WE, the undergraduate and postgraduate students, academic and non-academic staff of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology call desperately for your support.
Unitech, and through it the future of higher education in our beautiful, emerging country of Papua New Guinea, is today in deep crisis.
For over a year we have done our best against the enemies of progressive higher education and, through them, the enemies of honest governance and management in PNG. We have struggled for the basic right to a decent higher education, now increasingly being stolen from our people.
To protect its cronies, the Government of PNG has chosen a deliberate anti-higher education and anti-people stance. Unitech is constituted by its own Act in Law to provide students an education in business, engineering, technological innovation and progressive thinking. The legislators of this Act recognized, as all nations do, the criticality of science and technology education in national development.
The Act specifically stipulates that Government cannot interfere with University Council decisions. Unfortunately, that very Act also allows space for corruption to take root behind closed University doors.
In late 2011 by extraordinary fortune, a reputable international educator was appointed Vice Chancellor. Dr Albert Schram was well credentialed and uncaptured by any external interest. He possessed a strong record in progressive developing-nation University management, a visionary's perspective, enormous fortitude, and a careful human touch.
In short, Dr Schram was the right man for the job and applauded by students and staff alike. Within weeks of his arrival, the new VC was forced to investigate University financial management as Unitech was the only PNG government institution black listed for poor financial accountability. In response, the then-Chancellor and Pro-Chancellor of Unitech immediately pushed to terminate the VC's appointment.
This eventually led to the Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (HERST) dissolving the allegedly corrupt prior Council and appointing an interim one headed by Sir Nagora Bogan, an eminent ex-ambassador to the USA.
Investigating a small part of the university's finances, the Senge (Sengi) Report identified massive corruption within the previous regime.
In late 2012, a group of Schram's enemies inside and outside of government prevented him from re-entering PNG, leading to his present involuntary exile nearby in Australia.
Unitech students were enraged by this action and forced the Prime Minister to intervene. From his stance on the verandah of Unitech's Administration Building in January 2013, the PM established what is known as the Sevua investigation.
This inquiry was directed to investigating allegations cooked up by the Vice Chancellor's enemies. The PM later promised staff and students that he would faithfully implement the findings of the Sevua Report immediately the Enquiry concluded.
The Sevua report found Dr Schram innocent of all charges. At that point, the HERST Ministry with the Prime Minister's knowledge and clear approval, set to betray the University and the country. The government would not explain the reasons for denying Dr Schram re-entry into PNG. In the process, the PNG Government broke the articles in the University Act stipulating freedom from Government interference.
Although the Sevua Commission concluded its investigation in May 2013, Justice Sevua's findings remain suppressed by Government edict. Last December 12, with great courage and approved knowledge of Sevua's findings, University Council re-ratified Dr Schram's appointment.
Again, despite the University Act expressly prohibiting political interference, the PNG Government has refused to reissue Dr Schram's employment visa, effectively stymieing Council's decision.
The interim University senior executive management team (SEM) was visibly slow in following Council's instruction to reinstate Dr Schram.
The PM's appointed HERST Minister—a carousing college drop-out who failed his only attempted degree—did all he could to prevent Dr Schram's return, publicly calling Dr Schram an enemy of PNG. Under pressure of defenders of higher education throughout PNG, the PM sacked the Minister and appointed a loyal puppet in his place.
In March 2013 for the second year in a row, students boycotted class to agitate for the VC's return. In agreement with SEM, they shut down University Administration. Peaceful student forums were held on University lawns.
In an impassioned speech to students and staff, Sir Nagora Bogan reconfirmed Council's VC appointment. Sir Nagora promised he would press the PM to approve Dr Schram's work visa. In another forum, the Provincial Governor promised he would write the PM to demand Dr Schram's swift return.
In his turn, the PM dispatched his new HERST Minister, Delilah Gore, to discuss matters with the students. Gore travelled half way from the airport to the university, then refused to travel another inch. Later, she took to the airwaves and national newspapers, criticising students for failing to meet.
She artlessly spread lies about Unitech students in full-page national newspaper advertisements. To this day she continues to sully students, Dr Schram, and PNG higher education.
Adding misery to woe, the Acting VC, Professor Pumwa, advised open congregation in his church that the PM had personally assured him that Dr Schram would not be allowed to return and that when the dust settles he would be appointed permanent University VC.
At the same time, the University's Acting Pro VC sent letters to staff inciting racist, national vs. non-national feelings to divide staff loyalties, particularly against Dr Schram. These actions have further infuriated students and staff.
The background position of the Students and Staff of Unitech is clear:
1. A progressive, technologically-directed, international quality university education is crucial for the future prospects of any nation, including PNG
2. Unitech is PNG's most critical institution in achieving this objective
3. PNG languishes in the bottom 10% of countries according to Transparency International's Corruption Index
4. PNG languishes in the bottom 10% of countries in literacy according to the CIA World Factbook
5. The students and staff of PNG Universities wish to shift the trajectory of national development from underhand deals, mismanagement, theft and corruption to a more effective, transparent path, particularly in higher education.
The specific position of the Students and Staff of Unitech is clear:
1. The December 2013 Council was duly and legally constituted
2. Council properly, formally and unanimously re-ratified Dr Schram as the University's Vice Chancellor
3. Council decisions are protected from Government interference by PNG law
4. The PNG Government and specifically the Prime Minister remain in contempt of PNG people insofar as Dr Schram's right to re-enter the country continues being blocked.
In addition, staff and students:
1. Applaud Sir Nagora's Council's support for Dr Schram reoccupying his appointed role
2. While noting that students have representation on Unitech Council, recognise that students are not the University's appointing authority and resent the HERST Minister's newspaper advertisements scurrilously portraying this as their view
3. Are shocked about the Acting VC's admission of a deal with the PM to be appointed permanent VC
4. Are dismayed that the Acting Pro VC has adopted an openly racist and divisive position against international staff.
We sincerely appeal for support from education loving people everywhere!
Please publicise our situation with your universities, governments, diplomats, NGOs, magazines, newspapers and websites.
Please recognize our peril, for if this country and those who profit from corruption prove victorious, PNG higher education will be held back another decade, corruption and stagnation will prevail, and future generations will face continuing bleak prospects. We implore you, please help! Please read stories about Unitech's problems at PNGBlogs.com.
Please pressure our Government to do what is right for national progress! Please focus the spotlight of international attention on our struggle in this far corner of the world. For we are your children, your brothers and sisters, and we desperately need your help.