BODY BLOW TO TERTIARY EDUCATION IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA

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THE NATIONAL Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

EDITORIAL January 27, 1999

By the end of this year, the University of Papua New Guinea will not be the institution it has been and its intellectual capital will be much reduced.

Those words are taken from a staff circular issued by the university’s embattled Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Rodney Hills.

They refer to the university council's decision to abolish two faculties and the library, journalism and most of the information programs, and to raise student fees by a quarter from next year.

That decision came in response to a savage budget deficit. Bluntly, UPNG is struggling to survive at all. Even these swinging cuts may well prove to be insufficient to ensure that the university can meet its operational costs.

There will doubtless be a great deal of sound and fury expended over the choice of faculties and programs to be axed. That would have happened regardless of which sacrificial lambs were lined up for slaughter on the government’s altar of financial expediency.

Certainly The National regrets the passing of UPNG journalism and information training. Some of our own reporters are the products of those courses, and we are saddened to see any training opportunity for the media abolished or limited.

It is some reassurance that the Divine Word University in Madang offers similar degree and diploma opportunities.

The demise of the Faculty of Creative Arts is equally distressing. Only recently bolstered by the gift from the European Union of a spectacular new facility, the Beier Creative Arts Haus, it seemed to observers that this particular aspect of the university was finally established on a firm footing.

Not only is that not so, but no other PNG tertiary facility offers comparable courses.

UPNG is simply following worldwide practice by choosing the easiest options when it comes to reducing courses and saving money. Almost invariably it is the broad-based arts such as journalism and information and the skilled specific arts such as acting, sculpture and dance that are axed when the time comes for universities to tighten belts.

In this country there is no lobby of commercial theater and gallery owners and producers clamoring with job offers for newly-graduated sculptors and choreographers.

Nor is there a tradition of private patronage. So when such courses are cut, students have no specific commercial or professional clout they can access to fight for their retention.

We suggest that both accounting and commerce courses offered by UPNG might well have been among early choices for the ax.

Several PNG universities, including Pacific Adventist, Divine Word, and significantly Lae’s University of Technology, offer these courses. And there are a number of private business institutes in Port Moresby and elsewhere with accounting and commerce programs that might be readily upgraded to university standard.

But these are matters of opinion.

"Our future students will suffer as a result of these changes but the budgetary situation gives us no option," Dr. Hills said.

And that is the point.

The whole tertiary system is a sitting duck for governments when it comes to the lean years. A true university deals in many intangibles - the interaction of minds, the pursuit of research, both pure and applied, the creation of an environment in which people not only learn mental and physical skills - skills which may well equip them for specific employment - but they are able to acquire that most elusive and intangible of all attributes - an education.

And governments don't often understand intangibles.

Yet we would expect those who have passed through UPNG and now sit in Parliament to have a real understanding of that proposition.

Sir Rabbie Namaliu, for example, was one of the university’s first graduates, a man who has always had the greatest respect for tertiary education, and for the broadest vision of education in general.

It is hard to believe that he and others of his caliber who have graduated from UPNG can quietly acquiesce as it is dismembered limb by limb.

For there can be little doubt that tertiary education has been struck a blow from which it may take decades to recover.

Unlike some activities, universities and the educational environment they provide are an accretive process, the product of generations of gifted academics and their students.

It takes time to build a university’s reputation for excellence - but it takes no time at all to demolish that reputation.

That was the real fear in the back of the Vice Chancellor’s mind when he said that UPNG will not be the institution it has been, and expressed with some despair "the hope that it can survive beyond this year as a viable educational entity."

Only National Government funding can ensure the survival of our universities, and that will depend on the government’s assessment of the value of tertiary education and human development in PNG.

Title -- 1890 EDUCATION: 'A body blow to tertiary education' Date -- 28 January 1999 Byline -- Editorial Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- The National (PNG), 27/1/99 Copyright -- The National Status – Unabridged

This document is for educational and personal use only. Recipients should seek permission from the copyright source before reprinting. PASIFIK NIUS service is provided by the niusedita via the Journalism Program, University of the South Pacific. Please acknowledge Pasifik Nius: niusedita@pactok.net.au http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/nius/

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