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Friday, 5 February 2016

Vice Chancellor's Speech Opening of the new Nursing Buildings 5 February 2016

VC and Principal receiving keys from Minister of Health, Hon. Malabag

Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,


Today, we celebrate an important milestone in the rebuilding of the Angau Hospital and the Lae UNITECH Nursing College (LUNC). It is a happy occasion and part of this year's celebration of our Golden Jubilee year. We are happy and proud the LUNC is an important part of our diverse community of learning. Amongst our faculty we have over 30 different nationalities, and representatives of all world religions, muslims, hindus, budhists, bahai etc. PNG is a Christian country, but freedom of religion is enshrined in its constitution, and we believe that diversity is in deed our strength.

First and foremost, I want to congratulate the Principal of the College, Manase Moya, for overseeing the building of these dormitories, bringing all the parties together and providing leadership, and organizing this event on such short notice. I also want to thank Deputy Vice Chancellor to whom I have delegated all matters concerning our 3 colleges - Bulolo University College, Timber and Forestry Training College and the Lae UNITECH Nursing College. Then I want to thank. Dr. Kaul Gena PVC-Administration and the Project Office team, who have taken care of the building of staff houses for the LUNC on our main, Taraka campus.

We are very happy that our investments in the college through the infrastructure funding of the Department of Higher Education, Research Science and Technology DHERST, are going to be only a first step into LUNC's expansion and uplifting to international standards. We are glad our investments will be more than matched by the projects of the development partners, in particular DFAT. We also welcome the interest and involvement of other partners such as Youth With A Mission YWAM hospital ship which will visit Lae this months.

As I will explain below, regrettably it is a rare occasion in this country, that a Vice Chancellor can witness the opening of new dormitories, and hopefully soon the new classrooms and staff houses on our main campus.

First, let me clarify the name ULNC. The GoPNG decided in 1993 to amalgamate the Lae Nursing College with UNITECH, thus creating the UNITECH Lae College of Nursing. It therefore became part of one legal entity of which I represent, or in my absence the Acting Vice Chancellor. I apologize to the Principal that last year, due to the financial difficulties of the state since 2014, we have been obliged to lower the financial mandate of our principals to K2,000. We hope next year we can lift this restriction.

We understand that under the previous management of UNITECH the amalgamation was never implemented, but this now has changed. Last year, the programs of the LUCN were approved by our academic board. It is following the lead of our departments and introducing subject files for all courses, and the external examiners system. The accounts of the LUCN were integrated into the UNITECH accounts, and I am held accountable for management of the college by our Council, led by Chancellor Chairman Sir Nagora Bogan.

Secondly, I will emphasize how important it is that we properly train a sufficient number of nurses in the country, and thirdly how we can achieve this aim.

The Health System Challenge for PNG

Regrettably, the health statistics in terms of outcomes (life expectancy, infant mortality, infectious but also non-transmittable or life style diseases) in PNG make for dismal reasons. It is no secret that PNG is one of the few countries in the world where not a single one of the UN's millenium development goals regarding health and education have been achieved in 2015. All educated people, and all our student know this. Anybody with a mobile phone nowadays can look up this information. At UNITECH we debate these issues publicly, because we want to be part of the solution to these developmental challenges.

It is not a secret that there are only 500 doctors in the country, and that only 50 practice outside Port Moresby, in a country where over 80% of the population lives in rural areas. It is no secret that there are only 1 doctor and 15 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people, as compared to for example Australia where there are 25 doctors, and 97 nurses per 10,000 people.

As Prof. Howes explained last year at the Australia PNG Business Summit, over the last 10 years, some government spending has in fact reached the schools, but very little funding reached the health system in rural areas. This is now changing and we welcome this change.

It is not all doom and gloom however. As I showed in my lecture "PNG failing to develop or developing to fail?" on 3 December at James Cook University, where I am adjunct professor,  I give an optimistic message. PNG can indeed jump from being a lower middle income country now, to an upper middle income country in 2050, in line with vision 2050. About 10 years ago there has been a structural change in the country's economy allowing its economy to grow on average over 5% per year. PNG is lucky to be located in the only part of the world where 5% growth is achieved by India, China and other Asia Pacific countries. If population growth remains below 2.5-3%, the desired developmental results can be achieved. We hope that the next 10 years some of the proceeds of this economic growth will in fact be invest in health and education so that better outcomes can be achieved. We know what to do, it is about doing it.

How to produce sufficient quality and quantity of nurses and midwives in PNG

The LUNC and UNITECH are preparing for a better future, and both have developed a Masterplan for the campuses. The Masterplans are both based on the assumption of doubling its student population over the coming 10 years. In line with the government's policy outlined in the Namaliu/Garnaut report, or the Independent Review of the PNG University System, we have focused first on the improvement of academic quality. The report clearly states that increasing the number of students with the current infrastructure and processes, can produce the collapse of the university system. With UPNG therefore since 2012 therefore we have not increased the number of students but rather have been flying a holding pattern. We are sorry we have to do this, but the risk of our university system collapsing must be managed.

The doubling of the student population assumes that investment in dormitories, academic and service buildings becomes available. Following our "Dual Delivery University" plan and depending on how much is invested on our campuses, we will change the proportion of courses that are delivered on campus, as to those delivered in our provincial satellite university campuses. Some programs, however, like Nursing and Engineering can not easily be delivered remotely or online, because they need hand-on practical exercises and laboratories. We expect to open our first satellite campus in the second half of the year, built owned by the Chimbu provincial government.

For the ULNC however on site training of nurses and midwives remains a necessity. We are happy that many of our nursing students do their training at our UNITECH clinic, which with time, and support of the Department of Health we hope to convert into an urban hospital. We are grateful for the support of the Cairns Lions club who over the past two years have donated 1 or 2 containers each year with hospital equipment to be shared with other clinics and hospitals in Morobe.

Regrettably, since independence the state of PNG has not invested in building a single academic building on our campus. We hope this will change soon, so that we can accelerate the pace of growth of our residential student population. Today the opening of these dormitories is  a sign that the state is taking responsibility for further and higher education. This is why today is a special day for me.

Final remarks

The dedication of the male and female dormitories allows the LUNC to grow its student population. The building of new classrooms and the staff houses on our campus will allow it to teach these students. Last year, the process of introduction of the UNITECH academic quality management procedures through our Academic Board guarantees that the LUNC graduates will receive a world class education. Cooperation with our joint venture partners in particular University of Southern Queensland helps us to achieve international credibility and accreditation for LUNC.

At UNITECH we are proud of the achievements so far, and working hard to make more good things happen. We are strongly supportive of the efforts to transform all Lae higher education institutions into training and education centres of a good quality and complying with the highest educational standards. In our globalizing world, there is only one standard and that is an international standard. We thank all the partners and stakeholders in this venture, and we wish the LUNC students and staff the wisdom and courage to continue on this journey.

Dear nurses, male and female, we are her for you, and provide for you the best learning experience possible within the limits of the resources available to us. We hope to see many of your at our graduation on 1 April, and on the celebration of our 51st birthday as a University on 27 and 28 May on Taraka campus. Good luck with you studies.

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