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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

UNITECH Vice Chancellor's Graduation Speech 10 April 2015

(please check against delivery, under embargo until 11.00 am, 10 April 2015).

Dear Students, Honourable Minister Charles Abel, Mr. Keli Taureka (Exec VP Inter-Oil), distinguished Guests, Heads of Department, Faculty and Staff of UNITECH, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Internet Frustration in PNG

It is my privilege today to address the graduands of the 47th graduation of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology UNITECH, their parents, family members and sponsors.

This year, we present to our Chancellor graduands from our different programs: 40 Post Graduate graduands (of which 1 in our in-house doctorate program and 13 in our MBA, which is by now well-established), and 1,012 from our Bachelors programs. Today, we add 1,052 UNITECH graduates to the total number of about 13,000, and celebrate the largest graduation ever.

We also acknowledge 3 UNITECH Faculty members who obtained their doctorates at foreign universities since our last graduation: Veronica Bue, Lydia Yalimbing and Jim Pai Lem. Congratulations to each of you, and thank you for your effort and sacrifice.

We wish to thank all the members of the Graduation Committee, PVC Academic, Dean of PG studies, Heads of Departments, and all staff for working tirelessly since last September to organizing this annual event, which is the highlight of our Academic Calendar, and the final result of all our efforts.

Especially I wish to thank all the support staff from Central Teaching Facilities for providing all the support, and the staff of Estates and Services, who built this beautiful and cool graduation tent, and gardeners for making our campus look at its best today.

Our graduation is expensive. In a time where we have to think about every toia we spend, UNITECH happily spends over K1,000 per student. It is worth it, and we do it gladly. Today, we prove again that UNITECH's graduation is the best graduation in the country, and also one of the shortest, that is if I don't speak too long.

We are convinced that our graduates this year proof our progress towards realizing our vision as a University: to be student centred, innovative and entrepreneurial. We have a stake in our graduate's personal and professional success, in fact today we hold our graduands survey to find out how many of you have been successfully employed.

We are confident that our graduates will be able to solve problems, think critically and show value-based leadership to contribute to the necessary positive transformation of society.

First, I will make a few brief remarks on higher education landscape globally, and secondly on the position of the PNG UoT in this changing landscape. Finally, I will give a few words of advice to today's graduands.

1- HIGHER EDUCATION. The world is changing at an increasing pace. Globalisation and technology are affecting us all, and are changing the societies in which we live. The old ways will no longer do.

<<No longer are we protected by geography and the barriers of time and distance. Globalisation - the increasing cross-border flows of funds, people and trade in goods and services - is having effect on all societies, deeply changing the higher education sector. Some say that more than half of the jobs our students will find when they graduate do not yet exist.

Leadership by definition is concerned with change, communication, and providing a sense of direction to an organization. But this new world requires a different type of leadership. Traditional leadership gives way to adaptive and value-based leadership. Where in the past leaders would know the answers to most questions and there decisions were never questioned, now the answers and sometimes the very questions must be learned, and followers will hold them accountable.

Today's leader needs to be transparant both in the physical and in the virtual world. He or she must base all its behaviour on her or his personal core values, so as to establish a reliable reputation and ensure a following. At Australian universities, for example, ethics committee's regularly check on directors and executives performance, and more than half of the Vice-Chancellor's regularly tweet or post their messages on facebook.

Successful market-based capitalism, development in terms of adequate health and educational outcomes, and democratic institutions are inextricably linked. In some Asian countries, the idea the democratic institutions are expendable has persisted. Our collective experience over the past two and a half century however suggests otherwise. Without democracy, fundamental human rights, as enshrined in the PNG constitution of are impossible to uphold.>>

The recent killing by Al Shabab terrorist of 147 students on Garissa University Campus, reminds us that we must take a stand against all forms of extremism and terrorism, and uphold the values of a free democratic society. The words we spoke today reciting PNG's national pledge to strife towards a democratic society should not remain empty, but must be matched by actions.

Most countries in the world now realise that technological, social and organisational innovation drives economic growth - in terms of growth of the gross domestic product, a measure of the size of the economy - and development - in terms of educational and health outcomes.

Neither of these three societal outcomes - market based capitalism, development and democracy - is possible without an educated population. Our graduates will have jobs which today do not even exist. Education and life-long learning is therefore the key to unlock the door of true freedom of the individual, and real development for the country.

However, only if primary, secondary and tertiary education is properly funded can a country participate successfully global markets, and through trade and innovation raise its standards of living for its citizens.

Therefore, today we ask the state of Papua New Guinea must take responsibility for its educational institutions and the assets which it owns and is bound to maintain and develop. We reiterate therefore our desire that 6% of GDP be set aside for primary, secondary and tertiary to education, and a similar amount for health institutions. Countries who have done this long term such as Korea and Costa Rica are now in the middle or high levels of development.

Ambassador North in this place on 4 February reminded us that Papua New Guinea is one of the few countries in the world that in 2015 had not achieved any of the 8 Millennium Development Goals. In his brilliant address during the Guest day at the orientation week, he said:

"I have a dream that your generation can be the one that transforms PNG from a land where our beer is our pride to one where your people can live in pride and dignity."

"… from a land of the unexpected to a land where expectations are met in terms of health, education, security, infrastructure, human dignity and good jobs".

The Ambassador said that this dream can only be fulfilled if you use your education to become of a person of integrity and intelligence, and use these virtues to open your own pathway towards your goal, your Ithaca, the final destination of Homer's hero Odyseus.

In our view, today the higher education sector in PNG has to face four fundamental challenges:

First, UNITECH needs to provide greater access to Higher Education. It is a national tragedy that less than 1 in 5 of Grade 12 school leavers obtain a place in a higher education institution. In several provinces this ratio is much worse. In PNG only about 2% of the age group from 18-24 attends tertiary education institution, this is less than 1/3 of the average for Africa, the most disadvantaged continent in this respect. In India it is over 40% and OECD countries normally score higher than 80%.

Since independence no new academic or service building has been built by the State on our campus. Since we can not take in more students, we need to bring the University to the provinces. We are engaged currently with various governors to make this happen by the start of next year.

Next semester, we will open at least 1 satellite campus, and will connect it to our fast internet network on the main campus.

Secondly, we must start to produce some revenue from our assets. Yesterday, council took control again of the commercial arms of the University, and hopefully a new management of these entities will be able to turn these loss making entities around, and for the first time make them contribute revenue to the University.

Third, we need to improve working environment and conditions for all categories of Faculty and staff. The salary system has many contradictions. Some categories of non-academic, support staff are probably underpaid, and fall below the minimum. National faculty salaries need to be raised to a higher level in order to attract qualified academics with a doctorate. The gap between national and non-national should be narrowed in many cases, and other policies to attract academically qualified PNGeans, who left the country. We need academic who are fully qualified, and have the know-how and experience of working in modern higher education systems.

These three challenges are Government priorities, and they are completely aligned with UNTIECH strategic plans.

The fourth challenge is to live up to our mission as a University, and engage in teaching, research and outreach of excellent quality. We have been working incessant on quality, and following through on the findings of the institutional assessment.

2- UNITECH. Now let us turn to the state of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology. Our University was founded in colonial times by Act on 25 May 1966. In 1969, it was separated from its sister university UPNG in Port Moresby, and established here in Taraka in the midst of the pulsating industrial heart of the country.

We thank the SRC of 2013 and 2014 to have restored the monument which commemorates the opening of the Taraka campus, and gracing it with a motto from a pre-independence national leader.

UNITECH was established with a specific mission of being a university of technology, of applied sciences, engineering and agriculture. We want to make it live up to the promises contained in its mission to stimulate the critical evaluation of science and technology for PNG and the South Pacific.

A bit more than 1 year ago, on 3 April 2014 I was carried into the campus by enthusiastic students. This ended a prolonged crisis of almost 3 years. It established a tremendous reputation for our UNITECH students, and created a strong success story for successful, peaceful, civil activitism in PNG. So many times have people told me admiringly: "Woow these UNITECH students are unbelievable!"

After all has been said and done, in the end “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., US black civil rights leader & clergyman (1929 - 1968).

The UNITECH community of learning can proudly to say, our friends have not been silenced, and continue to speak up and support the positive development of our university. I we had not acted under the leadership of our Chancellor, we would surely be dragged down "the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight", in the words of the same Dr. King.

Next year UNITECH will look at back at is first 50 years of existence, and we will celebrate our Golden Jubilee. We stand now at the start of a trail up onto the mountain of the next 50 years. This trail will lead us to new, unknown heights from which we will enjoy splendid vistas of human achievement and fulfilment.

The next 50 years, will require new invention and innovation, decision and leadership. Painting this new landscape for you is not a set of promises, but a series of challenges which we put before our students, Faculty and staff. We must develop the confidence and provide the progressive leadership to face them.

So far, we have been facing those challenges with a positive spirit, not by trying to hide for the inevitable and stick our heads in the sand. Over the past years, we have invested heavily in:
  • building 23 new Faculty houses, and refurbishing 10 others,
  • the improvement of quality by improving our student selection processes, 
  • hiring and retainment processes and policies for Faculty and improving our Faculty to students ratio, 
  • improving student selection processes, 
  • revising the curriculum in all our departments and introducing the common credit system, 
  • changing our student assessment procedures of Faculty, 
  • producing a single 1st year common engineering program, 
  • institutional audit process led by the Department of Higher Education 
  • preparing for accreditation of our science and engineering programs in accordance with the Washington Accords, 
  • extending wifi to all academic buildings and dorms,
  • providing fast internet access through O3B satellite from June onwards
  • etc. etc. 
In leading this change it is important to learn from experiences of others, obtain their support, and broadly engage with universities elsewhere. For this purpose, we are active in the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which this year made a scholarship available for post-graduate studies at UNITECH. We became signatories of the Magna Carta Universitatum, which is a world wide network of universities, and members of the United Nations Global Compact for universities, among others. Finally, we are deepening our cooperation with partner universities in Australia, New Zealand, India, and Japan. This year, we sent 2 PG students to the Queensland University of Technology. We also sent the first student to do her PhD in India.

This semester, for our university we hope to restore basic conditions of operation. We have reorganized our security services to provide better security on campus. We are improving our clinic. Thanks to donation of a genset by ExxonMobil, and the tireless work of the Power Team, we will be able to assure reliable power supply to all academic buildings and in particular to our IT systems. Meanwhile our water and power monitoring teams are working hard to stop leakage and excessive use, and thus reduce our utility bills, which total over K5M.

Regrettably, for the past decades we were barred from using the internet fully due to the absence of a fast and reliable connection. When I first walked around in the dorms and saw students spending all their money -sometimes over K400 Kina per month - on Flexcredits to access the internet, they asked me "Please VC, give us Internet, and we will not ask anything else anymore."

Now however we have cracked this nut, in 4 steps. First, we are restoring reliable power supply to academic and administrative buildings, and in particular to the IT systems.

Second, we assured capability of students to access the internet while on campus. All first year students will be given laptops from next Monday onwards, department by department. Each laptop will be registered on our network, it will be password protected and useless for non-authorized users. Distribution of the laptops will start next week. We beg the students to make sure their laptop is not stolen, since they get only 1 for the whole period of their studies.

The laptop will contain only free open-source, virus free software, and run the Ubuntu operating system. This license free software assures that our graduates develop the skills to control the technology they are using, and thus will be able to multiply these low cost solution in all institutions and organisations in PNG.

Third, we changed satellite provider, and obtain fast reliable internet through the unique technology provided by the low-orbit O3B satellites. This will give us the fastest internet in the country. We are the first University in the world to use this new and unique technology. We hope to start the service on our 49th birthday as University, dies natalis, on 25 May 2015.

Fourth, we extended the Wifi network to the whole campus. The resources from our public-private partnership with New Horizons Learning Centre have been assigned in large part to this purpose.

These four steps are still in the process of being completed, but I have no doubt that before the start of the next semester all projects will be completed and all outstanding issues will be solved.

Up to this point, these are not contested technology choices. It was quite obvious what need to be done. After the initial investments, tremendous savings ill be achieve since teaching materials no longer need to be printed or photocopied. In addition, by using cloud solutions for email, learning management systems, and financial and administrative systems, expensive servers can be avoided.

Technology after all is just a tool. Our true challenge is to use it for creating true communities of life-long learning, and provide a rich learning experience for all our students: "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education. " (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Our O3B internet system and wifi network, will enable low cost and highly scaleable delivery of our programs both on campus, as well as on our satellite campuses. In our process of growth we must assure academic quality, and become a true internationally accredited, dual delivery university. This "university of the air", which was already envisioned by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Howard Wilson in the 1960s when he created the Open University. Now we have the technology to facilitate access and interaction necessary for learning.

My wife Paulina and I are grateful and feel privileged that we can serve this great institution, and contribute to its development together with our Council, the management team, the head of departments and all Faculty, staff and students.

We acknowledge the previous management teams in having started the provision of internet on our campus and starting the PG program. We have been able to greatly accelerate these processes and bring them to a higher level.

We are very thankful for Council to trust our management team and having renewed our terms until 31 December 2019. With little funding, we will do a lot. With sufficient funding, a clear strategy, a firm commitment, and persistent hard work and dedication we will turn UNITECH around, and as we like to say "make it fly".

3- GRADUANDS. Now finally let me turn to the graduands. A graduation marks an end, as well as a new beginning. The end of studies, however, does not mark the end of learning. We expect our alumni to be life-long learners and welcome them back in our PG courses.

Today, you begin your life as an alumnus or alumna of UNITECH, which now counts over 13.000 graduates. This year's graduates will be able to participate as alumni in all the celebrations of our 50th anniversary which will start on 25 May 2016 on this campus, and will be held in all the provinces.

Your road to freedom and self-realization may still be long, but if you choose the path of virtue and uphold your values, your path will be straight and lead you the top of self-realization, satisfaction, and profound fulfillment.

Life is not always easy, sometimes things get worse before getting better. If you let you education be your guide, you will emerge victorious at the other end of the obstacle course. After all, as Henry Ford said, obstacles are those terrible things we see, when we let our eyes wander off our goals.

The 13th C. Poet Dante Alighieri – arguably with Shakespeare one of Europe's greatest poets - reminds us that before reaching the mount of joy, or planet as he calls it, Dante had to traverse hell guided by the poet Virgil, “that fountain of truest speech” and symbol of education.

Initially he finds his road block by a Lion, who symbolises violence, a She-Woolf who represents incontinence or lack of self-restrained, and the Leopard who represents fraud. These three animals stand for the 3 main sections of hell.

The poet however leads him through a different crossing hell. In the deepest circles of Hell he found those who committed fraud, and took for themselves those valuables which were intended for others. They are frozen in ice, which shows their coldness of heart.

Dante, the poet writes:

But at the far end of that valley of evil
whose maze had sapped my very heart with fear
I found myself before a little hill
and lifted upwards my eyes.
Its shoulders glowed
already with the sweet rays of that planet (the Sun, or God)
whose virtue leads men straight on every road,

(Dante, Divina Commedia, Canto I, lines 13-18)

(In Italian:
Ma poi ch’i’ fui al piè d’un colle giunto,
là dove terminava quella valle
che m’avea di paura il cor compunto,
guardai in alto e vidi le sue spalle
vestite già de’ raggi del pianeta
che mena dritto altrui per ogne calle.)

Elsewhere, he reminds the reader:
Consider your origin (as humans);
you were not born to live like brutes,
but to follow virtue and knowledge
(Dante, Divina Commedia, Canto XXVI, lines 118-120)

(In Italian: Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.)

Yesterday you found yourself before this final little hill, your graduation. Today, you are at the passage and through a small opening, you can see the stars. Now, you should now choose the straight road, and not be misled by vices and temptations of hellish animals. When you choose this road, your self-confidence will grow, and you will establish a good reputation. After all, as Henry Ford said, whether you belief you can, or you can't, you will be right.

Only if our University continues to produce transformative leaders with integrity and intelligence, who can solve problems and think critically, will it prosper in the next 50 years.

Only if you can correctly interpret the changes in the world around you, and use your education with integrity and intelligence, will you be able to lead the necessary transformation of your family, your community, or the institution or company you work for.

Only if your sense of responsibility for serving others, your integrity and your capability to solve problems, dwarfs your conformism, complacency and sense of entitlement – of being “the elites” -, will you be successful as a person and a professional.

Only if you live up to the promise contained in your very nature as a man or woman, only then will you reach the top of the mount of true joy and satisfaction, your Ithaca.


Ambassador's North Speech

Dante: and full text at

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