By John M. Jambert President PNG Victoria Students Association (International Business & Global Leadership Program) Swinburne University of Technology Melbourne.....
As reported in both of The National and the Post Courier daily papers in PNG on 27th April 2010, it was outrageous of Unitech Vice Chancellor Misty Baloiloi to criticise the report on the Independent Review of PNG Universities by the Australian Council for Educational Research and Massaro Consulting when he addressed the 42nd Unitech Graduation Ceremony on 23 April 2007 in Lae. The report was released in March 2010 and was covered extensively by the Post Courier newspaper on 16 April 2010. This report reflects the status of tertiary education institutions and the whole government-run education institutions and education system in PNG that has been grossly neglected over the years.
Furthermore, in his address to graduands, Mr. Baloiloi also claimed that the overseas employment of graduates from Unitech signified that the university was providing quality tertiary education and was “on the correct path way of building a truly PNG grown and managed university that will reach the heights of greatness in time.” However, many of the PNG professionals and skilled workers employed abroad are in the mining industry. They are employed because of high commodity prices, the shortage of skilled labour in the industry, and lower salary (higher compared PNG standards). This industry is not the preferred choice for employment for many of the professionals and skilled employees in the developed countries.
Are many PNG professionals and skilled employees in other industries very competitive at the global level? Like what the Philippines does, have PNG’s ‘home grown’ tertiary education system and industries equipped professionals and skilled labour to be competitive at the global level?
Here in Australia, one can see what provision of quality education means – the tertiary institutions have appropriate resources, facilities and infrastructure developments. The institution libraries are equipped with updated learning resources – books, online databases, access to computer labs and Internet facilities, 24/7 access to libraries, lecture halls and classrooms equipped with multimedia systems and video conferencing.
With the current rate of globalisation, and the move towards the world becoming more borderless, provision of quality international education to meet current and future needs is a priority for Australia; in fact, Australia is now ranked third after US and UK (www.nationmaster.com). International education export is the second largest contributor to GDP. The tertiary institutions go out of their way to market themselves aggressively to gain competitive advantage within and outside of Australia.
I have travelled in the recent past to UPNG and Unitech to talk to LGL sponsored students, potential industrial and graduate trainees and staff on issues they face. The facilities, resources and infrastructure at these institutions of higher learning are run down –classrooms, lecture halls, foot paths, computer labs, science labs, library resources, dormitories – to name a few. Although there are experienced and competent academic and support staff, they cannot deliver because appropriate resources and facilities are not available. Who is responsible for funding and providing them?
According to rankings of Oceania Universities by Webometrics Ranking of World Universities (http://www.webometrics.info/top100_continent.asp?cont=oceania), as of January 2010, the University of South Pacific in Fiji is ranked 40th, DWU 70th, and UPNG 94th place. There is no mention of Unitech, PAU and UOG. Within PNG, the 4 International Colleges and Universities (http://www.4icu.org/pg/) ranks DWU 1st, UPNG 2nd, Unitech 3rd and PAU 4th place. Globally, the same institution rank USP (Fiji) 1721; DWU 5387; UPNG 5604; Unitech 5691; UOG 5830; PAU 7750. The Times Higher Education – QS World University Rankings 2010 (www.timeshighereducation.co.uk) does not even mention PNG universities in their rankings at all. It is sad to see that colleges in some of our pacific island countries are ranked ahead of PNG’s so called premier tertiary institutions. The Assemblies of God Church-run Jubilee University in Port Moresby and the proposed Lutheran University in Lae have yet to make their presence felt. If there is any improvement in quality and meeting of standards, then Divine Word University (DWU), although established recently, is on the right track.
With fast emerging global economies, the concept of knowledge based economy is becoming very important for countries seeking competitive advantage in all industries. If PNG really needs to develop, it will be through having many highly educated citizens at the postgraduate, doctoral, research and development and technical levels in all broad sections of industry. The basic secondary, college and undergraduate levels of education will not get PNG moving forward. It is not surprising that PNG has the resources, but does not have people with the appropriate technical skills, industry knowledge, and management skills to develop and manage them.
This was very clearly summarised by National Planning and Monitoring consultant Theodore Laventis at the PNG Update 2010 seminar series at the University of Papua New Guinea when he stated that PNG “spends up to K750 million a year to bring in foreign consultants to fill in the workforce [knowledge and skills] discrepancy” (PC: 04/12/10) .
PNG is grateful that under its bilateral agreements, some of its burden of human resource development at the tertiary and college levels are now being alleviated through free scholarships offered by the governments of Australia through AusAid, New Zealand, UK, Japan, the US with India, and China to name a few. The PNG government and its stakeholders need to do their part as well.
The idea now being put forward by Education Minister, Hon. James Marabe of turning “Aiyura, Passam, Sogeri, Keravat, Port Moresby, Wawin National High Schools and Kabiufa Secondary School” into “Schools of Excellence” and its associated conditions is timely (PC 03/05/10). However, the success of this program will depend on how well resourced and equipped these selected secondary institutions are. The revelation of the state of infrastructure of Kerevat National High School by Principal, Ms Lillian Ahai at the recent High School Principal’s Conference in Port Moresby speaks for itself (PC: 04/05/10). Sogeri National High School is in a sorry state, and one wonders what the infrastructures in the other proposed schools are like.
For progress and development, PNG needs people with special knowledge and skills at the post-graduate and technical levels, not the basic undergraduate, diploma and certificate levels. Some consideration must also be given to send academics, researchers, teachers and administrators for updated refresher training programs. This will enable them to stay up to date with current knowledge, skills and experiences of the changing global environment and help prepare PNG students for higher learning.
Some quality education is provided at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels by privately run primary, secondary and tertiary intuitions such as the International Education Agency (IEA) schools, International Training Institute (ITI), Institute of Business Studies (IBS), Pom Grammar School, PNG Paradise High School and the church-run ACA Schools, among others. Due to bureaucracy, administrative red tape and established due processes, the contributions of some of these institutions and the role they play in delivering quality education in PNG are not acknowledged by authorities.
Education reforms must be carried out to ensure all these schools and institutions are also integrated into the PNG education system. Those few who can afford the fees and associated costs send their employees, children, dependents and relatives to privately-run education institutions within PNG or abroad. They know and value the true meaning of quality education. However, the majority of Papua New Guineans will continue to enrol in the years to come in the progressively deteriorating primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. The quality of the awards they receive may be recognised in PNG, but these will be put to the test when they apply for placements abroad.
The World Bank and UNESCO do not have relevant GDP data on education expenditure in PNG. However, according to the latest data released by NationMaster (www.nationmaster.com) on GDP as a percentage of government expenditure on education globally, Cuba is ranked No. 1 with 18.7%, followed by in Vanuatu in 2nd pace with 11.0%. Of the Oceania countries, New Zealand is placed 21st place with 6.7%, Fiji on 40th place with 5.6%, Australia and Tonga on 58th place each with 4.9%, Samoa on 62nd place with 4.8%, Solomon Islands on 98th place with 3.4% and Papua New Guinea and the Dominican Republic each on the 120th position with 2.3%.
Have successive governments, agencies and stakeholders in PNG given priority to education at all levels? With the current rate of globalisation, PNG does not have to wait 30 or 40 years to improve the education system under the current proposed plans. Time to act is within the next 5 – 10 years! In this knowledge based economy, PNG needs a highly educated and skilled population to stay competitive with the rest of the world.
The report from the Australian Council for Educational Research and Massaro Consulting is a wake-up call and should be taken as constructive criticism. Instead of criticising the report, the tertiary institution administrators, the education department, the office of higher education and all stakeholders need to work together to address the highlighted issues. The current and future governments have to increase GDP spending on education to improve the whole system from elementary to the tertiary levels. Vision 2030 and Vision 2050 will not be achieved if the issues facing our ailing higher education institutions and the whole education system are not addressed by institutional management, successive governments and all stakeholders. PNG should focus on its development plans in the priority areas in the next 5 to 10 years with education being given highest priority. Other priority areas are law and order, health, and infrastructure development, and these should be addressed concurrently. Economic reforms should be introduced for PNG to move from commodity export to export of elaborately transformed manufactures (ETMs). The proposed windfall revenues from the LNG project and other existing projects in the resources sector should help spur growth in this area.
Having to wait 30 to 40 years is a very long time for PNG. By then, the rest of the world will have progressed well ahead to some other extraordinary levels. Quality education, knowledge and appropriate industry skill base at all levels will move PNG forward. Therefore, the report by the Australian Council for Educational Research and Massaro Consulting must be seriously reconsidered by Mr. Baloiloi and all key stakeholders to ensure appropriate courses of action are taken to address the issues highlighted. These key stakeholders must move from a defensive to a proactive stance. They surely must, and can, rise above their own microcosmic planning and operational levels towards mounting sustained meta-level coordinated and integrated education-development initiatives. God Bless PNG.