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Wednesday, 30 August 2017

PNG Business Advantage: Lae’s Unitech undergoes ‘cultural change’ to produce better qualified students

Link: Business Advantage PNG

The University of Technology (Unitech) in Lae is marking its fiftieth anniversary. Vice Chancellor Albert Schram tells Business Advantage PNG that the institution is undergoing a broad ‘cultural change’. The aim is to create closer ties with business and better qualified graduates.

Vice Chancellor Schram with graduates in 2015
Dr Schram claims that the university has become more accountable, is more transparent and is developing closer ties to business. He believes this will ultimately improve the employability of its graduates.
In the past, he says, some lecturers were not turning up for the first four or five weeks. That no longer happens because of a ‘cultural change underway’, which sees both lecturers and students being held accountable. Two years ago, Schram says, the University Council revised its curriculum, its employment practices and its student entry criteria. ‘We have reached a turning point and it can no longer be stopped,’ he tells Business Advantage PNG. ‘All lecturers have been on three-year contracts, and a points system operates regarding promotion. ‘So, only those who have attained a certain level of publication points will be promoted—and not because you are friends with the Vice-Chancellor.’

‘Employable graduates’

Schram says students are no longer accepted solely on the basis of their academic record at high school. They must also undergo a separate aptitude test and an interview before being accepted into a course. ‘This generation is different. They want to be here and they want to get jobs straight away.’ ‘So, all the nephews of politicians, and the rich and powerful, were not necessarily accepted and this has had a significant impact. ‘This generation is different. They want to be here and they want to get jobs straight away.’

Industrial Advisory Board

As part of a new accreditation process, an Industry Advisory Board, chaired by an ExxonMobil executive, meets three times a year to oversee an audit of units. The board also includes executives from other major PNG companies, including Newcrest and Trukai.

‘We are transitioning to a system along the lines of “show me you are running the course, as advertised”. That’s a huge cultural change. ‘We hope all these things will heighten competencies, skills and attitudes.’

‘The focus is on creating employable graduates. Each department also has an industrial advisory board which meets every semester to look at how things are going, what is needed, what needs improving—and that is brilliant.’

Unitech’s campus. Credit: Panoramio 

Schram says each month the industrial training co-ordinators in each department meet with industry trainers.‘We hope all these things will heighten competencies, skills and attitudes. But it is a work in progress.

In one case, Schram says, a PNG company hired three of that year’s best graduates. All left the company within a year because they expected to be promoted to managerial roles within that year. When they were not, they acted up. ‘So, attitude change is now a key focus.’

Business links

Schram says linking with business is a two-way process; they also come to Unitech to recruit.
Unitech Open Day.

An annual Open Day for school leavers is followed by a day for industrial partners to see the research and teaching that goes on at Unitech. Trukai Industries is the university’s major sponsor of undergraduate and postgraduate students. It also funds research and pays some development costs. ExxonMobil has donated a large electricity generator, a computer server, and computers. The company also sponsors the external assessors. Recruitment firm HeadHunters runs seminars on how to prepare for job interviews and how to write a curriculum vitae.