The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 29) - Much is written and spoken about the state of tertiary education in Papua New Guinea.

Scarcely a week passes without The National carrying a statement from a university official bemoaning the lack of funding for courses and university administration.

The picture painted is one of gloom and doom on the tertiary education front.

But there is at least one campus that reflects much that is outstanding at this level of education.

We refer to Divine Word University in Madang.

From beginnings as a matriculation college under the guidance of the Society of the Divine Word, a Catholic order, the establishment has become a fully-fledged university offering innovative courses in a number of disciplines.

And it has grown.

Not only has the number of students increased.

The number of academic staff has also grown, and now boasts some of this country's most highly regarded PNG deans and lecturers.

In tandem with this growth in enrolments and in the strength of the academic staff, there has been an ongoing physical development of the Madang campus that is unique in PNG.

Lecture rooms are scattered throughout a park-like setting, and the atmosphere is relaxed.

The campus tensions that regularly see confrontations between students and academic and administration officials elsewhere are conspicuously absent at Divine Word.

So marked is the difference between this university and some of its peers, that we are tempted to suggest that the vice-chancellors of certain other PNG universities could do worse than pay Divine Word a visit.

They could then independently analyse the reasons for these striking differences.

It is against this background that the University's magnificent new Friendship Library was opened yesterday.

Built at a cost of some K11 million, and funded by the Incentive Fund of AusAID, the library is a remarkable compliment to the calibre and quality of this campus.

The library is a splendid open-plan structure, designed by Madang-based architects John Proctor and Associates, whose translucent walls make use of glass and glass brick to great effect.

Of two stories, the complex includes a 170 seats auditorium, named after Sir Peter Barter, the Madang Regional Member and prominent local businessman.

Sir Peter has been an ongoing supporter of the University since its inception, and officially opened the Friendship Library yesterday, in company with the Australian High Commissioner, Michael Potts.

Other details of the building and its facilities were included in a supplement published by The National yesterday.

But it is the atmosphere of Divine Word that is so striking to the visitor.

At the opening, it was hard not to be impressed by the attitude of the students towards the nearly 2,000 visitors who came to join the celebrations.

There were student traffic marshals, and media officers. Traditional dancing by students and local clansmen could be experienced at many different points on campus. Lecturers and students mingled freely and with obvious enjoyment. Local foods were dispensed from small traditional booths dotted around the campus.

Apart from the speakers and their immediate entourages, there were no special seating arrangements, allowing the youngest first year students to sit next to senior academics or high-profile visitors at will.

The result was an audience of people as mixed as you might wish, who clearly enjoyed the opening ceremony.

And there were some innovative touches.

No cutting of the ribbon for Divine Word - rather an untying of magnificently woven palm mats made for the occasion, and woven across the Friendship Library's imposing doors.

The accompanying singing by student members of the Divine Word Sensational Choir, certainly lived up to its promise, with that remarkable sense of harmony and rhythm once so familiar in PNG choral groups.

There is a remarkable sense of the home-grown about the Friendship Library. It comes from the beautiful campus-built hardwood shelving, the extensive stretches of paving, again made by Divine Word, and the great totemic carving that greets visitors at the entrance.

In summary, it is impossible not to ask the question why this University should emanate such an aura of vitality and peace, when so many others in PNG appear to be hotbeds of dissension.

We wish students and academic staff alike the very best for the future.

For there is every indication that only the very best will come from Divine Word University.

April 30, 2004

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/


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