNGean diplomat of long standing. Her sisters and family are all educators, and in fact one of our lecture theaters is named after Rose Kekedo, her sister. Many other distinguished Council members have offered their time and energy, and helped UNITECH emerge from this difficult period. We thank them all.

So what role play the students in all this? In our governance the students play an important role, and that is how it must be at a good university. Unlike the other PNG universities, UNITECH's is the SRC which has always acted responsibly and therefore has never been suspended. The President and Vice President Female of the Student Representative Council are Council members, and therefore like other council members responsible for setting the policies.

Students future leaders of society, you have heard that before. Students prepare themselves to shape national events, but not now. A student leader without a degree does not have the credibility or the education to be an effective leader in a rapidly changing world.

You are not our employees. OHE pays your scholarships and tickets, we don't. You are not our customers, but you are the recipients of our services and all our attention. You are more than all that, you are our students.

UNITECH VISION, MISSION AND VALUES

We are making giant strides towards transforming UNITECH into a good university, according to international standards.

For a developing country, good universities are not a luxury it can not afford, but rather a necessity for it to reach the next step in its development. Good universities - in particular those which a focus on science and engineering - form the cradle of innovation, which lays the basis of sustainable economic growth and development, and without which a country can not successfully participate in today's globalised economy or knowledge based society.

A vibrant innovation system, in which government private sector and universities cooperate productively, accelerates development, and assure the country continues to be master of its destiny. Countries like Costa Rica, for example, which have consistently invested in their higher education systems, including its universities, prove this. Its universities are technically not world class (in the top 400) but the top 10 of its scientist have an order of magnitude more impact than similar countries.

UNITECH is recovering from a lack of leadership during more than a decade, and a governance crisis, which lasted 3 years, and is on the right track to becoming a good University. It is making giant step in making up for decades of negligence and underinvestment.

At UNITECH, the ways of the past meant that large amounts of resources were wasted, because management was not committed to make sure they were allocated efficiently. Competent staff, for example, would not be given a chance for arbitrary or political reasons. The resources of the university only benefited the few. Procurement was careless and did not consider best price. Tax exemptions were not utilized. Essential services were outsourced to uncompetitive companies, etc.

Today, I must apologize for the state of some facilities, and I ask your patience. You must understand we are in one of the least developed countries in the world, with many developmental challenges, and we do not have a magic wand to create state of the art infra-structure, and a good university overnight.

At UNITECH, we form an international learning community with the universal mission of providing teaching and research of high standard. We treasure our diversity, and by opening ourselves to the world invite more of it. We must professionally work together inside and outside the classroom, and practice the value of tolerance.

At a good university, teaching and research are inseparable if we want to prepare our graduates for the future, and not replicate knowledge of the past. Research is required if we want to be innovative, and fulfil the promise of our mission to stimulate the application of science and technology for PNG and the South Pacific.

Our management team has firmly established our vision, mission and values, a copy of which you find hanging on the wall in each department. When we act according to these values "we will make UNITECH Fly".

Not many universities in the world decide to transform themselves so fundamentally, but UNITECH did. Achieving our vision of being a student-centred, innovative and entrepreneurial university, requires another mindset. Our behaviour must at all times be driven by our core values of: integrity & accountability, professionalism, excellence, innovation & initiative, and passion & pride. We are a learning community which holds itself to a higher standard than the societies around us. We do this, because we wish to educate for a better future, and not replicate the errors of the past.

All staff and faculty now allow themselves to be supervised, accepts direction from management, cooperate to carry out Councils decisions. Attitudes are cooperative, rather than adversial. Problems are solved through regular dialogue and negotiation, not threats and violence. We call this “the UNITECH way”.

Students, for example, understand that if they want better Faculty, there can be no fights or unrest on campus. Good professors do not want to live on a campus where students are unruly and fight regularly. Everybody cooperated, for example, with OHE's external institutional audit team, and their findings and recommendations are taken on board.

Many stakeholders have stepped up in our hour of need. Student sponsorships have increased, new sponsors such as the Lae Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the PNG Chamber of Mining and Petroleum, National Forest Authority, ExxonMobil, Trucai, Cardno Engineers, Ramu Industries, Barrick Gold, Newcrest, and countless other companies, are continuously engaging with us, making sure we produce highly employable graduates. These are your future employers who provide scholarships to the best and most consistent students.

There are more opportunities. Most of you will be aware of the long running AusAID and NZAid programs. This year we plan to apply for New Zealand's Pacific scholarships for 14 students in agriculture, science and engineering to send them to the University of Canterbury for a semester or longer. UNITECH itself is now running post graduate programs which you can take up to enhance your qualification to Masters and PhD levels. In fact, we run the largest PG program in the country with over 150 students enrolled.

UNITECH itself has a graduate assistant program (GAP) which recruits good students that can be trained to become academics. In addition, the University is currently associated with the Erasmus Mundus scholarship program, through which graduates from UNITECH can apply to study higher degrees overseas. We also receive foreign PG students, and provide an international classroom for a better learning experience. We encourage you to study smart to reach and explore these opportunities.

Only by working together, solving conflicts the UNITECH way through dialogue, and opening ourselves to the rest of the world can we make UNITECH fly.

UNITECH AT THE CROSSROADS

Last year, for the opening of the Academic Year I gave my speech from James Cook University's Cairns Institute, because my employment visa had been cancelled on the basis of false allegations that I had been dismissed because my academic credentials were invalid.

In May I submitted again all the documentation about my degrees, and certificates from former employers for scrutiny, as part of the Sevua Investigation process, which inevitably completely cleared my name in May 2013.

Last year, in my speech I said among other things: "There is no peace without justice. There are times when academics have to stand up for each other. Once justice has been done the university and the country can again move forward." Regrettably, none of the alleged perpetrators of the financial crimes which crippled this university, have been indicted year. Nevertheless, this year UNITECH has been moving forward.

Today, I am happy therefore I can give my speech in front of in our Duncanson Hall, named after the founding Chancellor of the University, and announce some good news that will affect students and everybody else.

Today, I am particularly delighted to be here and welcome our incoming students. You came to the right place: UNITECH at this moment in time is in a sense the best university to be in this world, and I will tell you why.

Throughout the crisis the last few years, students and staff learned important lessons, and together decided that we could not continue to hold on to the ways of the past. Students expect a better learning environment, staff deserve a better working environment, and our main stakeholder - the state of PNG - demands greater accountability and transparency in the management of UNITECH.

We are working together to achieve these goals, and we need you to understand this, and contribute. We need this transformation so that we can provide the best possible learning experience to the largest possible number of students, while assuring we produce highly employable graduates. We call this "making UNITECH fly".

2014 has been quite an eventful year. My return, and the installation of a new Council were arranged in the same week, after students boycotted classed for 5 weeks, under the unwavering leadership of SRC president 2014 Eddie Nagual.

[[From November 2012, our new Chancellor Sir Nagora Bogan, UNITECH staff organisations, and students fought long and hard to make sure all politicians retired from Council and management, and to re-establish effective management and a better type of leadership at UNITECH. Too many to mention here contributed to the final result, but everybody agrees that the students were the true heroes, because they risked their only chance to obtain higher education, and risked their lives, when the odds seemed impossible. In particular, those involved in all 3 boycotts, and lost scholarships, and eventually dropped out. We must remember them and continue to honour the principles for which they fought.

Let me recount briefly how students and staff together we changed history. UNITECH is now the best university in the world, and we have a very powerful story to tell. On 28 March, our Chancellor with the help of the then Attorney General, installed a completely new University Council, and on 3 April I received an overwhelming welcome on campus. On 7 May, we started with a completely new management team. I can not even begin in the short time span to highlight the contribution of individual students, Faculty members and the Chancellor to these results.

The installation of the new Council on 28 March, and my return on 3 April, ended the UNITECH saga, which had led to 3 student class boycotts in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The main reasons for this saga, were lack of accountability and transparency by the former management and Council, and continuous interference in university matters by politicians. The external audits conducted since 2005, revealed a complete lack of good administrative practices and adequate financial controls. The assessment by Engineers Australia in 2010 revealed the need to provide reliable power supply, internet and rehabilitation of laboratories. A human resource audit, showed how arbitrary hiring practices based on favouritism, nepotism and stereotyping, eliminated middle management levels and supervision, abolished the committee structure, and generally assured people with insufficient competences were appointed or promoted. When I came in 2012 very little or nothing had been done by management to address these issues, and council had not held them accountable.]]

Together we managed to move UNITECH away from the petty politics of inflated personalities, to a more healthy culture focusing on our mission of producing highly employable graduates. As one of our alumni wrote from Ireland: "Gone are the days of power-play, trivial politics and stealing."

Therefore now we are convinced staff strikes and student boycotts will be unnecessary, and a thing of the past. Their root cause was mismanagement, and political interference. In the end, students suffer a lot from the disruption of classes, and many can not finish their studies because of this. These are the true unnamed heroes of the UNITECH story.

Some said that my return had become impossible. Thanks to the leadership of our Chancellor, and the heroic actions of the students - who risked their only chance to obtain a tertiary education and at time even their lives - the impossible became possible.

So what did we learn from the UNITECH governance crisis? First, never to allow the University to become politicized. Anybody in Council or employed by the university, wishing to run for elections will have to resign 6 months before the elections. In this manner, he or she can devote time to the important task of being a representative of the people of PNG.

We learned that we must defend the University's Council's autonomy as a statuatory body established by an Act of Parliament, and academic freedom by an independent Academic Board. We are working with the government to modify the provisions in the new HE and provide it with the necessary regulation.

Today, we are concerned that the direct appointment by NEC of Chancellor and Pro Chancellor (Art. 109) will end university autonomy and academic freedom. In short, for 3 years the UNITECH Chancellor, staff and students all fought hard to assure that politicians were no longer calling the shots in management or in Council. It would be most unjust if they got this back through an Act, on which Council and Vice Chancellors were not adequately or genuinely consulted in a timely manner. This government now has promised to engage in a meaningful consultation process, and to modify the Higher Education Act if that is necessary.

We take a cooperative attitude towards the government of the day are addressing the priorities of this government. We are working with the government to improve access by establishing a number of satellite campuses. Our hybrid learning can be rolled out country wide. We are reforming our business arms, so that we can diversity our sources of revenue. We are making a campus plan, and preparing a 10 year investment strategy. We provided substantive input to the Salary Review process.

In 2012, we stopped all unnecessary expenses regarding renting rooms for students, student commutes and hiring expensive external security firms.

Again in 2014 we managed to reduce costs. We started to buy supplies and vehicles using our rights to tax exemption for educational institutions. We managed to streamline some procurement processes which is still ongoing.

This year, we expect our power team to achieve major costs savings. Our water team must find the leakage in our 50 year old water network. More cost savings will come from behavioural changes of our staff and students: switching of the lights and the computers on time, and repairing and closing the taps, will save hundreds of thousands of Kina, which we can invest more productively in education.

By buying goods and services smarter, and reducing costs we free resources which we can invest in creating a better learning and working environment.

TOWARDS A BETTER FUTURE

This year, our management is working hard to re-establish the basic conditions for operation of the university. We made great progress on this by resealing the roads, installation of an ATM on campus, extending Wifi to all academic buildings and part of the dorms, and re-opening the Kofi Haus. The SRC contribution to beautification must be mentioned here by creation of gardens, clean up campaigns and building of the monument, commemorating the opening of this campus in 1969.

This year, we are working on providing a reliable power supply and internet. ExxonMobil has been a great partner in this, by donating a large GenSet. We are changing our satellite internet provider to O3B. We will receive a reliable connection, 10 times more bandwidth (number of devices), latency (speed) similar to fibre cable, at less than 20% of the price. We are the first university in the world to have the O3B system, because elsewhere universities usually have access to reliable fibre based internet.

We are also creating the condition for hybrid learning - mixing presential and online delivery - , by supplying all first year students with a laptop computer in the course of the first semester. We are sorry for the delay which was caused by circumstance outside our control, namely erratic financial transfers from Waigani, and controls on foreign payments.

Faculty are expected to contribute to online learning as part of their regular job, just as at every other university in the world. The material they produce for their classes here is the intellectual property of the University. No university in the world would be able to function, if Faculty would not make available their syllabi, class notes and all other materials.

This year, we improved the Registration process. This will give you enough time to participate in the program the Orientation week committee has prepared for you, if you got your tickets on time, or made your way down somehow. It is important you come to all the talks and activities in the Orientation Week, where you will receive information that is vital for the successful completion of your studies here.

In particular, I would like to draw you attention to the Thursday and Friday. Thursday we will receive key note speeches from important stakeholders and fellow travellers in UNITECH journey: the US Ambassador Walter North, and the UN Resident Representative Roy Trivedi.

On Friday, the Voice Inc will facilitate a session on STDs, substance abuse and conflict, which all students must attend. We hope this will start a process of self-reflection which will improve student behaviour on campus.

FINAL REMARKS

We must remember, that as a University we operate in a very challenging environment. We can not erase the history of 20 years of mismanagement, negligence, and disregard for responsibilities as stewards of assets of the state in a few months or years. We can not ignore that we are living in a country which sees the effect of economic growth confined to the very few, while the majority of the population lacks development, and is cut off from education and health services.

Students, let me give you some fatherly advice. First, stay alive, and prevent accidents. Last year, we had too many accidents, and in all of them alcohol was involved. Treat your body as a sacred temple, and do not contract AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases. Stay healthy, and do not abuse restricted substance such as alcohol.

Secondly, don't be angry and disappointed, take responsibility and make things better, stay happy, do not fight, and solve inevitable conflicts the UNITECH way: through dialogue, and by leaving justice to the higher authority of the University. UNITECH is a rule based organisation so when when conflicts arise, we leave it to the higher authority to do justice, we do not take justice in our own hands.

Finally, remember the purpose of your stay here, and study hard. This will produce many benefits for you. Industry and donor agencies make incentives available for the best students to encourage scholarship and performance in your studies.

If, as a student you remember the purpose of your stay here, and behave according to our core values, you will forge friendships with people which will last a life time. You will learn to respect each other, and value diversity. Here on campus, you will participate in extra-curricular activities and become active in Church, sports activities, departmental associations, provincial groups, organisation of events, and the SRC. All this is essential to develop your character and leadership skills.

Remember the Bachelor's degree is only your first degree. A Masters degree is usually expected for a professional job, and as an academic nowadays you need a PhD. You are not "the elites" when you graduate, you will need to educate yourself during your whole life.

This is an important year for UNITECH: we are preparing our 50th anniversary in 2016. As part of this, we will prepare a rich program of activities for 2016. In addition, we opened ourselves up to the world. We became members of important university networks such as the Magna Carta Universitatum (reaffirming the principles of good universities), the United Nations Global Compact (for social responsibility), and Scholars at Risk (protecting freedom of speech of academics). This year, we will see the visit of many of our foreign partners from New Zealand, Australia, India, Korea, and Japan.

We are proud of our university, and cherish the autonomy of our Council, and the academic freedom enshrined in its dual or shared governance. When we are confronted to sacrifice these two greater goods, for the sake of political convenience, managerial expedience or other interests, our only answer is a resounding "no". When we are challenged by the leaders in our community of learning to strive for excellence and transform ourselves, we will follow. We will live up to the promise contained in our vision and mission, and will not allow our values to be ignored or trampled. This is what we call making UNITECH fly.

Students, never forget that enrolling and graduating at UNITECH is your only opportunity you get to build a foundation not only for your life-time career, but also your ticket for contributing to building a nation with strong and inclusive democratic institutions, a diversified economy, and adequate health and education systems for the whole country in line with Vision 2050.

Now that societies in the 21st century are increasingly becoming knowledge based, and the pace of change of everything is increasing, life long learning is the only certainty we are left with. You journey has just begun.

2 comments:

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