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Saturday, 2 November 2019

Student Representation and Peaceful Activism

(under embargo until 27 November 2019, 12 pm, check against delivery)

Student Representation and Peaceful Activism at Universities:

Case Study of Papua New Guinea 2012-2018

Lecture delivered at Faculty of Law, University of Verona, Wednesday 27 November 2019, 10 am (5,000 words)

Link to presentation in Italian

Albert Schram, PhD©

For giving me this opportunity today to meet the University of Verona law students, I would like to thank Isolde Quaranti of the Faculty of Law of the University of Verona, and representative for the University of Verona for Scholars at Risk. I also wish to thank all members of the recently created, and very successful SAR Italy section for their continuing moral support.


Good morning. Let me first congratulate the neighbouring Italian universities of Padova and Bologna for having achieved a place in the top 20 in the Times Higher Education social impact ranking. We hope the newly elected Rettore Magnifico of the university of Verona has taken note, and follows their example. It would be great to have three Italian universities in the top 20 of this new, but prestigious ranking.

The universities of Padova and Bologna have formulated their strategies in terms of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals for the year 2030, and can demonstrate how their teaching, research and outreach contribute to achieving a set of these goals. Unlike the earlier 8 UN Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), which were set for the year 2015, fortunately, the 4th SDG about access to quality education now includes higher education, a theme which was left out by the earlier MDGs.

It is difficult to make predictions, particularly about the future, as a Danish proverb says. Social scientists are no exception to this rule, with one exception: demographers. Today, for example, we already know that about half of the population growth until 2050 will occur in Africa. As a consequence, the population between 15 and 30 years olds in Africa will increase from about 300 million in 2015, to 400 million in 2030 only 10 years from now, or more than combined population of this age group in Europe and the America, as brilliantly explained by Hans Rosling in 2015. Evidently, this will put tremendous strains on energy demand, infrastructure, health and education systems, etc.

Let's focus now on the higher education systems. In the developing world, policy makers will struggle to respond to the challenge of massification, while improving academic quality. Providing sufficient, merit-based access - quantity challenges - will have to be addressed while at the same time improve quality challenges so the universities can continue to produce work-ready, employable graduates. Since in a globalized world the only relevant quality standards are international standards, deep internationalization of higher education systems will have to occur at the same time.

Since a large part of the developing world still has unreformed university systems, inherited from their colonial pasts, the stresses caused by massification and internationalisation will require some type of governance reform. These policy makers in the developing world will need to look at example of university governance, and it is likely they will look to Europe, which is where universities were born, and where we have a high diversity of university systems.

Let's focus now on the role of students in university governance, related one of the 4 objectives of a university to produce graduates who are active citizens for democratic societies. In this lecture, I wish to address two interrelated questions:
  1. How do university governance systems incorporate students into structured decision-making? Does it matter? We will look at European cases.
  2. What can we learn about the importance of student representation and civil activism from a case study concerning an attempt at university governance reform in a developing country, like Papua New Guinea? (Schram, 2016
(In the presentation in Italian, and given recent developments with students becoming involved in pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, we will also look at the governance at the 6 world-class Universities there, in particular the Hong Kong Polytechnic Universities, PolyU in short. )

The manner in which the voice of the student body is integrated into decision-making within universities, as well as the shape and form of active citizenship of the students, will vary according to national context. An assessment of the role of student representation in university governance and student's peaceful activism, therefore, must be placed against the background of the overall goals and purpose of Universities, within the context of the societies in which they operate.

Protesting Student in PNG: activism is not futile

Sunday, 20 October 2019

The Opportunity Cost of Navel Gazing: a case study of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology - Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (5)

(Published as extract in PNG attitude "How Peter O'Neill screwed up PNG's universities" on 23 October)

Previous blog posts in this series:
Part 1 - A Childhood Dream. Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (1)
Part 2 - Employable Graduates. Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (2)
Part 3 - The Student Movement. Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (3)
Part 4 - The Staff Organizations. Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (4)


Although we published earlier on the internationalization efforts which I led as Vice Chancellor at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology (PNGUoT), in this article we wish to give a more complete overview of how the transformative, outward-looking strategy was developed, executed, and finally discontinued and replaced by a inward looking, navel gazing approach by the current university council and management.

While as Vice Chancellor I signed over 25 agreements directly beneficial to the PNGUoT from 2014 to 2017 (3 years), in the 2 years from 2018 until today the current management has not undertaken any significant, new initiative, rather claiming my achievements as their own. Nor have they apologized for throwing me under the bus for no reason whatsoever as part of a political witchhunt against foreign Vice Chancellors, instigated by the government of Peter O'Neill

In my approach, internationalization was a cross-cutting theme across the three legs on which the University's strategy rested: first, digital technologies, and secondly successful industry parternships, and thirdly, international academic partnerships. When you can say in one sentence what your strategy is, you have something you can work with. Because my deputies refused to file extensive reports or keep an agenda, I can not always report with a high degree of certainty about the matters that were delegated to them.

By turning the clock backin 2017, the PNGUoT went back to being an organization ruled by whim and favouritism, and serving exclusively the interests of long-term staff, rather than that of the students or the country. In other words, back to how it was before I joined.

Here we will outline the opportunity cost of this navel gazing approach of not engaging widely and transparently with industry and academic partners, in terms of lack of training and education opportunities for students and staff, not carrying out joint research projects, and no longer receiving visiting lectures from leading universities in Australia, India or Europe. Opportunity costs simply mean the costs of not-doing something in terms of benefits sacrificed, because of the choice you made to do something else.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Peter O'Neill's Years


Last Friday, 11 October apparently another arrest warrant for Peter O'Neill, the former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG), was issued, which caught him by surprise. Since then, he has locked himself up in the Crown Plaza hotel in the capital, refusing to cooperate with the courts. The latest is he got a restraining order. Surprise, surprise. It is Ali Baba abandoned by his 40 robbers, who are all now conveniently trying to hide their complicity or participation in his crimes.

When I was Vice Chancellor of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology (short: UNITECH) from 2012 to 2018, I met Peter O'Neill only a few times and always in passing. During these meetings, I tried to convey that I came to Papua New Guinea only to contribute to University  development, and was not at all interested in politics, Pacific Games, APEC or any other of the white elephants he loved to herd.

Peter O'Neill loved to talk big, steal big and then lie about it to cover it up. The only purpose of the large events such as Pacific Games or APEC, was to assure sufficient kick-backs on the building contracts for the infrastructure, which inevitably had to be built for the occasion in Port Moresby. Afterwards the management of the events was so weak, that an all-you-can-steal buffet occurred for him and his associates. Evidently in the process he wrecked the economy, with economic growth for the non-mining sectors declining every single year from 2012 to 2018 when he was in power.

I am sure he was not happy when I pointed out in a lecture at James Cook University the in order to achieve the goals of Vision 2050 economic growth must be kept above 5%, a goal he never achieved.

Who can forget how Peter O'Neill literally barged into the supreme court and took power in 2012? How he rigged the 2017 elections? How he tried to curtail the judges by proposing a ludicrous "Judicial Conduct Act", and how this was only stopped by protest of the UPNG students? His regime was never legitimate and a total disgrace.

Peter O'Neill become PM by storming the supreme court

Saturday, 31 August 2019

The Staff Organizations. Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (4)

"We think of politics in terms of power and who has the power. Politics is the end to which that power is put." (Ngugi wa Thiong'o, famous Kenyan - Kikuyu writer)

Previous blog posts in this series:
Part 1 -  A Childhood Dream. Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (1)
Part 2 - Employable Graduates. Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (2)
Part 3 - The Student Movement. Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (3)
Part 4 - The Staff Organizations. Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (4)
Part 5-  The Opportunity Costs of Navel Gazing.  Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (5)

PNG Attitude Postings


I want to thank my 7,000+ followers on twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for their encouraging comments on this series, and Keith Jackson for publishing the short versions. Many of my followers are students, sponsors or relatives of students, or among the 6,000+ graduates of which I signed their degrees. Thank you all.

More and more, I am convinced eventually the PNG University of Technology will eventually be transformed from a joint criminal organization, and a cesspit of greed, spite and mediocrity (as described in earlier episodes), into a true university delivering highly competent and employable graduates. It is up to us to decide whether we want this sooner, or rather in say a decade, when all current protagonists probably have passed on given their age and bad health.

Before describing my experience with the university staff organization, I will make a few remarks on the economic and moral environment in which PNG universities operate. The disastrous state of the economy since Peter O'Neil took over in 2012, stimulated dishonest and opportunistic behaviour. Dishonesty in turn was further justified by exceptionalist 'logic', and the fundamental difficulty many PNGeans have that everybody is equal before the law, and rules should be applied to everyone without exception. The tribal "wantok" system seems the only system that works, and it is what many people are still most comfortable with.

Since 2012, continuing misgovernment, thievery and wasteful spending put a terrible stress on society due to Peter O'Neill's callous and delusional economic policies, which only produced exclusive benefits for his cronies in Port Moresby. In 2014, for example, in some areas in the highlands there was a fully fledged famine, and at some point the World Food Program was supporting over 250,000 people with food aid. The non-payment of LNG revenues to landowners by the government, has led to a continuing civil war in Hela and Southern Highland provinces, which ironically are the provinces where the current and previous Prime Minister hail from. For UNITECH where over 50% of students are from the highlands this created a difficult operating environment. Many parents and sponsors were unable to pay the "skul fee" on time.

The Student Movement. Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (3)

“Our lives are a battlefield on which is fought a continuous war between the forces that are pledged to confirm our humanity and those determined to dismantle it; those who strive to build a protective wall around it, and those who wish to pull it down; those who seek to mould it and those committed to breaking it up; those who aim to open our eyes, to make us see the light and look to tomorrow [...] and those who wish to lull us into closing our eyes”

Facebook Post by Ngũgĩ  wa Thiong'o (arguably one of Africa's greatest living writers)

(An extract of this article was published by Keith Jackson on PNG Attitude blog)

In Memoriam Mairen Manub

This words and this blog is dedicated to Mairen Manub who passed away on 8 August 2019, after  a short battle with cancer in Port Moresby General hospital, which did not carry the principal medicines he needed.

Mairen Manub - UNITECH student 2012-2015
From 2012, he was one of the legendary 'little helpers', fighting tirelessly from for access to better education, and accountable and transparent university governance.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Employable Graduates. Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (2)

(This is the August episode of a series of blog posts. Here is the first, published in July)

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls ..."  (Robert F. Kennedy)


It is important to reflect on what a viable, sustainable and financially strong higher education system entails. Fundamentally, universities must show they continue to be relevant for society, or in other words are part of a societies solutions, not of its problems.

In this perspective, Universities must at least assure their graduates are 'work ready', in order to stay relevant for the societies they serve, and be worthy of the large grants of tax payers' money they often receive from government.  The private sector is supposed to train them further to make them suitable for specific jobs, or 'job ready'. Work ready graduates are expected to be sustainably employed during their life time.

In addition, universities should assure students have an adequate understanding of their society, and can play a role as active citizens or leaders. Students should not keep quiet in face of injustice or when state institutions are dismantled or corrupted. In this sense, student activism and liberal democracy are a natural best match. Universities are the breeding ground of the next generation of leaders, and therefore being able to lead and strenghten state institutions are fundamental for a country's development. Sometimes this involves cleaning up the mess that one's predecessors left.

Relevant and true universities normally adhere to a set of common principles involving the freedom of inquiry, the inseparable nature of teaching and research, and the involvement of students in university governance, such as outlined in, for example, the Magna Charta Universitatum.

UNITECH first PNG university signing Magna Charta Universitatum in 2015

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

A Childhood Dream: Experiences of a Vice Chancellor in Papua New Guinea (1)

Introduction & Background

As Vice Chancellor of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology (PNGUoT also sometimes UNITECH), it has been an extraordinary priviliege for me to serve two terms, a total of more than 6 years, and this is my story.

The title of this blog post is somewhat ironic, because nobody can ever imagine becoming a Vice Chancellor or University President in Papua New Guinea as a child. It can not be anybody’s childhood dream, although it could have been mine.

While still very young, in fact I noticed how Universities, such as those where my parents worked, were so badly managed. Therefore, over 10 years ago I made it my mission in life to improve this sad state of affairs, by providing transformational leadership and effective management.

Visiting home in the Italian snowy mountains, before taking off to PNG.