CHAOS CLAIMS ANOTHER PNG UNIVERSITY

Editorial

The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 19) – Last week certain individuals took it upon themselves to constitute the Council of the University of Goroka. They made certain decisions which are now the subject of much contention and confusion.

The individuals were former UOG Council members who had been suspended last August by the Minister for Higher Education Don Polye. Their action followed a National Court ruling in Goroka that there would be a judicial review of the minister’s decision to suspend the council members.

Whether or not that court ruling meant an immediate reinstatement of the council members is itself a matter now before the court, it having been brought there by the other side to the conflict Vice-Chancellor David Rawlence. Normal activity at the campus has been suspended as of last week with the students, the national academic staff and the national non-academic staff having suspended their respective duties.

As this drama unfolds, we cannot help but note the similarity in the events leading to the suspension and removal of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of PNG last year and the current events at the University of Goroka. In both cases we have seen the student body, the national academic staff and the non-academic staff get involved in a fight principally against the management of the universities.

We have heard the same principle charges:

In both instances, the University Councils have been caught off guard. In the case of the

UPNG, the council was brow beaten into submission. In the case of the University of Goroka, there has been two councils in operation – one temporary and the other in suspension.

We would even venture to suggest that the underlying reasons for the problems at the two universities are the same.

Whatever the finer differences in the issues involved at the two universities, the big picture which seems to be suggesting itself is that the higher education system is under sustained attack – from what is a question that must be answered.

The answer lies, not merely in streamlining management at the universities, but also in looking at the roles of the university councils, at the duties and responsibilities of the Commission for Higher Education and even the Ministry for Higher Education.

What has happened at UPNG and at UOG is part of a wider problem afflicting the higher education system going back many years. The problems may have had their beginnings in the early 1990s when a move began to reform higher education to align state-run universities to the Government reform agenda.

The reforms had to do with the type of training conducted at the universities in order to have ensure that higher education produced skilled manpower that was most needed in the country. A second and related agenda for the reform was to encourage and engender lean management from the top down to relief much needed finance to build up schools, faculties, colleges and into research.

With the reform and its focus on leaner, meaner management, emphasis was placed on issues of governance and on accountability and transparency – two vital indicators of good governance.

Here is where the confusion began. Believing that the existing administrative and method of operations were not working, everybody started delving into the affairs of the university. The councils had their own ideas about how things ought to be run. So too did the minister for higher education. The students and staff had their own agenda.

It got to be so that council members were interfering in financial decisions such as contracts and tender procedures.

The hapless Commission for Higher Education appeared to be rendered helpless as well. It has been without a chairman following the resignation of Miriam Midire. Director Dr William Takis has been acting for some time now and does not have the resources. And the commission is supposed to be the neutral referee in all this.

In the present climate, there is so much interference there is much suspicion, lack of respect and insubordination. This has affected effective management. What is happening is symptoms of a deeper problem. Tackle that problem by first respecting the independence and the roles and responsibilities of each separate body which makes up the higher education system and to have these bodies do only what they are supposed to do and do it well.

June 19, 2006

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