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Monday, 6 June 2016

On planning for effectiveness, and the virtues of moderation

VC's Speech delivered at the SRC forum on 5 June 2016


Dear Students:

Thank you for inviting me today at this SRC forum to share some thoughts about your future as a student and a professional, and the future of this University.

The University Management at the Forum
During the last 2 weeks, the students have played an important role in raising awareness about the complex constitutional and economic issues facing the country, In doing this, they showed intelligence plus character, which is the hallmark of any educated person.

The university Council and management are neutral on political issues, because we always have to work with the government of the day, which can be the opposition of tomorrow. As per our Act, however, and the SRC constitution we do provide a space for the student body to express its concern, and take actions within the boundaries of the law.

We have allowed you your space for expressing your concerns on the country's economic management and constitutional issues. We appreciate that for a while you chose patriotism over your education. The student movement achieved important endorsements, and has been deserving our support for the genuine, moderate and disciplined way it has conducted itself. You have done well so far, but you have done what you can.

Students received some important and high profile endorsements, but many civil society groups and the opposition have not taken the required actions to make a successful outcome likely. They may do so in the future, but we can not wait for that. Without massive, real and tangible support from the public, the national student movement for good governance and transparency can never succeed in its aims.

Under the guidance of our Chancellor Sir Nagora chosen a non-confrontational approach based on dialogue. We have spoken with different student groups every day. Even Chancellor himself spoke to the SRC and the Committee one week ago. Now we ask the student body to give us something in return, so that collectively we can show this approach is superior than an approach based on confrontation and repression. Please stay united and continue to work with us.

My purpose today is not to tell you what to do, but rather to share with you some conceptual tools and advice in order to better understand the decisions before you. The future is an important place, because that is where we spend most of the rest of our life. Your future as a student is in your own hands, and only yours. What you decide today, will determine who you will be tomorrow.

Focus on Outcomes

 

The first conceptual tool is “start with the end in mind”. You always must decide on any action, with the final outcome in mind.

So what would this mean, for example, for our University?

A vision without a plan is a mere illusion. As a University, therefore, we have made sure we focus on outcomes and our vision is supported by proper understanding of the role of the University, robust plans and timely actions.

The future of the university is not only in your hands, but is determined by a wide array of stakeholders, but principally: the state, who pays most of the University's bills, your parents and sponsors who pay your bills, our University Council, the Vice Chancellor's office, your future employers, and of course the student body. Nobody can create a positive future for UNITECH or for the country single-handedly.

We have a great vision for this university. Last year, we made a 10 year business plan, which showed that in order to become a financially sustainable university we had:
  1. improve financial accountability and control,
  2. make more efficient use of human resources, and
  3. diversity the sources of our revenue.
Ad 1. This year we will catch up with all our financial audit until 2015. As a consequence we are now eligible for a wide range of outside funding sources.

Ad 2. This year, we will reorganize ourselves in order to comply with the mandate of the state to phase out all unattached employees, and long-term casual workers. We have invested heavily in upgrading our IT capabilities in operations and teaching. We are going to improve Wifi substantially on campus this year.

Ad 3. We launched our Master Plan, and are busy attracting investors. We presented it in Port Moresby in April, and in a few weeks time we will do the same in Lae.

A university is of course not all about finances and efficiency, but they provide the conditions for successfully doing anything else.

Our plans also include the objective of becoming an internationally accredited university, and substantially enhance the relevance and quality of our teaching. Our PVC Academic has initiated an ambitious quality program, under the guidance of the Industrial Advisory Board – which is chaired by ExxonMobil, and has members from Newcrest, Barrick Gold, and many other leading companies. We can not achieve this goal alone, and we need the private sector to come on board.

In order to enhance our teaching quality we need good Faculty, well selected students, and good programs.

We have been using internationalisation to get you better teachers. Our management team has sent more members of Faculty to pursue higher degrees abroad than ever before. This week, for example, as part of our “Top Talent” program we are preparing to send one PhD candidate in applied physics to the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar, one of the world class universities in India. As part of this program, we have sent 2 PhD candidates to Queensland University of Technology. Only 2 or 3 candidates per year from UNITECH used to go for studies abroad, the last 3 years this has consistently been over 10 candidates per year.

We have started a postgraduate program for our Faculty on student-centred teaching. The first dozen or so graduated this semester, and next semester we hope a few dozen more will participate. As a consequence of this, you will get teachers in the classroom who know how to utilize IT, how to engage students and be effective teachers.

In order to make sure that only the best students will be selected to our programs, we are working with the Australian Council for Educational Research ACER to develop an aptitude test for all incoming students.

Through our Quality Assessment Team we are making sure that the number of subject files grows from current 40% to 80% at the end of the year. Early next year, the external assessors will evaluate our courses based on these filed. This type of quality control makes it possible to ensure that lesson plans are being updated, and are taught according to plan.

I call the combination of a financially sustainable and an internationally accredited university, a good university. Only a degree of a good university, will retain its value throughout time, and will make graduates highly employable. We believe that UNITECH can become a good university, and together we can make UNITECH fly. Everything we do must contribute to the outcome we desire, and the same is true for any student movement.


Enlarging your circle of influence



The second conceptual instrument is realizing how certain things will remain outside our circle of influence. We can continue to talk about matters outside our circle of influence, but in so doing we will by definition be ineffective. Instead, we must focus on actions within our circle of influence, and plan our actions intelligently.

Let's take this boycott as an example. Whatever we want to do about national issues, does not preclude getting an education and finishing the academic year successfully. We can have a win-win, if we want to. We can choose a lose-lose and commit academic suicide, but for what purpose?

Let's consider various options and scenarios. Instead of a boycott, alternatively, students could now contemplate radical extreme actions which will further damage the suffering economy of this country. The worst damage however would be to your own reputation, and you would destroy the goodwill you have created by your ethical, thoughtful and smart approach so far. You would no longer be credible as future leaders of this country if you behave dishonestly, impulsively or violently. The ensuing disruption would merely upset a great number of people. In so doing, however, the students would certainly push those, who have been endorsing them, further away.

If together we continue as a dysfunctional university, where stakeholders believe they can discontinue operations because they have a particular concern, or want a particular outcome outside our circle of influence, we will never become either a good university, or be able to enlarge our circle of influence.

By continuing a boycott, we would invite the intervention of the state, who will not continue to feed and house young people for the purpose of studies, if they refuse to study. If we allow one stakeholder to hold hostage the progress for all the others, we have a sure recipe for failure. Make no mistake, the very existence and the future of this university are at stake if we continue this class boycott.

This national boycott of classes now will enter its 6th week. It is about a complex national issue which really is outside the scope of the SRC, the University Council or the management.

From the outset we said that we can rearrange the academic calendar and still complete the year successfully if the boycott last no more than 5 weeks. In fact, the Academic Board last week, with participation of the SRC, anonymously decided to start classes tomorrow and finish the 1st semester over the next 3 weeks. The Academic Board is the highest decision making body in the university on all academic matters, and I am bound to carry out its decisions.

In this meeting we established a few principles, namely that we will not extend the duration of the academic year beyond 28 October, last day of exam week of the second semester. This means classes for Semester 2 must begin on 18 July for a 13 week semester, and there must be no more boycotts this year. The two semesters will be reduced from 15 to 13 weeks each, which is below the accreditation criteria but will still guarantee a minimum of academic quality. Any further reduction would require remedial teaching in the evening hours, and the cooperation of the academic staff associations.

Now we hear that you want another week to finalize your boycott, in order to make sure all awareness groups are back on campus. Some NASA Faculty members have proposed the same. Technically, we can only do this if marking and processing is done in 2 weeks, rather than 3. We are touched that leading national Faculty members have committed to make this effort, but we are not sure if can work.

Mind you, a lot of activities have already been compromised. We can not celebrate our 51st anniversary, for example, this Friday as planned. We invited PNG Hunters Winger Justin Olam coming Friday to celebrate with us but we had to cancel. We will celebrate at the start of July, if you go back to classes this week. Other activities are suspended until classes resume.

Conclusion


In sum, at a good university and in a functioning democracy students do their political activities, their religion, their sports, while attending classes. It requires a degree of organization on part of the students, and nobody said it would be easy.

Students can not stop going to classes every time any of those other activities (political activism, religion, sports) demand the attention of the student body. Students can not ask for “leniency”, effectively asking us to compromise the quality of their education. Leniency does not exist at a good university, it is only about quality of your education.

Compromising the quality of your education for any of these other legitimate and positive activities, therefore, is not right, and it is not necessary. We hope therefore this will be the last student boycott of classes in our history. There are many other ways in a democracy to be politically active and achieve your goals. Papua New Guinea is still a democracy, even though like all other democracies it is imperfect.

Don't misunderstand me. The adversaries of UNITECH would be all to happy to see you continue an indefinite class boycott, or mass withdraw (rather mass fail because the time for withdrawal has long passed). They can and will intervene.

A different Council and a different management would no longer focus on becoming a good university, but rather be a university under government control. Politically appointed Council, management and faculty would not safeguard the value of your degree. We would go back where we started on our journey in 2012, and UNITECH would never fly.

Yesterday, I met with former Attorney General Kerenga Kua. On Saturday, we opened the first Simbu UNITECH Satellite University centre in the country, so that we can increase our intake. From the beginning, with other former leaders – a former Ombudsman, 2 former PMs, a former supreme court judge - Hon. Kua has endorsed the demands of the students. He told me he was so impressed with the way UNITECH students had done awareness in Kundiawa that he even spoke at the rally, something he would not normally do.

He let me know now, however, that he can not endorse a further prolongation of the boycott. It serves no purpose. Any further action will merely alienate the public more, and students will just lose public support. The students education is the most important investment this country can make in its future. We must not lose this investment now.

If we believe in democratic Papua New Guinea, we must now leave it to Parliament and the electoral process to address these issues. If we believe in the success of its people, we must work hard to educate ourselves, be excellent employees, create employment, and make sure the economy bounces back quickly.

The time has come to focus our minds on the long term goal of getting a good university education. We can no longer sacrifice this for other short term goals. Your education can only happen if you don't let yourself be distracted by other issues. Your education can only happen if you devote time to it, put your mind to it, and you claim it as your own. Your education, today, can no longer wait.

We have received you request to continue boycotting another week and the promise to return Tuesday 14 June (since the 13th is a public holiday - Queens Day), signed by SRC and all 22 provincial presidents. Therefore, we will convene another academic board meeting coming Wednesday to finalize the last re-arrangement of the academic calendar. We thank NASA for their cooperation in this matter.

Thank you for your attention.

Students Listening to the Speeches


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