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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Life is a Journey of Learning

Why this blog?
The purpose of this blog is to communicate with and receive feedback from those interested among the wider University community on our efforts to make UNITECH the most innovative and entrepreneurial University in the Southern Pacific. It reflects my personal point of view and focus on my contribution within the management team. It will not deal with the analysis of problems, rather on how to implement and appropriate response to challenges. I will also answer some questions I have been asked about my personal background.

In June 2011, I first visited UNITECH's campus, had job interviews and gave my lecture, in which I outlined my program for implementing the University's strategy. In July, I was thrilled when I was offered a 4 years contract for the position of UNITECH's Vice-Chancellor by the board, with a possibility of renewal. In the position of Vice-Chancellor I felt that I would be able to leverage my experiences as both a university staff member, as well as a faculty member at universities in Europe and the Americas with the purpose of achieving sustainable and significant positive change at UNITECH.

Why this blog? UNITECH's management team needs to communicate constantly with the university community about what it wants to achieve with the purpose of achieving the goals stipulated in the University's and national strategies. Communication is a two way street, however, and a blog allows comments to be posted publicly, or private reactions to be emailed to me.

Life is a journey of learning
Life is a journey of learning aptly describes my life and university career. For some, this journey involves interaction with others without ever leaving home, but my journey involved prolonged periods living in different continents. This deeply transformed me, which in my view is kind of the point for undertaking a journey of learning. Nowadays, many people from the rich world travel, but the short duration of their trips, their individualism, cynicism and indifference impedes them from learning anything. Others take up residence elsewhere but in fact never leave home, since they work for home based organizations and interact mainly with their fellow countrymen both at work as well as in their social lives. This is not my case, I do not consider myself an expat, but rather a Papua New Guinean in the making, with a lot of learning to do.

Allow me to briefly describe my journey of learning. I have held both Faculty positions and staff position at Universities in Europe and the Americas, which is a good preparation for an executive in academia. After obtaining my PhD at the European University Institute in Fiesole (Italy) in 1994, I spent long periods teaching or doing research in 9 different countries in the Americas, 3 countries in Europe, plus Kenya, China and India.

Professionally, I am a social scientist with a long standing interest in how private and public organizations develop, and together approach large societal challenges, such as the introduction of new technologies or global environmental challenges. For over 15 years, I have been teaching Latin American, US, Indian and European students topics related to corporate environmental management, and environmental economics and policy. I supervised several PhD thesis on related topics, and did field research in India, Caribbean and Central America.

Through this blog I would like to offer the opportunity for others to learn from my experiences as they occur. After all, learning happens most productively through interaction with others. For some this interaction occurs mainly through the written word, in my case I had the privilege to be able to learn on the spot by being on the spot. I hope this blog will stimulate others to undertake their own journey of learning, although I hope it will not mean so much physical displacement as in my case.

Which were my journeys, and what did I learn?
I strongly believe that polite and focused interaction between learners with different values and backgrounds produces learning. This is the essence of the University experience, ever since the foundation of the first University in Bologna in 1089. Even when young, I searched to this type of experiences, long before generous subsidies for travel were made available for this purpose by the European Commission. Having done my Masters at Utrecht and Leyden University in the Netherlands, I did both my Masters and PhD research abroad outside my native Holland.

The first 11 years of my career I spent at the University of Costa Rica, where I became associate professor at the "Institute for Economic Studies" of the University of Costa Rica. Here, I coordinated a regional Central American program in environmental economics and management. For 3 years, I worked as a researcher at the "Center for Environmental Economics and Management" at University of Ghent in Belgium.

Since 2005, my career took a different turn. I decided to focus on improving the administration of higher education institutions, and became acting director of the "Center for Marine Resources Studies" on South Caicos (Turks and Caicos Islands) for the School for Field Studies (USA). Then in 2006 I became Academic Director of the Maastricht Hotel Management School, coordinating international Masters and MBA programs. My last job which I held for 4 years was research adviser for the Dean of the School of Business and Economics at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Here I was responsible for acquiring 2,5M euros annually in new research funding, and managing a large portfolio of research projects.

The rest of this blog will be mostly about the relevant lessons I have learned, and more importantly what I will learn serving UNITECH's University community in the future. I am really excited about this prospect. Watch this space.