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Monday, 6 November 2017

On becoming a good University (part 5): opening of the 8th Huon Seminar 7 November 2017


Dear Students, Governor, Minister, honoured guests, Council Members, members of Vice Chancellor's office, Head of Departments, Professors, Faculty and Staff of the PNGUoT, ladies and gentlemen,

Today, it is a great honour for me to open the 8th Huon Seminar, where over 40 stimulating papers are presented reflecting the research activity of our Faculty and staff from a PNG perspective. The word Seminar comes from Latin "seminarium" which means seedbed. I am also proud that all members of the Vice Chancellor's office have prepared interesting contributions, Prof. Gena, Dr. Renagi and Dr. Moshi. All participants today are expected to be seeds, yielding many fruits across the nation and the Pacific region.

First we will discuss internationalization and academic quality improvement at the PNGUoT. Secondly, I will distil some lessons from the history of our university. Finally, I will insist on the need for further investments to sustain the achievements made during the last 3 years.

Internationalisation and Academic Progress

Under the leadership of Chancellor Sir Nagora Bogan – a proud Morobean - over the past 3 years, our management team built up an excellent working relationship with the University Council, and we have been driving many changes and improvements through the organization with a focus on producing highly employable graduates by delivering modern, high quality academic programs.

Currently, we want this to continue, and must avoid backtracking and instability in our Council. It is too easy to blame one side (the Vice Chancellor) or the other (the Council) for failures. It is really about creating this working relationship while respecting our traditions of academic freedom and institutional autonomy. We feel that with Sir Nagora Bogan this relationship brought many benefits to the PNGUoT community of learning, our staff and students, and we will ask him if he is willing to serve again.

Referring to the theme of the seminar, no contribution to national building will occur without offering access to quality programs, and producing highly employable graduates. As the Independent Review of the PNG University system in 2010 (adopted as government policy in 2012) made clear it is of paramount importance that:
  1. Council reform itself, and reduce it's size to around 12 or 13, as per advise of the PNG Vice Chancellor Committee;
  2. First quality of academic programs be improved, before an increase in the quantity of the intake of students can occur.
This was adopted as government policy by an NEC decision in June 2012.

As to Council reform this is now long overdue, and we believe our new Minister of DHERST will proceed to align the HE Act 2014 with the university acts. We propose this process be done through natural attrition, cutting the number of government appointed members to 4 plus the Chancellor, and 4 Council appointed members representing the business community of Morobe, and essential competences (law, accounting, and human resources). The number of staff on council consequently will need to be reduced.

Secondly, there are a number of process which drive academic quality: accreditation, competences, entrepreneurship, innovation. All these words were new for the PNGUoT before I came in 2012, but under Sir Nagora's leadership these processes have been support to drive academic progress and to produce highly employable graduates. Our annual graduates surveys of all graduates shows that 6 months after graduation only 40% are employed. (For our partners in the region USP this is over 70% and JCU over 90%).

Let's now first discuss internationalisation and academic quality improvements separately.


Let me give a brief introduction on this theme to demonstrate how internationalisation has been at the centre of the PNGUoT's successful efforts to improve the quality of its education.

There are four major types of internationalisation that drive academic quality improvement:
  1. teaching curriculum and competences (international accreditation verified by an external, independent professional organization)
  2. research grants (external funding)
  3. international collaborations and services (revenue sharing agreements, partnership, joint venture or satellite campus for teaching/research/transfer)
  4. extra curricular activities (Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMech), American Society for Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Association of Tertiary Education Managers (ATEM), summer schools, Confucius Institute, French institute, student associations, etc.)
Only the benefits of the third category are direct and even those take years to mature. It is generally agreed, however, that the indirect benefits and long term impact of internationalisation are immense, which is why all universities are actively engaged in it. The main internationalisation activities are:
  1. Incoming mobility (“internationalisation at home”)
  2. Outgoing mobility (visiting, or degrees)
  3. Workshops and training (twinning)
  4. Mentoring visits for international standards audits.
  5. Participation in international (IUA, ACU, Magna Charta, Global Compact) or regional (PIURN) fora.
The Vice Chancellor is the chief “internationaliser”, since he represents the institution, negotiates, and signs the agreements.

Many stakeholders part of internationalisation

There is a myriad of stakeholders involved in internationalization, with the policies set by the Vice Chancellor's office. For academic advice and research we rely on the University of Cambridge and University of California Berkeley, both in the top 10. It has been my strategy to overcome shyness and engage with the best in the world. They partner with us regarding academic projects in which they are interested.

In the region, our twinning partner is James Cook University. Another regional partner is the University of the South Pacific, with which we have developed activities through Erasmus Mundus and PIURN the Pacific Islands University Research Network since 2012.

It is noteworthy, that Trukai Industries has been a consistent sponsor sponsoring a wide range of scholarships and activities. It has even invested in our development with Indian institutions for rice research. This is truly a unique partnership, which we wish to broaden and deepen further.

The funding organizations are Australian DFAT, European Commission Erasmus Plus and Horizon 2020 program, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and a few others.

We also receive support from accreditation bodies such as Engineers Australia and AMBA.

What are the results of our internationalisation efforts? In the past 3 years, we have had 76 staff and faculty mobilities. We have sent out 26 Faculty to do a PhD, of which 4 have already returned with their doctorates. This has been an unprecedented effort greatly beneficial to the country.

Mobilities since 2014

For the value of international scholarships #1 is DFAT, but #2 European Commission is important because of the wider variety of mobility and activities it sponsors. #3 is New Zealand, and #4 is the Association of Commonwealth Universities. India, Trukai and Japan follow.

PNGUoT top 7 overall external sponsors

Apart from the State of Papua New Guinea, our largest external sponsors of the University are:
  1. ExxonMobil
  2. Australia
  3. European Union
  4. Trukai
  5. New Zealand
  6. India
  7. Association of Commonwealth Universities

Positive relation between international co-authorship and above average academic impact

Vice Chancellor's want internationalisation because it drives up the reputation of the University (place in the rankings), and because international co-authored research has a larger academic impact. Larger impact will lead to more innovation. Without innovation there will be no economic growth. Having been educated at two of the top 100 world class universities in the Netherlands, I am acutely aware how long the road to innovation is, and how many dangers lure in the scarily named "valley of death" between a research results and a marketable product or services.

Essentially, a cultural change is required where people dare to think independently and exchange ideas. The biggest danger is the fear of failure. It may not be a coincidence that cultures with lower "power distance" like in Northern Europe occupy 4 of the 10 spaces in the top 10 ranking of most innovative countries.

Top 10 most innovative countries

At PNUoT for transparency's sake, we also started measure the outcomes by asking all PNGUoT researchers to publish their Google Scholar profile so that we can see the top 10 active researchers in terms of total citations (not impact of h-index) in our institution.

Administrators should not be active researchers, but nevertheless Prof. Gena and myself are still in the top 10, hopefully soon to be surpassed by others.

Top 10 researchers in term of number of citations

We can clearly see that the PNGUoT is an  academic jewel here right in the heart of Morobe province, the largest province in the country, with the largest industrial sector.

Academic Progress

Today, is a reflection of the great progress PNGUoT has made academically. Real Universities are places where research and teaching are inseparable, as the Magna Charta Universitatum states to which we are the first PNGean signatory among more than 800 universities in the world. 

For this reason, we are proud to run the largest Masters and PhD program in the country with over 200 students. Other universities in the country do not have sufficient number of fully qualified Faculty members with a PhD to run this program, or choose not to.

Today's papers, grow from an active research culture that we have fostered over many years. We offer more than 40 postgraduate seminars each years - 1 hour on Tuesday from 2-3 pm. This year several departments have been organizing more specialised departmental research seminars. We have also seen the creation of several research institutes, where like minded researchers with similar interests gather and exchange information.

The news today, is that I have been able to sign a letter of intent with the University of South Pacific Graduate School of Business to deliver the only accredited MBA program in the South Pacific here in Lae. Our small core Faculty will be supplemented with qualified and experienced academic based in Fiji to deliver this program in Lae which complies with international quality standards. On 13 or 14 November, we will organize an information session with Dr. Hali from USP about this program in Lae. 

All researchers who wrote their contributions to the Conference are based here in Lae, and their ideas are firmly grounded in reality. These are not beautifully crafted papers dreamt up in a foreign capital, but our own work done with local resources and therefore with some local limitations. I am proud of each and every one of the authors of the over 40 papers which will be presented in the coming days.

Science progresses in a piecemeal fashion by referring to the work of others. We call this standing on the shoulders of giants. All these papers therefore include an extensive literature review. Our researchers can do this because the PNGUoT is the only institution in the country which has continual, reliable broadband internet thanks to its unique O3B satellite installation. In July 2015, we were the first university in the world to use this system. We have been upgrading our campus wide network and wifi since then.

Governor, all students at PNGUoT are genuine students and working hard. Don't take my word for it! Here are the facts. PNGUoT is the only public university to:
  • conduct a mandatory STAT-P test for all school leavers with ACER in Melbourne, and an entry exam for all non-school leavers. This year UNRE and UoG joined and we conduct the test in 10 centres around the country.
  • have implemented a full study load through the PNG Common Credit Currency.
  • conduct Students Online Evaluation of Teaching in all its courses always.
  • require mandatory subject files for internal audit by the AQAT academic quality assessment team. External audit will be conducted in February/March sponsored by ExxonMobil
  • have committed to international accreditation of its engineering programs, and all other programs. 
  • have subsidized laptops for all 1st year students.
  • offer uninterrupted broadband campus wide Wifi through unique O3B installation.
Together, we were able to make the PNGUoT fly! While keeping it on course, in mid-air we need to keep repairing and upgrading the plane. That is our major challenge.

Learning from History

If we do not learn from history we are bound to repeat it. Here is a short summary. Those not well versed in PNG history, often portray us as a young and smaller offshoot of UPNG. We may be smaller but certainly not younger or less of a University than UPNG.

In fact, we were founded by the same Act of the House of Assembly in May 1965 as an Institute of Higher Technical Education, and celebrate the same dies natalis, or birth day. Initially we were housed on UPNG's campus but in 1969 our current Taraka was opened by the then Governor General Paul Hasluck. We gained full university status in 1973, but were an institution of higher learning from the outset. For this reason, until today we have cross membership to Council of the respective Vice Chancellors.

From the beginning in 1973 the PNGUoT produces Masters and Doctorate graduates, until unwisely in the 1990s foreign faculty was made to leave and the knowledge base was destroyed.

At the same time, the PNGUoT failed to keep its books in order. As a result, industry and donors stayed away. In 2012, for example, the most recent audit was from 2006 and expressed an "adverse" opinion, the lowest category possible. We were the only state institution to receive such a qualification. As a consequence, the last time the PNGUoT was able to receive major donor funds was when Vice Chancellor Moseley Moramoro signed the agreement with the European Union to build the IT and research buildings plus the 2 PG dormitories.

Today, I can proudly say are account for 2015 and 2106 will receive an unqualified report from the Auditor General.

While improving our accounts and audits, we have been driving staff renewal and capacity building, restructuring, and reorganization effort, so that we can become the most efficient state institution in the country.

In sum, in terms of academic quality, accountability and efficiency PNGUoT has made enormous and unparalleled progress over the last 3 years.

Achievements not Matched by Investments

We have surpassed UPNG in getting our accounts in order and in academic progress. Unfortunately, these efforts have not been recognized. During the past years, however, while UPNG has profited from donor driven investment infrastructure, the PNGUoT has been lagging behind. Funding for the PNGUoT has been coming in dribs and drabs, and government promises have been broken time and again.

Let me give you some examples:
  1. Although we were able to get our road paved by the Dept. of Works, PNGPower has not repaired their street lights on our campus.No street lights.
  2. The K4M for library retrofitting has been re-scoped for operational spending. No new library.
  3. We even heard rumours that this government wants to remove the funding for our dining hall alleging delays in execution. No new dining hall.
How unfair! Some of the delays were caused because of government intervention forcing us to ignore all design guidelines and get in bed with a foreign company. Other delays were dictated by the process we must follow by the CSTB Central Supply and Tenders Board. We spent so much time and energy in designing our dining hall, going through the expression of interest, technical assessment and now the CSTB process, just to hear now that the Government changed its mind again and DHERST is supposed to manage the project from Port Moresby. How is that going to work? It won't.

With the little money that we received, we will build in the coming months the new building for the Department of Open and Distance Learning DODL, which will have a fully qualified and experienced Director Dr. Laurene Collins from the USA. We also started building the new Appropriate Technology and Community Development Institute ATCDI building. Finally, we will build a light industrial structure to replace our examination tent.The tenders have been awarded and building will start shortly.

It is therefore clear that we do have the capacity to execute projects, if funding is made available, government keeps its promises, and there is no outside interference.

In closing, let me say we are truly delighted to host our guests today and contributors to this 8th Huon Seminar. Let me close with thanking the working committee and the staff for their tireless efforts to make this seminar a success. Please try, as I will do, to attend as many lectures as you can. We are looking forward to reading well edited proceedings in the coming weeks.

Hereby, I declare the 8th Huon Seminar officially opened.


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