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06 June 2012


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Since writing the articles on UPNG in 2011 and earlier in 2012, there has been a further development regarding the selection process for a Vice-Chancellor at UPNG. The worst possible outcome is coming to pass.

The advertising for the position was appalling, limited and guaranteed not to attract high quality candidates with international university management experience.

A final stage has now been reached and there are two candidates still in the race. Both of them have been at UPNG for years, have been complicit in the recent rapid decline and are now possible VCs.

Neither of them has the necessary experience to rescue and revive what should be PNG's premier university.

Neither has either the academic standing nor the management experience to convince international donors that they should put major funds into the rebuilding of the university.

This is a tragedy for the future of the university and PNG.

Two words "push factor".

There is a growing need for more academics in PNG.

Not experience academics but people who have a deep interest in choosing academia as a career path.

Most graduates see academia as boring and hard work. They want an easy life, with a catchy job title like analyst, foreign service office, trade officer, aid coordinator and so on.

This attitude has contributed to staffing problems. I experienced that first hand when I was a part time tutorial fellow there.

So, in summary - Scott's article is inaccurate, poorly researched, denies leading players a say, hasn't talked to the people involved and has ignored basic facts.

Sorry Scott.

And for reference Scott, the Academic Senate of UPNG has amongst its members at last count four leading Australian academics, plus the VC.

Scott - Did you consider the existing institutions of the National Resarch Institute, ADCOL and the Medical Research Institute? They've been around for years, conducted peer-reviewed research for yonks.

"Australian academics could be involved on editorial boards, refereeing articles and providing mentoring/editorial functions.

These tasks could be combined with teaching students and academics at UPNG how to do research, to write up the results of their work, to apply for research grants etc"

I am afraid this appears very patronising, as if PNG academics need 're-educating' by Australians in the basic disciplines.

Try telling this to the likes of Russell Soaba or Orovu Sepoe or the research students at the satellite imaging project (world class) or the ground-breaking research into marine organisms with anti-cancer properties - funded by the American Cancer Foundation.

Seem's like you've cherry-picked your evidence somewhat which gives the appearence of denigrating many of the leading academics UPNG has produced (Sir Issi Kevau comes to mind as well).

So don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Much of what you say is true, but don't underestimate the achievements and experience of many great PNG academics.

And Scott - The UPNG Open College does have internet access to study centres around the country, implememnted 7 years ago. Not exactly broadband due to exorbitant pricing from Telekom.

And we did have plans for metropolitan wireless access to the Uni. But again funding constraints put paid to that.

So many solutions have been proposed over many years, but with the lack of interest in funding this from government, these have fallen by the wayside.

Much of what Scott says is true, and has been stated over many years (see the excellent articles by Prof Alan Patience in the Post Courier 5 years ago). Why have 5 public universities, when the state cannot even fund one?

Some things claimed by Scott do not tell the full story. We explored and set up a demonstration Vsat link in 2003, but were prevented from implementation due to regulatory restrictions by Pangtel and PNG Telekom.

We were involved in developing plans for a national broadband academic network - presented to then Minister for Communications Puka Temu in 2004. But no luck with this, as Telekom had the monoopoly on international internet and were impossible to move.

I believe since then there has been such an academic network developed (PNGNET) - so claims about poor internet access may already have been addressed.

But there are other problems. I installed CCTV cameras in the main computer lab to prevent theft, but we still lost on avertage a dozen or so a year.

We spent over K800,000 p.a. on new books and journals - as recommended by academic staff - but the rate of theft often exceeded the acquisions.

But the basic problem as correctly stated is chronic underfunding over many years. Just visit one of the student dorms, or the main library (with no working air con for 12 years), or the teaching rooms, or sit on a committe considering how to balance the budget to pay staff from one month to the next (as I did).

Many committed people have worked their backsides off over many years to try and improve matters. And don't blame Ross Hynes - who has been an excellent VC in nearly impossible cirsumstances.

When the real value of financial support for the University falls around 10% year by year over 20 years or so, what can anyone do?

I's suggest the radical proposal of voluntarily closing down the University indefinitely until the Government sees sense.

You can't run a national University on a high school budget.

PNG leaders get real. You can spend millions on an election campaign, but can't provide enough funds to the national univertsity to pay staff.

What happened to the review that was suppose to be undertaken by Ross Garnaut and Sir Rabbie Namaliu?

I agree with the assessment. UPNG must admit these problems.

There is need for more government funding. I find it disgraceful when there is absence of a journal and an outdated internet website.

Some of us emerging young scholars may find it difficult to teach in such environment.

There is need for government intervention. Australian aid should also focus on this issue

This is an accurate assessment of the current state of affairs of the self proclaimed "premier university of the South Pacific".

UPNG is definitely in a terminal state; this needs to be admitted and the administration needs to take its head out of the sand of denial before any constructive steps can be taken to ensure this important national institution survives and thrives once again.

I was one of those junior, undertrained staff at the UPNG School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) between 2004 and 2008, tutoring and prematurely asked to give lectures to undergraduate students.

I did my utmost best, but no amount of hard reading and studing of lecture material could ever make up for my lack of deep understanding and knowledge of the subjects that only comes with the experience.

Mine was one example of the compromise and continued lowering of teaching benchmark at UPNG.

While being employed at the SMHS I was doing a Masters in Medicine (MMed - Pathology) without a supervisor, without journals or internet facilities to do my research.

Most of my research was done in several of the internet cafes around Port Moresby at my own expense.

One of the fundamental problems with the SMHS in particular is the funding mechanism which relies on budget allocation to the UPNG as a whole.

Then Waigani UPNG redistributes funds to SMHS using a formula that is out of touch with the requirements of running a medical school.

Unless a single line funding mechanism is put in place where appropriate levels of funding is sought and delivered straight from the government to meets its needs the SMHS will not survive.

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