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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Opening Academic Year 2016: On Being a Good University (part 4 - 1 Feb 2016)

Speech held by Dr. Albert Schram, Vice Chancellor, at the opening of the academic year on Monday 1 February 2016, Duncanson Hall, West Taraka Campus.

Twitter: @albertschram

Clouds or Blue Sky?

Is the sky blue, or clouded in 2016?
Ambassador of Japan HE Matumoto, Ambassador of the European Union, HE Giogkarakis-Argyropoulos, Governor Hon. Dr. William Tongamp, Honoured Guests, Students, Faculty, Staff ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to UNITECH, where tomorrow's leaders are forged. 

Hereby, I declare the Academic Year 2016 officially opened.

Let me start by thanking the Orientation Week committee for putting together a wonderful program, and the Estates and Services Dept and Central Teaching Facilities for showing off today all our facilities in the best possible light.

More than 60% of our students are the first in the family to go to University, and over 20% are the first in their communities. Many of you, therefore, do not know what a university is exactly and how it operates. Today, in this speech I want to provide all students some guidance.

In our 50 years history, we have a powerful story to tell of a University that never gave up, and never gave in, nor surrendered its commitment to academic excellence, institutional autonomy and freedom of speech and thought. I for one am proud to be part of this community of learning, the UNITECH leadership team, and to work with our wonderful students, who represent the future of this country, the Pacific Region and the World.

Today, regrettably we open the 2016 academic year, under a cloud formed by the continuing state's financial difficulties, and confusion in the public administration. The government's response to the fall in commodity prices since 2014 has been to reduce spending for all state agencies, ration payment in foreign currency, and try to borrow more. As Prof. Howes told our council in November, this response is inadequate and unsustainable, and possibly risky.

In particular, extra cuts for ongoing HECAS students are irresponsible and silly. As a result, in one year we would go from having around 1,000 self sponsored students to having over 1,700 on a total student population of 3,000. We feel your pain, and assure you we did everything we could to convince the state to release funds for scholarships and the university. Let me remind you that all scholarship issues are not with UNITECH but with DHERST.

Despite the financial trouble, I am optimistic for our university this year, and even in the long-term about the development prospects for the country (see my lecture at James Cook University "PNG failing to develop or developing to fail"). At UNITECH we prefer to look at the blue sky around the clouds, rather than fixate on the clouds.

Unfortunately, at UNITECH since independence the state has never built a new academic building, so we have not been able to grow our student population substantially. Since 2012 we have maintained a quota of 750, despite having received a cut in our budget every year between 5% and 10%. For those good student, who were not selected there are 3 affordable options: go to the Philippines, study on-line, or apply for a scholarship to study abroad. This is the reality now, sad but true.

UNITECH will be part of the solution to the problem of offering adequate access to higher education in the country. Last November, our Council approved the Master Plan for the campus, which is based on doubling the student population every decade or a 7% growth rate in student population. Of course, the implementation of this plan is contingent on sufficient funding becoming available. Meanwhile, in order to improve access to higher education in the short run, our Council approved the Dual Delivery University plan. Next year, we plan to open our first satellite campus where with our international joint venture partners we hope to deliver university programs.

Now, after presenting our management team, today I would like to talk about three things. First, let me tell you about our mission, vision and values, and the governance structure of a true university. Second, let me explain the management structure of UNITECH. Thirdly, I will highlight what we achieved last year with the support and guidance of our Council and support from the SRC, and I will give you a glimpse of what we plan to achieve this year and the next. Finally, we will remind you of the purpose of your stay here as a student, and give you some guidance on how to be a good student.

1. UNITECH, A True University

Let me tell you first that a true University is not a school. We have different missions, and work with different age groups. At university, if you just show up in class, only takes notes and then regurgitate the information at the exams, you won't be a real university student. University students are supposed to think critically, interact with the lectures, and discuss with their peers about the subject matter of a class. They are also expected to organize and participate in extra-curricular activities beyond sports and religious services. Only at a university, will you form true friendships with people with completely different background and beliefs. Only at university, will you discuss passionately plans for a better future. Only at university, will you seriously think about how to make a difference in this world.

Students and staff we expect you to actively participate in all major events this year, our Golden Jubilee year:
  • 1 April graduation, 
  • 27 May Dies Natalis with alumni and former Council members and Vice Chancellors, and Childrens' Fun Day on Saturday.
  • 7-10 June UNITECH Science, Technology and Industry Conference 
  • 10-11 June Open Day, 
  • 22 July Students' Peace and Leadership Conference on Remembrance Day, 
  • 26-27 August Career Fair, 
  • 3-5 October Postgraduate Seminar, 
  • 8-10 November with NARI, National Research Science and Technology Conference. 
We need a clear vision on the role of universities in national development. What sociologists have called "reactionary ruralism" has for too long sacrificed higher education in favour of other priorities. We must get the message across that anywhere in the world leadership skills are formed at true universities. Reviving national high schools, for example, will not be enough to create the new generation of leaders. A high school diploma is not enough for a leader. Even graduating from a diploma and degree program is insufficient for today's leaders. Therefore, please don't call yourself "elites" or "intellectuals", when you have a obtained first degree. Graduating here is only the first step in your journey of life long learning.

A focus on academic quality is why at UNITECH we choose to be a true university, where teaching and research are inseparable. This is why we introduce numerous other academic quality initiative, on our way to international accreditation. This is why we have sent over 10 Papua New Guinean Faculty members abroad each year and have multiplied the opportunities for our students to study abroad. This is why we recruit internationally, and exclusively people with a final academic qualification, a doctoral degree. This is why we use internationalization as a lever to improve quality, we participate in 4 Erasmus Mundus programs, we are members of the Magna Charta Observatory - a family of over 800 like minded universities from 80 countries -, and we are active members of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the International University Association. Through these organizations we receive support for many of our quality improvement and internationalisation programs. Our international orientation as a university, is why today we are honoured by the eminent Ambassadors, who understand the soft power our university wields and facilitate our cooperation with universities in their countries.

2. The Management of the University

Secondly, let me tell you about the principles behind the governance of this university, and tell you who is who, so that you can find you work more easily with the administration.

The campaign “I make UNITECH Fly” was kicked off on 28 July 2014, and was intended to restore a sense of direction, improve engagement of students and staff, and boost motivation and morale. It was the beginning of the new beginning.

It takes a bold vision to make UNITECH fly: “The Papua New Guinea University of Technology will be the leading innovative, entrepreneurial, and student-centred University, contributing to a knowledge based society in Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific.” Innovative means we will increase our research activities in order to produce new knowledge. We are running the largest Post Graduate program in the country. We will continue to hire independent academics with a PhD who can lead our research efforts. Entrepreneurial means we will create graduates, who are accountable self-starters, and show necessary problem-solving skills and confidence to add tremendous value to any organisation. Student-centred means we will focus on delivering teaching and services to our students, which they rightfully expect.

Our mission, which is what we do has two parts. Our general mission, which we have in common with all universities is “to develop and offer teaching, research, and outreach activities of high quality.” Our specific mission is “to stimulate critical evaluation of scientific and technological knowledge.” We are therefore a university of applied sciences.

Some have asked: so is UNITECH flying? The Vice Chancellor could answer “yes” and list a large number of changes we have achieved. But the true answer is of course that until we others say we are flying we can not verify this. This moment will come in 2018 when we will receive a visit from Engineers Australia, an hopefully achieve provisional accreditation. We must therefore all work to improve our teaching, research and operations, so that other can verify that we are indeed a good university.

By doing our mission, we can achieve our vision, if we live by the right type of values. After all, values drive all our behaviour as human beings. Students and staff as members of the learning community of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology we live by our values, and by the rules of the university, always. We uphold our values actively. We hold ourselves and others accountable for results. We will not tolerate the following values to be violated:

1- High Ethical Standards: transparency and accountability.

We follow high ethical standards regarding integrity, honesty, loyalty, spirit of service to others, tolerance, accountability and transparency. Staff act in a spirit of service, serving the interest of the University, and not just individuals. Students act in the spirit of learning and furthering their education.

2- Professionalism.

We behave like professional and in all our behaviours show orderliness, neatness, efficiency and effectiveness. We believe in the mantra that only through "Hardwork, network, and teamwork" we can achieve our goals.

3- Excellence.

We aspire to be better always. We do not tolerate mediocrity in ourselves and others. We also show a willingness to improve and accept honest feedback. We are active in soliciting feedback and use it to improve our performance.

These 3 values underpin any rule based organization. We have two other core values, which make us special as UNITECH:

4- Innovation & initiative.

At UNITECH we do not stop by talking about problems, but we move to solution seeking quickly. We take the initiative, we are pro-active. We aim to use the results of scientific and technological knowledge to improve people's lives.

5- Pride & Passion.

We care deeply about what we do. We take pride in our university, and we hold those not living by our values accountable. We do not tolerate indifference. Our staff can not be actively disengaged, or pretending to work. We are passionate about living up to the promise of our mission, and our positive contribution to the wider community.

Students or staff may not always know or understand all the university rules, but if you behave according to our core values you will not get into trouble here. I guarantee you that.

When we all embody these values, we know that we can make UNITECH fly.

Secondly, let me explain now 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 is NOT the chief or sole decision maker, as if the owner of a private enterprise.

Unlike a family or a community, a University is a rule based organization. Rules are therefore explicitly and clearly described, and applied to all without distinction of ethnicity, language or creed. They preclude favouritism, nepotism, and promote fairness and transparency.

Universities do not have one but two boards, which is what we called dual governance. Our Council and Academic Board are large, in order to assure representation of all groups, including students, which is why each has a dozen or so committees, where most decisions are taken. Faculty members participate in all of these committee - students and staff where relevant and where there is no conflict of interest -, through a principle called shared governance.

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 therefore restricted in his decisions by the decisions of the Council and the Academic Board. He will take decisions as part of the leadership team, which meets every Tuesday at 10 am.

The university is too large to be administered by one person, which is why a leadership team of 6 executives is responsible for specific areas. Present members of the team, or the Vice-Chancellors office are:
  • Deputy Vice Chancellor - Vice President: Dr. Ora Renagi, responsible for the colleges and the clinic.
  • Pro Vice Chancellor Administration: Dr. Kaul Gena. (Pro is like Deputy), responsible for all operations.
  • Pro Vice Chancellor Academic: Dr. Augustine Moshi, responsible for all academic affairs, teaching and research. He is helped by Dean Post Graduate Studies: Prof. Shamsul Akanda (Dean is an academic manager), 
As you see, in the Vice Chancellor's office we are all academics with a final academic qualification: the doctorate. Universities are professional organisations, in which academics are led by academics. We do not accept direction from those who did not achieve a final academic qualification in research, and are effective in our core business of teaching. As a University in the proud Australia and English tradition, 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.

Other members of the leadership team are the Registrar, Mrs. Veronica Thomas, the Bursar, and the Librarian. These last 2 positions will be filled in March. 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, and we expect students at all time to treat them with respect.

3. Last Year's Achievements, and Planning for a Better Future

I am very proud with what our leadership team achieve last year:
  1. In February, we registered all our students online. We are the only state university to do so. 
  2. In April, we provided laptops for all 1st year students. We are the only state university to do so. 
  3. On 1 July 2015, we became first university in the world O3B, broadband through satellite. In order not to lose another generation, we needed to move away from unreliable fibre (ICTS team)
  4. We started numerous academic quality improvement initiatives, such as the Industrial Advisory Board, Subject Files, Quality Assessment Team, External Assessors system, aiming for provisional accreditation of our programs following the Washington accords. For students, we bought a license for anti-plagiarism software so we can close this loophole.
  5. For all our teaching staff, we started our Postgraduate Certificate on Student Centred Teaching. (PVC Academic and Dean).
  6. Revised our selection policy (Prof. Danbarro)
  7. We intensified our research efforts, and sent more than 10 nationals per year abroad to pursue higher degree (Dr. Moshi and Prof. Akanda)
  8. We re-opened the diploma program at Bulolo University College (Dr. Renagi and Dr. Orsak)
  9. We approved our Master plan for the campus, and hope to sign the first contracts for the development of the commercial area in the southern triangle this year (Sir Nagora Bogan).
  10. We appointed new management and a new Chairman and board for the University Development and Consultancy company, the commercial arm of the university.
  11. We started fencing, dormitory and staff housing maintenance programs (Dr. Gena)
This year, many of these activities will continue, and we will have more in store for you. From this list you will conclude, that in order to transform  the university in the sense of implementing a strategic plan, we first had to rebuild it as a functioning organization.

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 a lawyer, a former diplomat, and member of many public and private sector boards. It is an honour for us to work with such a distinguished, kind, and respected Papua New Guinean.

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.

We meet the Students' Representative Council SRC at least monthly at our management forum, but also invite your representative to bring up issues on an ongoing basis. Unlike at other universities in the country, UNITECH's SRC 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 are therefore like other council members responsible for setting strategic priorities and policies.

4. On Being a Good Student

This academic year is a year of continuing changes preparing for provisional international accreditation in 2018. We want to be a good university, because we want to produce employable and fully educated graduates. If you came here with the intention to cheat, or find loopholes in the system, you will fail. At UNITECH you can only get good grades if you work hard for it. Nobody can change that, not even the Vice Chancellor.

Our Chancellor's mantra of producing "highly employable graduates" has been our guiding principle. Staff and students are working together towards becoming a good university. The independent review of the university system IRUS or Namaliu Garnaut report in 2010 recommended first and foremost that the universities improve their academic before taking in a large number of students. The conclusions of the report were adopted as government policy in June 2012.

UNITECH is the only university in PNG to formally engage in international accreditation for all its programs, our courses are demanding. The students' study load has been calculated in accordance with the PNG Common Credit Currency (CCC). We know that not all universities have implemented the CCC, but we can assure you that at the time of finding a job your efforts will be rewarded. If we carry out this program, UNITECH is and will be the best university in PNG and the Pacific.

We know students this year are facing numerous pressures and challenges. Many of these pressures come from what our Chancellor calls our "circle of concern". These are national issues, and we can do little to influence them. We must therefore focus on our "circle of control", those matters we can influence directly, which for students is primarily their studies, and for Faculty and staff their jobs.

Students, the only reason for you to be on our campus is for you to get an education. Please remember that at UNITECH our rules are no joke. Last year, we expelled 18 students mostly for incident related to drunk and disorderly behaviour. Work peacefully with your lecturers, the staff, and fellow students, and participate as much as you can in extra curricular activities that enhance your learning and understanding. These activities are as much part of your education as what you are doing in the classroom. Your university education will allow you to think critically and to consider the consequences of your decisions.

We remind you to dedicate yourself to your studies and being a student in the true sense of the word. Please don't do anything that harms your chances to finish your program of studies with us. You can not change the finances of the state, and trust me we did everything possible to assure resources for the university and for your scholarships. We have to live within the limits imposed by us from outside.

Stay alive, and don't take any unnecessary risks.
Stay healthy, in mind and body.
Stay hungry for knowledge.
Stay happy, and don't let anger and disappointment dominate your mind, but rather focus your energies on seeking solutions for yourself, your family, your community and your country.

Good luck with your studies, and hope to see graduate in 2020.

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