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Saturday, 26 March 2016

Leadership for the public interest, and long-term development

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Speech a the 48th Graduation held on 1 April 2016 at Taraka Campus

Welcome to UNITECH where leaders are forged and the future is created today.

With Justin Olam, PNG Hunter Winger and UNITECH Graduate Applied Physics

Hereby we wish to congratulate the graduands, their parents and sponsors, and thank the staff who have been working hard to make this day a memorable one for everybody.

In its almost 51 year of existence, UNITECH has produced over 14,000 graduates most of them Papua New Guineans, many Solomon Islanders, and increasing numbers from the rest of the Pacific region. Many of them occupying leading positions in business, public service and society.

As a University we are part of a large global family of institutions with a universal mission. We are proud of our international involvement in the Pacific through the Pacific Island Universities Research Network PIURN and broader through the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Erasmus Mundus or Erasmus Plus, the International Association of Universities and the Magna Charta Universitatum, which we joined to celebrate our Golden Jubilee.

Today, we are graduating a total of 920 graduands. Earlier, we graduated another 58, making for a grand total of 978. Compared to last year, the graduation numbers are going down, because we are phasing out diploma's, which we were double counting in the past.

Future Business Leaders Working on Case: Executive MBA group at UNITECH
Without a postgraduate studies there is no research, without research there is no innovation, and without innovation and educated leadership Papua New Guinea will not develop. This graduation, will be the largest graduation of postgraduate students (30 graduands) in the country ever with 1 PhD student, 27 Masters students, 1 EMBA and 1 PG diploma graduate. Our PG program is the largest in the country, with over 200 students enrolled, among which 12 international students who come from abroad to UNITECH to do their higher degrees here.

At UNITECH we treasure our research. We have seen journal publications going up with a total of around 50 for 2015, or an average of more than 3 per department per year. Our criteria for academic appointments and promotion are crystal clear. Faculty members at UNITECH only get promoted if they publish in listed journals.

We are working hard at our mission of offering excellent teaching and research, everyday, in order to realize our vision of  the most innovative, student-centred and entrepreneurial university of technology in PNG and the South Pacific.

Our motto for the 48th graduation this year “Leaders for the public interest and long-term development” has three elements: leadership, public interest and long-term development.


As our Chancellor likes to say, everything stands and falls with leadership. Leadership revolves aroud leading change. It requires a clear vision of the destination, a plan on how to get there, and efficient and effective management of people and financial resources. In the words of the Indian Poet and Nobel Prize Literature 1913, Rabinadrath Tagore:

"You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water." 
(Rabinadrath Tagore)

Dreams and visions, without a plan are mere illusions. The yardstick of leadership is how many successful new initiatives are realized, adapting an organization to a changing environment. 

At UNITECH we are implementing our plans. We have a 10 year business plan which will lead us to financial stability and sustainability. Council also approved a 10 year Master Plan for our campus, including commercial and residential development on our campus. We have a design for a beautiful great hall for conferences, graduations and other university events.

UNITECH's Great Hall (design Luke Johnson, Architectus)

We know that by focusing on our vision, and executing our mission, we can make it happen. With the right partners, it will happen quicker than we dare think today. Together, we can make UNITECH fly.

This year, we are focusing on making our campus safer, improving all our services, and making our teaching more student-centred. We have trained all our security officers and fenced off most of our campus. We have been strengthening our student services and facilities section. We make sure Faculty hold office hours. We introduced monthly meetings with student representatives.

We are the only university in PNG to commit to international accreditation by 2018, and to have implemented full study load through the common credit currency. Our students complain that at other universities obtaining degrees requires significantly less effort. We know however that these greater efforts at University will be compensated by greater professional and personal satisfaction later in life.

As part of our international accreditation efforts, for our teaching, we have introduced the PG certificate on student-centred teaching (see my introductory video), and our Faculty has been participating enthusiastically this program.

Over the last few years, we have been sending unprecedented number of Faculty members abroad to achieve their final academic qualification: on average more than 10 per year. Our criteria for academic appointment and promotion are now crystal clear, and in line with international standards. All first years students get a a laptop, and we are providing campus wide fast internet through our O3B installation. We are utilizing a learning management system to collect all course information, and we are getting better at providing learning materials free of charge. This year, we introduced subject files. Over 60% of our subjects already have now subject files, which provide documentation for the internal and external assessment procedures for our international accreditation. This is a truly remarkable achievement.

The quality of teaching is demonstrably going up, and we are convinced better quality will make our graduates highly employable.

Public Interest

The second element of the motto for the 48th graduation is public interest. Regrettably, in Papua New Guinea a large number of elected leaders are generally perceived as forgetting the public interest of all Papua New Guineans but rather as pursuing mostly their private interest only. This causes a great deal of pain, and political instability even when these leaders are eventually defeated in elections.

At this point, I wish to address the graduands. From our graduands survey we know that about half of you are still unemployed. We hope you will find a job soon, or set up your own activity, creating employment for your community. We are convinced that UNITECH experience offered you all the opportunities to develop your skills and talent to the fullest. Armed with these competences, you must now muster the courage and the self-confidence to go out there and find your first job, or set up your first company.

While seeking employment, you will probably think of giving something back to those who sponsored your studies, your parents and your family. We challenge you however to go further than that.

In life, we should not be driven by self- or family-interest only. You value as a human being is not ultimately determined by the size of your pay-check. There is much nobility and satisfaction to be found in public service, and in aiming for higher goals.

Why not join a non-profit organization, for example, and further education and health in the country? Why not join this university and pursue a higher degree so that future generations of Papua New Guineans will be better educated? As the poet said:

"I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy." 
(Rabindranath Tagore)

Long-term development and inclusive institutions

The final element of our motto is long-term development. We all know that the country and this university face numerous challenges. Some of these we inherited from our predecessors, some are inflicted upon us by external environment, others we have created ourselves.

Regarding the country, it is clear that about 10-15 years ago something fundamental changed in the economy. It started to grow by about 5% per year or more, and given the wealth of resources it will continue to do so. Now with population growth around 2.5% per year, our net growth per person is over 2.5% per year. It turns out that with this type of increase in income per person PNG has a fighting chance of graduating from a lower-middle income country to an upper-middle by 2050. (see my lecture at James Cook University)

PNG Vision 2050 is therefore achievable, if we make sure the fruits of economic growth actually reaches the majority of the population. For this to happen, the right policies must be implemented, and institutions must be transformed from being extractive – benefiting the happy few – to more inclusive, benefiting the population at large.

Experience in other countries show that creating inclusive institutions is not a smooth or automatic process. When creating more inclusive institutions conflict is unavoidable and strong and constant leadership is required. Our graduands will understand that the transition to more inclusive institutions is required, is in their own interest. They will treasure the leadership challenge to manage this fundamental change in society. You are not going out there merely to take take of a section or a department. You are going out there to improve and transform it. You are not creating a small business for yourself and your family, you are going to create employment opportunities for many others.

I am not going to talk about how we are addressing our challenges at UNITECH. Our achievements thus far speak for themselves, and you have seen nothing yet.

Before I finish, let me say a few words to the graduands.

  • Stay healthy and balanced, in mind and body.
  • Stay hungry for knowledge, be a self-directed, life-long learner,
  • Stay happy, and don't let anger and disappointment dominate your spirit, and finally,
  • Dream Big.

One of the most important female leaders of the 20th century, and one of the driving forces behind the founding of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt said: 

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams".
(Eleanor Roosevelt)

At UNITECH we dream and plan big, and then go about our daily business of making our dreams come true. As another famous american (Henry Ford) said: "Whether your think you can or you think you can't - you are right".

The choice is yours. If you think you can, the future belongs to you.

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