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Thursday, 24 December 2015

India & Papua New Guinea

First Impressions Count

With a population of almost 1.3 billion people India is the second most populous country after China, and the world's largest democracy. It has 10 languages spoken by more than 30 million people each, and a total of 454 different languages, not counting dialects. Papua New Guinea of course tops the ranks. Dealing with diversity is therefore a common challenge.


Illustration 1: Language diversity per country

India counts 6 major different scripts, which are impossible to read for the non-initiated. It has 10 cities of more than 1.5 million inhabitants. Around Mumbai, we find the worlds largest movie industry. The city was called Bombay in colonial times, hence Bollywood) It is the largest dairy producing country with the largest dairy cooperative in the world. Indian railways is one of the largest employers in the world, with more than 1.5 million employees.



The traditional images of India evolve around the Taj Mahal, railways and turbans. On first impression, every thing looks different in India, and is done in a distinct way  from the rest of the world. Nothing is as you expect it to be, the way you eat, the way you transport yourself, and even the manner in which you wash yourself, and use the bathroom.


Illustration 2: Steve McCurry 1983 - locomotive and Taj Mahal

India is a country of countless contradictions, largely because it is such a huge and diverse place. It is both an industrialized and a developing country in one. It is at same time one of the most innovative, and one of the most traditional societies. For a foreigner, India can be an infuriating place, and it is devilishly hard for an outsider to make sense of its long history, complex society and diverse beliefs. An Indian friend of mine once said: “Everything you say about India is true and the opposite as well”.

When Looking Beyond Appearances

The truth is that you never entirely get used to the Indian way, but over time you will discover deep running similarities with the people of India . In order to truly understand roots of Western civilisation, we have to dive through the millennia into Indian history.

While spending Christmas in Chennai, we ran into one of such deep similarities. The Southern states of India were converted to Christianity by the Apostle Saint Thomas. In fact, the oldest church in India was supposedly founded by him, and dates back to the year 57 AD. At Christmas time in Chennai next to the crib of Jesus Christ another crib with Saint Thomas is placed, because in some of the scriptures Saint Thomas is called “the twin”, assuming he was Jesus's twin brother.

Parts of India are changing very fast, other parts are developing slowly. In the first decades after independence in 1947, it was bogged down by associating with the wrong friends (the Soviet Union), getting the wrong policy advice which did not produce any benefits, and having overly restrictive and inflexible bureaucracy; that is until the 1990s, when the Indian tiger awoke.

Since the 1990s the country has taken steps forwards, and some backwards. With the current Modi government, some say that necessary fundamental economic reforms are being implemented others say a number of quick fixes to the economy have been applied, which won't be sustainable. The jury is still out on this.

As to India's foreign policy, due to the influence of the former Soviet Union, India was often  found in company of left-leaning and economically not so successful countries such as Eritrea and Tanzania. Today, India is open for business with anyone, and is moving around the world stage with much greater confidence. For India, no country no matter how small is unimportant. Indian industry – for example, machine making, information technology, and many other sectors including higher education– is looking to markets in the Pacific, in particular where there are large Indian minorities.

India's Unique Innovation Climate

Now we come to the most difficult thing, making predictions about India's future, and India's role in the Pacific. Innovation - whether it is technological, organizational, social or of whatever kind – drives a country's long term development.... so where does India stand?

The President of India Mukherjee understands the power of innovation and the role of universities very well. He has expressed his concern, and challenged the universities to perform up to international standards. Regrettably, India has allowed university autonomy to be eroded. Various states appoint university executives and directors, and this has structurally led to a performance below par.

The President of India has been very clear: “Innovation converts research into wealth.”, or in other words “Innovation is the currency of the future” – and universities must be at the heart of this. He advocates for fundamental reform of the Indian university system: “India cannot aspire to be a world power without having a single world-class university”.

Indians potential to innovate is among the highest in the world, and there are positive expectations and great confidence in its ability to innovate. Although India is not catching up fast enough, in the European Commission's annual innovation barometer it is placed after the EU, Canada, Australia and China.


Illustration 3: Trust in innovation per country 2014

Indians have great trust in innovation. They perceive both innovation as having clear benefits, and find the innovation process transparent, which gives them a sense of control and access. This unique innovation climate creates the condition for accelerating innovation, and consequently faster economic growth in the future. An optimistic prediction seems in order.

In India's universities there is a legacy of fossilised administrative systems, ancient teaching methods and rote learning, and antiquated campus infrastructure. Lately, there are positive developments. This year, for example, in Gujarat and in Tamil Nadu we met numerous dynamic and innovative university leaders. We visited numerous universities, public and private, which had made major investments in their laboratories, and had lured fully qualified Indians back from abroad. Again, an optimistic scenario seems to be most likely.

Papua New Guinea University of Technology's Partnership with India

For the Papua New Guinea University of Technology UNITECH, which I have the honour to lead with my team, we play the India card cautiously but determinedly. We have the support of our Council, and our corporate partners have generously supported partnership with India. It also comes after Prime Minster's O'Neill successful mission to India, and before a planned large Papua New Guinean trade mission in 2016 to India. We are expecting the counter visit of the Indian President in April next year.

Last year, we were able to send one of our graduates to do a PhD at an Indian partner University with the support of the Indian High Commissioner in Port Moresby, and the Indian Council of Cultural Relations in New Delhi. Next year, we hope to obtain more scholarships, and send our graduates to selected partner universities. We signed, or are close to signing agreements with 2 Indian funding organizations, and 3 partner universities, which will lead to more good things happening at UNITECH with Indian support.

Today, the main challenge for our university is to improve its teaching and enhance its research in order to obtain provisional international accreditation for all its programs. We can only achieve this if three major obstacles are dealt with:
  1. To retain and hire at least 80% of our Faculty with a doctorate;
  2. To invest at least K50M for our laboratories' rehabilitation and upgrade of apparatus;
  3. To provide increased access to quality university education to a larger number of students.
For all three challenges, partnership with Indian institutions and universities will be helpful. 

We hope the state will revise the salaries for our academics, and institute policies which allow fully qualified Papua New Guinean academics to come back their country and contribute to the development of higher education. In the past, UNITECH would send only 2 or 3 of our Papua New Guinean Faculty members per year abroad to pursue higher degrees, but in the last two years we have sent over 10 per year. While they study abroad, however, they need to be replaced by foreign academics, because there are no Papua New Guineans with a doctorate applying.

India has been a great recruiting ground for fully qualified academics, who have experience studying and working abroad. Currently, about 1/3 of our foreign Faculty members are Indian, and this is likely to increase. As to the laboratories, partnerships with Indian universities allows us to pool resources at least for research purposes, and use Indian laboratories at a fraction of the cost of facilities elsewhere. In the process, we will learn a lot about cost-effective solutions to challenges all universities in developing countries face.

As to the challenge of providing broader access to quality higher education, with Indian partners and various governors in Papua New Guinea we are implementing our "blended learning" plan, and we will start rolling out distance higher education across the country in 2016.

These are exiting times to be at a University of Technology which aspires to become a good university, while responding to the needs of the country. At UNITECH we have mobilized the appropriate support, identified the proper partners, and we will keep developing the university. UNITECH like any other good university will continue to serve its students, and its principal stakeholders, in particular all those parents whose only desire it is to send their daughters and sons to university, and the employers who expect job ready graduates, They are all counting on us, and we will not disappoint.


Final Remarks

At first glance, India and Papua New Guinea may seem to have little in common. On closer inspection, however, there are many commonalities and a huge scope for productive collaboration in higher education.

The delegation of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology has been successful in forming partnerships with Indian universities and funding institutions. In the process, we met numerous colleagues and made genuine friends. In addition, joint rice research was started and a funding proposal will be submitted in April with the Pacific Island University Research Network. The support of Trukai industries for our mission has made all this possible.

Our partnership with India will help us address some of our principal challenges as a University. In the process, the relations between the two countries in fields beyond higher education will grow stronger.

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