As Vice-Chancellor, it is a special pleasure for me, and an honour to say to all incoming first year students, “Welcome to UNITECH”. Today, we are exited and delighted to welcome over 900 new students from all over Papua New Guinea and several from other Pacific Islands to UNITECH. This is almost 10% more than last year, and the largest number of incoming students in UNITECH’s 48 year history.
I am sorry that I have to address you from my exile in Australia, because I have not yet been granted a new employment visa, which is a legal requirement for my return to PNG. Although I have never been legally dismissed by the UNITECH Council, my first employment visa was cancelled in March last year by the government without explanation, and I have not been issued a new one yet.
I will not speak of the great sadness this involuntary exile has caused in me, and the terrible insecurity my family has faced during all these months. I feel for the UNITECH community that has put all its hopes in our efforts to transform the institution, as I promised in my presentation as a candidate for the Vice-Chancellor’s role on 8 June 2010 (Schram 2010b). The UNITECH community has been waiting patiently until today for that to happen, and for my return to campus.
I thank you for all the tremendous and loyal support you have shown me, and my wife Paulina. In particular, I want to thank the past and present Student Representative Council SRC Leadership: SRC President 2012 Joe Kaowai; this year’s SRC president Eddy Nagual and Vice-Presidents Olsson Waram and Constance Kauwaba; and all the students, who have shown tremendous support and risked their studies to defend UNITECH. It has not been a waste of time.
Many thanks to all who were courageous enough to act against political convenience, prudence and their own self interest, just to do what is right: Justin Kehatsin and Simon Sengi of NASA, Wilfred Pasanai of NSA, Micah Vines, Ken Polin, Chris Alu our Director at the Port Moresby office, the Chancellor Sir Nagora Bogan, the Pro-Chancellor Alan McLay; the Deputy and now Acting VC Prof. John Pumwa, who together with the Senior Management Team did a great job keeping the university running, all those helpful staff in the registry bursary, and administration of UNITECH, too many to mention. Your acts of extra-ordinary civil courage risking dismissal or worse, are gratefully acknowledged and will not be forgotten.
Finally, I want to thank my wife Paulina who not only left her job, home and family to come to PNG, but supported me throughout these difficult times.
Let me spend a few words on how the so-called UNITECH saga started in the first place, and make a historical comparison with the University of Leyden in the Netherlands in the 1940s. Next, I will speak about the future of the Higher Education Sector and UNITECH in Papua New Guinea. Lastly, and in line with tradition I will offer some words of advice to the first year students.
A- UNITECH SAGA. There is no peace without justice. There are times when academics have to stand up for each other. Once justice has been done the university and the country can again move forward. Let me illustrate this by a historical example from Europe.
As you know many European countries, including the Netherlands, were invaded by the German armies in the 1940s. The regime proceeded swiftly to order the Vice-Chancellors of the universities to sack all Jewish professors. Most Vice-Chancellors regrettably complied, except Prof. Cleveringa (CLEVERINGA), not a Jew himself (Ignatieff 2013).
In a famous speech he gave on 26 November 1940, Cleveringa resisted the racist policies. The German armies then were at the top of their power, and resistance seemed futile. The Dutch students though were moved to tears by his words, sang the national anthem, and started to boycott classes. In response, the regime closed down all universities. Prof. Cleveringa was incarcerated, but survived the war, and so did his Jewish colleague, and both continued to work together at the university.
After the war the reputation of the University whose motto is “bastion of liberty” (praesidium libertatis) had further increased, due to Cleveringa’s act of civic courage and resistance to unlawful policies. As a consequence, its academics played an important in reconstruction of the country, when the rule of law had been restored.
Let us recall of how the UNITECH saga started. Please note, it was never in our interest to prolong the saga or make it so public, and it is the responsibility of our adversaries that is has gone on for so such a long time.
In 2012, UNITECH we were faced with a hostile Council, which has since been dissolved, and from December onwards with a hostile Minister of Higher Education. We had to protect a member of our management team from unjustified attempts by the previous Chancellor to fire him, for no reason what so ever. Although later I became the prime target, the conflict therefore did not start with me, but when a colleague was threatened with dismissal for no legitimate reason.
On 28 December 2012 we suffered another attempt by the Minister of Higher Education Research Science and Technology HERST David Arore to reappoint a former Head of Department, we had just fired for incompetence. Soon afterwards on 8th of February came my first unlawful deportation. The second unlawful deportation on the 9th of March triggered student unrest, which however did not produce the desired result. Promises were made, but not kept. In April, I came to campus for the graduation and an interview with the investigation team, but had to leave prematurely, narrowly avoiding a third deportation. It was only then that I was notified my employment visa had been cancelled on 14th of March.
Since then there has been more than enough time to arrange my return, but until today there have been no results. The Sevua Investigation found no evidence for all the silly and baseless allegations in my regard, and was presented to the Prime Minister on 29th of May. I applied for a new visa at the on 26 August. Council endorsed me twice in August and in December. Until today no news on my employment visa, not even a proof the application has been lodged.
On 20 December 2013, Minister of Higher Education HERST David Arore cast doubt on my good name in a bizarre performance on national television, and tried to instruct council to dismiss me. It seems the Minister is confused about his role, trying to tell the autonomous UNITECH Council what to do.
Throughout these events, Prof. Cleveringa’s civic courage stayed in my mind. Although the price for defending institutional autonomy and academic freedom can be high, we have to continue to do what is right, always.
An important lesson from any conflict is that, only after justice has been done, peace and stability can arise. In 2012, for example, we were able to appoint a new Chancellor, Sir Nagora Bogan, a long-serving and respected PNG diplomat, and citizen of Lae. The Chancellor is the chairman of the Council, or board, which as a body is the supreme authority at UNITECH. He managed to stabilise the Council and slowly end the infighting.
B- FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION SECTOR IN PNG. It is not just UNITECH that is in trouble. The following issues for all PNG public universities need to be addressed urgently: 1) to establish properly organised university administrative systems in order to end mismanagement, favouritism, and corruption. 2) to stop political interference and cronyism, and respect the autonomy of the University Councils and Academic Boards (or Senate at UPNG) as established by the University Acts, 3) to assure the promised infrastructure funding is transferred immediately to the public universities in a transparent manner, and 4) to stop new fly-by-night private universities from entering the country for a price, and selling a parody of a university education to unsuspecting students.
All this is NOT hard to do: it requires adequate university management, and the political will of the government to carry out its agreed and published higher education policies, including the reduction of the size of the university councils at UPNG and UNITECH. We beg Prime Minister to start implementing the government’s higher education policies.
In the 12 months, for example, that I was on campus as Vice-Chancellor, I was able to start up many projects. The management team, staff and students stepped up, and carried them out with vigour, and in a constructive spirit. Leading after all is getting things done through others, and giving them credit for it.
Since not all of the following is known, and there has been much ill-informed talk about it, allow me to list what my management team together with UNITECH staff and students accomplished. Apart from the appointment of the new Chancellor, we managed to make significant progress in dealing with legacy issues in four main areas:
1- Provide a more strategized approach to academic leadership and create better working relationships on campus: installed an effective Acting Management Team, brought communication into the 21st century on campus by giving email enabled blackberries to all Head of Departments and Directors; created a Staff and Student Representatives Advisory Committee and thus build much better relations on campus among staff and students; ended with the SRC student groups fighting on campus, in return for better teaching and better student services; started strategy development and implementation oriented towards exceeding students expectations (Schram 2013) (Schram 2014).
2- Improve academic quality of teaching and research: hired over 20 Faculty members with PhDs, and built houses for them; started with international institutional accreditation, approved by Academic Board and supported by AusAid; started with professional accreditation of engineering programs; reorganise and develop the graduate programs, and appoint a Dean of Graduate Studies Dr. Shamsul Akanda; had the MBA approved by the Academic Board and started after 20 years of discussions; installed industrial advisory committees for all departments to assure the relevance of the programs for the employers of our graduates.
3- Improve learning opportunities and create more activities for students: increased the number of international scholarships for students; increased research funding, and start with international student exchange with Europe through the Erasmus Mundus programs (Schram 2010a); started experimenting with the entrepreneurship program; helped the SRC organise the first Cultural Show after 3 years; organised the first Open Day for all departments after 6 years.
4- Upgrade infrastructure and provide better services on campus: offered Wifi for students; had the campus roads resealed; installed an ATM on campus; reopened the staff restaurant, the “Kofi Haus”.
Much of this has been continued in 2013 by the Acting Management team I left in place after my departure. When proper governance is restored at UNITECH, and I will return on campus, we will be able to continue this work, and initiate new projects which will benefit students and staff directly. The full benefits of our strategy to transform UNITECH are yet to come.
If it can get its act together, UNITECH can count on the support and help of many alumni, industry partners, supporters and friends. After my mission to Singapore and India last year, for example, we can obtain better and cheaper internet, saving students hundreds of Kina per month in Digicel credits. We will also be able to import much cheaper textbooks from India, saving students thousands of Kina per year.
In Australia, we can engage in public private partnership that will allow our students to obtain internationally recognised certificates. We can receive help from our university partners from all over the world. In Europe, UNITECH has been included as associate partner in an increasing number of Erasmus Mundus projects, which will allow students to study degree programs in Europe, and staff to spend time on study visits.
Meanwhile, we will continue to lobby the government to transfer the promised infrastructure funding, and increase the salaries for all UNITECH staff. We implore the Prime Minister to assure the implementation of its approved higher education policies, return my employment visa, respect the decision of the autonomous UNITECH Council, and release the funding for the Kina-for-Kina commitment of the Australian government agree between the Somare and Rudd governments, the 500 Million Kina promised for the university system by the O’Neill government, and the 180 Million Kina for the accreditation of the engineering programs at UNITECH.
C- WORDS OF ADVICE. Thirdly, in line with tradition, some words of advice and encouragement to our new students.
Today, we celebrate that you are part of an international learning community with a universal mission. Any university has a universal mission of providing high quality research, teaching and outreach. But UNITECH is special as a university: we stimulate the critical evaluation of science and technology for Papua New Guinea and the Pacific. This is what we are supposed to be doing, this is our ideal.
You are part of this community, because you came here to learn and to be educated. At all time, you must follow the university rules, which ensure that others have the opportunity to learn. Unlike secondary school, at university you need to become a self-directed learner. Once you have learned how to learn, you must continue learning during your whole life.
As to your education, extra-curricular and civic activities play an important role. University is more than doing your assignments and passing your exams. Only at University will you forge friendships with people with a completely different background and values. You will learn to respect each other, and value diversity. You should therefore continue to be active in your Church and civic organisations. In addition, here on campus you can become active in sports activities, departmental associations, provincial groups, organisation of events, and the SRC. All this is essential to develop your character and leadership skills.
Let me close now. We must not allow others to erode inclusive and democratic institutions, such as universities (Acemoglu and Robinson 2012). Inclusive institutions provide the rules, the organisation, and the transparency, which allow the spread of economic prosperity and political responsibility widely among the population. As the Prime Minister has repeatedly said, corruption undermines these type of institutions, and has no place in PNG. Without such institutions, Papua New Guinea will continue on its narrow path of economic growth reflected in the official statistics, but without development for the largest part of the population.
We have one last chance to get this right now for UNITECH, and defend it as an autonomous, academic and public institution. Together, we must continue on this path, and achieve the necessary transformation of UNITECH in order to make this great institution live up to the promise contained in its mission.
Let me to end with reminding ourselves of why we are part of this great learning community called UNITECH in the words of the great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri from the early 13th Century in Italian:
Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.
Consider your origin as human beings;
you were not born to live like brutes,
but to follow virtue, justice and knowledge.
(Dante Alighieri La Divina Commedia Canto XXVI, lines 118-120.)
Thank you for your attention.