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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

On Being a Good University 2: speech for Minister Tabar's Visit on 4 February 2015

Speech held by Dr. Albert Schram, Vice Chancellor, for the visit of Hon. Malakai Tabar, Minister HERST


4 February 2015, Duncanson Hall, West Taraka Campus

(1800 words – 14 Minutes)

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INTRODUCTION

Students, Minister Hon. Malakai Tabar, First Secretary honoured guests, professors, heads of departments, Faculty and staff members, ladies and gentlemen,

We are delighted to welcome our Minister, Hon. Malakai Tabar today to our campus, and we thank him for addressing our first year students. This is the third time he visits our campus, and I believe it is a sign that we have good relations with the Department.

Last Monday I gave a speech “On being a good university”. In it, I exposed my vision for UNITECH to become a good university, with adequate resources and staffing, and internationally accredited programs.

In our private meeting this morning with Minister we addressed some of the impediments we are facing at the moment, but here I would like to focus on the positive side, and outline our vision for the future.

ON BEING A GOOD UNIVERSITY & THE NEED FOR CAPITAL INVESTMENT

Conventionally, a world class or good university is a university ranked in the top 500 of Academic Ranking of World Universities ARWU, or top 400 of Times Higher Education ranking. Currently, we are very far removed from that goal, and no university from a small developing country has achieved this status yet. Provided we can attract and retain 80% of our faculty with a PhD, there is no reasons this can not be achieved, or at least we can strive to come as close as possible to this goal.

One necessary condition, however, is that we review our Salary levels, and improve the living and working environment on our campus. We must find ways in which we can live in peace with our harsh operating environment: inadequate power, water and road infrastructure, lack of health and education services of sufficient quality, a campus surrounded by settlements, etc.

Last Monday, I also spoke of our Master plan and 10 years investment plan, which will form the basis of a more rationalized investment strategy for our campus.

You don't have to be a financial wizard to understand that after almost 50 years the book value of our buildings is close to zero, and they all will need to be replaced, or extensively refurbished.

Even with a moderate growth of student intake on our campus of 7% for example, in 10 years the student population would double. In all, a major investment in our University is required, which for the coming 10 years may amount to over K1B.

We can live with the threats posed to our institutional autonomy by the new Higher Education Act, and the political interference. You know our stance, and you know we will not hesitate to defend these principles, enshrined in our Act, and enforced by almost 50 years of our University's history. We always survived threats to our governance, but we can not survive however without adequate funding.

ADDRESSING GOVERNMENT PRIORITIES JOINTLY

We have taken a cooperative attitude towards the government of the day are addressing the priorities of this government. We have been able to defuse the threat posed by the errors in the new Higher Education Act, and we are delighted a well structured process of meaningful consultation with the Vice Chancellors and Chancellors will take place to develop the necessary regulation, and possibly prepare amendments to the Act.

We are proud we finished the institutional assessment, and are now taking responsibility to address the many recommendations. By our Council meeting in April, we hope to have addressed 6 of the 13 criteria.

We are working with the government to improve access by establishing a number of satellite campuses. We already visited Chimbu province to evaluate the feasibility of a satellite campus there, where the governor has been active to realize this plan. On 9 March we will visit Enga province to explore opportunities to establish a sattelite campus there.

In March, we assured a meeting with the Vice Chancellor of Australian Open Universities in Melbourne, to explore manners in which they can support our efforts in hybrid learning – part presential, part online. Through hybrid learning, facilitated by our DODL, our programs can be rolled out country wide. The courses will be developed taking advantage of our broadband internet network by a course coordinator, and then rolled out through tutors nation wide.

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.

We are making a campus plan, and preparing a 10 year investment strategy. We provided substantive input to the Salary Review process. These are all standing government policies or priorities of this government in particular.

NEXT STEPS TOWARDS BECOMING GOOD UNIVERSITY

Minister, I know you sympathize with us, and I am preaching to the converted, but please bear with me, when I explain what we want to achieve at UNITECH, and why.

For this year, due to the financial situation our management can only promise re-establishment of basic conditions of operation reliable electric power supply, replacement of inadequate dorms, introduction of new administrative and human resource practices, must stricter financial controls to reduce leakage, streamlining of procurement, better asset control, and austerity to reduce wastage.

We were generously donated a 560 KVA GenSet by ExxonMobil. They also donated us student dorms, which will replace the inadequate housing in our international corporate student villages. Our staff and bursary are changing long established administrative practices using more electronic communication, and simplifying processes. Our internal auditor is executing an annual audit plan, and will soon be supported by an external audit committee. Our 2012 audit will be finalized by April, and presented to Council. We are streamlining procurement and cutting out unnecessary middlemen where possible. We are also finally making use of the tax exemptions created by law. For our vehicles, we are using electronic tracking system, and just yesterday we found one vehicle only hours after it had been stolen. We are implementing several austerity measures which will reduce costs of stationaries, travel, electricity and water bills.

This may not seem the ingredients of a particularly tasty dish, but our staff and students have been waiting so long for this to happen, and they understand it is a first step to becoming a good university, and possibly a world class university afterwards. We must start with the basics, but our ambition go beyond that.

UNSEEN CHANGES

At the same time, however, we are facilitating some unseen changes, which will have a tremendous impact on the quality of our teaching, the engagements of students and staff, and our capability to scale up our programs through satellite campuses across the country. The unseen changes happen in ourselves, and in our activities in the classrooms, and do not need any funding.

Technology is main driver of what has been called e-learning. Internet has gone mobile. Our lecturers are increasingly using social media such as Twitter to communicate with the students. Google Classroom is functioning as a learning management system.

Most of the content is already freely and publicly available on the internet. Our own content distributed effortlessly and at no costs. Gone are the days of the unreadable photocopy.

In turn, technology forces upon us the use of non-classical pedagogical approaches such as flipping the classroom, project or problem-based teaching, and hybrid learning. Gone are the days, of the unreadable photocopy, or the days in which a course consisted of lectures only.

We continue to open up to the world. We are receiving 6 new postgraduate students from the Caribbean through the European Commission's Erasmus Mundus program. Our postgraduate program - the largest in the country - is receiving international attention, thanks to the tireless efforts of our Dean Postgraduate studies, Prof. Shamsul Akanda.

Through the Erasmus Mundus programs, we applied for 8 positions for staff to do their PhDs in Europe and the Pacific, and in April we will whether they are selected. We are preparing for a Research and Innovation Staff Exchange RISE proposal with the Pacific Island University Research Network PIURN, the field of agriculture and agro-industry.

Even without counting for inflation, we need at least as much funding as in 2012, and in fact we need more since we have increased our staffing levels, and given long serving staff their deserved promotions. We will make an additional submission for at least K4M plus another K16M in justifiable operational expenses.

We have a string of international visitors to our campus. Our efforts to achieve international accreditation for our engineering programs, will receive a boost through the visit of the UK Institute of Mechanical Engineers on 12 and 13 February, organized by Prof. John Pumwa.

On 22 and 23 February we will receive the visit of 2 scientist of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in India. In Tamil Nadu they have been cultivating rice for milennia, so we hope to learn from their experiences. This visit was organized by Dr. S. Gopalakrishnan of Applied Sciences, and facilitated by Prof. Shamsul Akanda of the Agriculture Dept. Trukai Industries is sponsoring several research projects with UNITECH and NARI in rice cultivation.

In March, we will visit UC Berkeley, and establish relations with US Universities. In September we will sign MoU with universities in Japan, and sign the Magna Carta Universitatum declaration of principles in Bologna, the oldest University in the world (where accidentally my grandfather was Deputy Vice Chancellor from 1964-1968).

All this you can't see, but it will produce a remarkable improvement in the quality of our graduates, through enhancing our research and development efforts.

FINAL REMARKS

Dear Minister, you have visited our campus 3 times, but most importantly each time you have spoken to students and staff. They can collaborate the picture I just drew.

We see you as a friend and an ambassador of UNITECH in Waigani. Nobody is in a position like you to understand our predicament, and have a deep appreciation of how our teaching and research in agriculture, sciences and technology is vital for the development of this country.

We hope you will fight the budget battle with us, so we can put money to accompany the many words used to address the issues.

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. Without good universities 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 assures the country continues to be master of its destiny, and its citizens dignified members of a knowledge based society.

From our side we will work hard and support your policies in order to strengthen the PNG university and innovation system, and in the process hopefully make you the most successful Minister of HERST in the history of the country.


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