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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

VC's Christmas Message 2016

Background

Against difficult odds, the PNG University of Technology was able to round up the 2016 academic year successfully. Fortunately, despite our financial challenges we will continue to be able to process the payroll on time in December and January. We thank you all for your hard work and support during this extremely challenging and stressful year. The night of 24-25 June was not a silent, nor a peaceful night.


My wife and I are particularly grateful for all those who showed their leadership, and their solidarity with us and the university during the crisis, when we became subject of unjustified and unjustifiable personal threats and attacks. Fortunately, the negative organizational culture of unwarranted, personal, and often anonymous attacks and slanderous accusations is now slowly fading into the shadows, while a new more positive and professional culture is emerging. UNITECH should never again be called “LUNITECH” because of the vicious infighting, as happened in 2012 and 2013.

The successful completion of the 2016 academic year has only been possible thanks to the strong support and dedication of the overwhelming majority of staff, who refused to be distracted by the sad events unfolding around us. In this manner, we avoided 1st year student losing their scholarships, and we will have a regular graduation in 2017.

As the Prime Minister said, when referring to the causes of the campus unrest and violence, it was created by "giaman toktok bilong politics tasol" - PM Peter O'Neill dixit EMTV 3 August 2016. Further improvement of campus safety and SRC constitutional reform will make any repetition of the tragic pre-election violence on our campus as occurred in 2011 and 2016 in the future impossible.

The management is grateful for the full endorsement of its actions during the crisis by the Chancellor and the Standing Committee, which made it possible to restore normalcy. Council firmly established that management has done everything in its powers to protect property, create a safe campus environment, uphold the law and regulations of the university within the financial and other constraints it was facing at the time. We are sure the positive relationship between the Council and the management established under Chancellor Sir Nagora Bogan, will continue under the Acting Chancellor Jean Kekedo and Pro Chancellor Peter Eafere.

Guided by decisions of the Academic Board and Council, since June the management implemented in an accelerated fashion a number of measures which might have caused discomfort to some, such as the revised academic calendar, the beefed up security and the curfew. We are sorry for this, but we hope we can continue to find solutions for our day to day issues without escalating individual grievances to higher authorities or sending anonymous letters to the press. If we put the reputation of the University at risk, we are diminishing ourselves and taking away from all our joint efforts to deliver a quality education.

We are also sorry that the planned Dies Natalis (birth day) celebrations, the Huon Seminar, the Open Day, the Career Fair and the Alumni Activity did not take place.

Making UNITECH Fly!


Despite the crisis on our campus, in 2016 we have been able to move forward. Our vision to become a student-centred, innovative and entrepreneurial university has come a few steps closer this year, with:
  • infrastructure maintenance and refurbishment,
  • master plan execution,
  • complete financial accountability,
  • operations automation and streamlining,
  • academic excellence initiatives, 
  • better stakeholder relations, and,
  • increased campus safety. 

Infrastructure

In addition to continuing staff housing maintenance, we are also happy that we were able to obtain for the first time funding for improvement and maintenance of academic buildings and dormitories. In addition, the fencing project of our campus is now almost completed despite funding having been withdrawn in 2015.

We are confident the implementation of the Master Plan will start in 2017, see http://www.unitechpng.com. Over a 10 year time frame implementation of this plan will make diversification of revenue sources with moderate growth in student population (7% p.a.) possible, so that a financially sustainable university can be created. The plan came about after more than 1 year of dialogue and consultations, and was approved by Council in 2015. It complies with all international standards and is being supported by a specialised campus planner.

As to our IT infrastructure, since 1 July 2015 the O3B installation has provided us with fast and reliable internet. Unfortunately, network upgrading and wifi extension since then has not progressed in a satisfactory manner. For next year, we obtained about K300,000 PIP funding for network upgrading and Wifi for all academic building, dormitories and most housing areas, which has been contracted out to Allcom. UNITECH is now the only university in PNG that has reliable broadband internet through a unique satellite system, and campus wide free wifi.

The new website will be the main communication platform and support our operations, and three pronged mission of teaching, research and outreach. The new website will be available in January and completed in March after extensive testing. The work of Elektropress and Datec is gratefully acknowledged.

Accountability

As per his or her contract, the Vice Chancellor's principal role is to uphold the provisions of the PNG University of Technology Act (1986), to assure Academic Board and Council decision are carried out, and generally assure the efficient allocation of human and financial resources. The Vice Chancellor has been given the authority to deal with all day to day operations of the University, and is accountable to Council three times per year.

This year for the first time the VC had a performance review with a sub-committee of the Standing Committee. A summary of this review has been presented to Council, and his performance was satisfactory to good in key performance areas. This accountability for results will cascade down to all members of the management team who have their own personal KPIs, the heads of departments and individual staff members.

As to financial accountability, regrettably the promised investment of K500M in the higher education system with an extra K50M for UNITECH's to create accredited engineering programs funded by the expected LNG windfall announced in 2012, never materialized, and therefore we will have to continue with an austerity regime.

The cut in our operational budget for 2017 from K45M to K40M will make extreme austerity measures necessary, since Council has instructed us to:
  • to live within our means and not spend more than our budget,
  • to pay superannuation funds on time,
  • to pay group tax and deal with outstanding debt,
  • do our financial audits on time and present annual reports.
As long as the Auditor General gave UNITECH adverse opinions (until 2011) or disclaimers (for 2012), no international aid agency, industry and other key stakeholders could provide financial support. We now expect the 2013 and 2014 will have qualified opinions, which will make us eligible to receive external financial support. The 2015 audit is expected to be ready in before July, and be unqualified. With that we will have caught up with the backlog.

Though funding from the state will be short, over the last years we have spend considerable time in developing relations which give us access to more resources. As a result, we are confident proposals to DFAT's incentive funds due in June, and the kina-for-kina program due 31 January, for UNDP due in March, and for ExxonMobil will be successful. We trust that European funds from our participation in four Erasmus Mundus programs of the European Commission will be complemented by funds we can access through new Hungarian and Italian partner universities.

Operations

As to operations, we will invest K800,000 PIP funding in Chris 21 payroll and HR management system, which should solve all payroll and contract management issues. We will also engage in a major reorganization this year to address responsibly and over a 3 year time frame the discrepancy between staff on payroll (over 1,050) and in the establishment (837). This refers to our organizational core value of efficiency and effectiveness. The Vice Chancellor as per his contract is responsible for efficient allocation of resources.

Regrettably, all staff of the Project Office, the Bulolo University College and the Timber Training and Forestry College fall under this category. Consequently, the Colleges must be given back to the originating institutions, and our established positions from elsewhere in the organisation need to be utilized to pay essential staff. We are sorry that this will cause some anxiety and hardship among our staff. This operation however is however long overdue since Colleges were supposed to be amalgamated in 1993, and a freeze on the establishment and elimination of positions outside the establishment was mandated by the Department of Finance and Treasury on 2 February 2015. The work of BonnHR in preparing a reorganization plan is gratefully acknowledged.

Academic Excellence

The two cornerstones of academic excellence are fully qualified Faculty and merit based selection of students. We are proud that the Staffing Committee has streamlined academic promotion and appointment processes, and the Academic Board and Council have approved the STAT-P aptitude test as a key element of a merit-based selection of students. Though many thought it was impossible, over 1,000 candidates sat for this test in 5 center across the country. UNITECH has proven again it is leading the way.

The creation of Academic Quality Assessment Team (AQAT) and its associated audit processes has been a decision of the Academic Board and the Council since 2014, which management is obliged to carry out. It is part of the DFAT-DHERST Institutional Audit process and the Engineers Australia – Institution of Engineering PNG (IEPNG) international accreditation process.

The progress of the Academic Quality Assessment Team AQAT is noteworthy. The transition from a “trust to a “show me” culture is not easy, but necessary given the continuous issues with assessments and exams. The PNG Common Credit currency has now been fully implemented, and a few departments are still doing some internal rebalancing of the curriculum. UNITECH is again leading the way in PNG,

Over 35% of subjects now have subject files. Progress next year will be quicker with over 80% of subjects to have complete subject files. This process is now irreversible and sustained. Some unit have achieved an almost 100% completion rates, such as the Applied Physics, Communication and Development Studies, Surveying and Land Studies, the Nursing, Bulolo University College and Timber and Forestry Training Colleges.

In addition, following the advice of the Institutional Assessment Team from Semester 2017/1 the new Director of TLMU will be tasked to hold student evaluations of teaching for all subjects consistently and systematically, and make the results available to HoDs and management. 

This will be the third year that our incoming students receive a laptop. Regrettably, due to irregular funding and inconsistent customs procedures these will again arrive after the start of classes. Only 1 other private university provides subsidized laptops to all its first year students.

Research and Innovation 

As to the importance of postgraduate studies, research and innovation, I have written about this elsewhere. To become an innovative and entrepreneurial university is captured in our organizational core value of innovation and initiative.

We are glad in particular that in 2017 there will again be over 12 graduates and staff members who will be going abroad to obtain higher degrees. This has been possible because of our “Top Talent” program since 2014, which consists of bi-lateral arrangements with world class (top 500) universities allowing us to send more Faculty abroad to pursue higher degrees, and significant investments from our side. We will have 3 PhD candidates at Queensland University of Technology, and 3 PhD candidates at good universities in India, among which one at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. As a result, a large number of Faculty members with final degrees will be coming back to work with us from 2018 onwards.

All thes efforts to strive for academic excellence, will lead to provisional accreditation of our 3 or 4 year programs as per the Washington Accord before the end of my term as Vice Chancellor in 2020 at the latest.

Stakeholders Surveys and Activities

Regarding relations with various stakeholders, we have advance in developing our relations with industry, through support of our Industrial Advisory Board. For 2017, we expect all Departmental Industrial Advisory Committees to be functioning, and we will have monthly industry-academia breakfast on the 3rd Wednesday of each month.

We will continue with the “management forum”, our stakeholders consultation mechanism, each last Friday of the month with NASA, NSA, SRC, landowners and other stakeholders.

We thank all respondents to our online Employee engagement survey. The answers made clear, however, that much greater effort must be made to communicate Council decisions and policies to staff. Despite our best efforts there is still too much confusion over what we are trying to achieve together. We trust the new website will make it possible for all to consult existing policies according to which we operate. We now understand better what motivates or demotivates our employees, and will implement the lessons from this survey. Next year, we plan an employers survey and a student satisfaction survey.

We have made great advances since our Institutional Audit in 2014, but these changes will continue and will be institutionalized. With Council we established a calendar for policy reviews, many of which still date from the 1970s.

Closing remarks



With the new strategic structure approved by Council in November this year, new systems and processes, and new structures, we are confident the organization will become more functional, and the negative elements of the organizational culture which have held us back will change (7S model). The old UNITECH Vision 2030 did not include an implementation plan or monitoring tools, and alignment with PNG Vision 2050 has not produce any of the expected results. The new strategy document will be validated in a session with all HoDs in Friday 31 March 2017.

For UNITECH transformation process, external technical advise has proved invaluable. The DFAT-DHERST Institutional Audit process has been the driving force behind this. In addition, we wish to thank especially Gore and Associates from Port Moresby, and the Lae based companies BonnHR (reorganization), Karama (accounts and audit preparation), Datec (website), and Sydney based Atlas Urban (master plan), which we contracted on our own account.

This year, special thanks go to iPi who at their own expense were able to build and open an emergency messing facility within 1 month. We also wish to thank the Chamber of Commerce, ExxonMobil, Trukai, ENBPOL, Newcrest, Harmony, Barrick, Atlas Steel and many other industries which have proven to be our strong and consistent supporters for our students, research, and development.

In my first speech to the UNITECH community as a candidate on 8 June 2011, I promised transformational leadership. We chose to become a good university, and put an end to the pervasive complacency and mediocrity, so that we can be proud of our effective contribution to nation building by producing highly employable and competent graduates. We chose to become a good university, not because it is easy but because it is hard. Our common achievements over the past years have proven, however, this is not an impossible dream.

Together we can make UNITECH fly, and even in a difficult year like 2016 we have made measurable and significant progress towards becoming a good university.

From the leadership team, myself and my wife, we wish you all happy holidays, a blessed Christmas with your family, and a happy, healthy, and productive 2017.

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