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Thursday, 11 June 2015

Open Day 12 June 2015: Vice Chancellor's Remarks

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Ladies and Gentlemen:

Welcome to the Papua New Guinea University of Technology, which this year celebrates proudly and confidently its Golden Jubilee, its 50th anniversary.

We were founded on 27 May 1965 by an Act of the House of Assembly on the same day at the University of Papua New Guinea. We are truly twin universities, which today is symbolized with the Vice Chancellor of each University being member of both Councils. In those 50 years, UNITECH has produced over 13.000 graduates, and this year alone in April we graduated over 1,000 new graduates.

O3B Installation at UNITECH
Let me be frank with you. Not all is well at UNITECH. When you open your eyes and look around you on this campus, the State, which owns the public Universities in PNG, has not taken responsibility for the upkeep of its assets.

In fact, the State has never built a single academic or service building on this campus since independence in 1975, while at the same time it pretends the University grow its student numbers quickly. We have reached a limit to this growth with over 3,000 students now enrolled on this campus. We can not grow student numbers on our campus any longer.

In order to address the needs of the country we launched an ambitious plan to increase the students who participate in blended learning programs in our soon to be opened satellite campuses. We plan to serve over 3,000 students in this manner in 2025.

For the Universities in Papua New Guinea, these days there are other dark clouds on the horizon. We continue to be structurally underfunded with the state meeting only half of the cost for each graduate. In its NEC decision 364 of November 2013, the government has admitted the costs per student per year are around K30,000. With 3,000 students that should give UNITECH a budget of around K90 million, instead this year we got a mere K47 million, only 52% of what we need. We are being paid to deliver only 1 semester, but we still offer two.

To make matters worse, over the last 3 years the trend in our funding has also be declining, while our student and graduation numbers have been steadily increasing. This year, we received 5% less funding than in 2012. When you cut spending in a government department you may eliminate wastage and improve efficiently and focus. When you cut spending at a University, which is already underfunded, you will be courting disaster and collapse. Staff and students will invariably react when salaries are not paid on time, and services are being delivered.

With our new Council and management and the other state universities we are working hard to make the government see its mistakes. If the cuts now rumoured to be imposed on UNITECH of over K9 million and UPNG of over K10 million will be implemented, both universities may need to close this year, and will be unable to take this years school leavers.

Let's now assume this government comes to its senses, and we can take in new students in 2016. Today, I have 2 things to say. One message for the employers of our future graduates and one message for those aspiring to become UNITECH graduates.

First, to the employers of our current and future graduates, you can be assured that UNITECH graduates will have been offered a learning experience that is in line with any international program offered elsewhere.

You don't need to take my word for it. We had the first visit of the delegation from Engineers Australia in March, and all our departments are now updating their curricula, and producing their graduate profiles and program outcomes. This process is bound to take another 3 years, after which we hope to receive provisional accreditation according to the Washington Accords. We are the only university in the country which has submitted itself to such a rigourous external examination of all our academic activity.

Last April, we finalised our Institutional Assessment according to 13 quality criteria. 12 of those were partially met, and the 1 which was not met to a significant extent – regarding our finances and administration - we have taken swift and effective action.

In fact, yesterday we had the first meeting of the External Audit Committee in presence of the Secretary of Finance, Dr. Ken Ngangan. We are catching up with our mandatory external audits. For our 2010 audit (2 years before my time, I started in 2012) we still received a disclaimer, but for 2013 and 2014 we are aiming for an unqualified opinion from the Auditor General.

UNITECH is open for business. We are grateful many leading companies sponsor our students. We welcome the private sector on our campus and to review our programs. We have 4 representatives or the private sector in our council: the Lae Chamber of commerce, an accounting firm (PWC), and leading mining and agro-industiral firms (Morobe Mining and Trukai).

In fact, we are happy many captains of industry have joined our industrial advisory committee for science and engineering, and particularly proud Jeff Ralson of Exxon Mobile has accepted to chair it. Together with our Faculty, this committee will take a close and hard look at our programs and make sure they stay relevant to the needs of industry, and up-to-date.

For our aspiring students, I want to say that if you have an interest in the application of science and technology, and want to be part of this university which aspires to be student-centred, innovative, and entrepreneurial, you came to the right place: UNITECH is the place to be.

For our campus programs, we can only select the best, and we have strict requirements for English, maths, and science scores for many of our programs. For all UNITECH graduates, Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (abbreviated STEM) are key disciplines, which they learn to apply to solve problems in all areas of life. More than other disciplines, they contribute to technological innovation, which drives the economic growth and development of a country.

Our Faculty (our academics) and support staff will work together to offer you the best learning experience possible. We have a group of passionate and highly experienced teaching Faculty, who offer university level learning experience. Our academic quality is firmly anchored in our dual and shared governance, with the academic board vigilant over the quality of our programs. Faculty members, staff and students sit on Council and are members of the Academic board and participate in many of its committees.

Our procedures and structures reflect over 50 years of accumulated wisdom. 50 years ago we were founded as a University, and we have a long tradition of combining teaching and research. Our teaching is informed by research, and kept relevant by the work our post-graduate students undertake together with our Faculty. We have, in fact the largest postgraduate program in the country, with over 150 students enrolled in our in-house programs.

Uniquely, your learning experience here at UNITECH will be enhanced by the resources we can use thanks to our fast and reliable internet. Last month on the 50th birthday of our University we gave ourselves a present, that will help ensure we are ready for the next 50 years.

We decided the country could not afford to lose another generation of students without internet skills, which are essential for a career in the 21st century. On the 29th of May, Hon. Malakai Tabar, the Minister of the Department of Higher Education, Research and Technology opened the O3B satellite installation, which you can see now outside. This made us the only place in the country with reliable fast internet, and the first university in the world to use this new technology.

Our O3B installation shows that problems which before seemed unsolvable, can be solved. At UNITECH we show progress is possible in PNG, even with inadequate funding. At UNITECH, as you will see today, together Faculty, staff and students we make these things happen, or as we like to say here “we make UNITECH Fly”. We will pilot the plane and take care of the passengers, but we need the state to put fuel in our engines.


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