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Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Welcome for Minister DHERST Francis Marus to UNITECH campus

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Dear Minister Hon. Francis Marus, Honourable Member, Council members, Professors, Honoured Guest, Business Houses, Students, Faculty and Staff of the PNGUoT, Ladies and Gentlemen:


I am delighted today to welcome Minister of DHERST, Francis Marus to our campus. A few days ago on Monday, we opened the 52nd Academic Year of the PNGUoT. 52 years is a long time, in fact we were founded 10 years before PNG became independent.

You may not realize that among the 10 or so oldest institutions in the world, over half of them are universities. Some of our partner universities in Europe, the University of Bologna for example is more than 900 years old, and arguably the oldest university in the world.


Another of our partner universities the Budapest University of Technology and Economics was founded by the Austrian-Hungarian emperor in 1782 (235 years ago) as the first university of technology in the world. Before that time engineering and economics were not considered subjects worth of the attention of academics.

Minister this invites us to be humble, and make us realize that institutions are forever, but in our roles of serving the citizens and students of this country, we are only temporary workers. Even though I am the longest serving Vice Chancellor in the country, in the big picture, 5 years and a bit is but a blimp.

This in turn means that in order to make an impact during our terms we can not waste time or procrastinate. The needs for higher education in this country are urgent. The percentage of 18 to 24 year olds participating in higher education is below 2%, probably lower than before independence. The average for Africa, the least developed continent in term of higher education, is already over 6%. We all know that we need a massive investment in our higher education, and we hope that after these difficult years have passed, the government will invest in our infrastructure.

The Independent Review of the Higher Education system urged the universities to reform their governance, and to improve the quality of their teaching before anything else. UNITECH has done the right thing. After taking over on 7 February 2012, I lead a fundamental governance reform. After a governance crisis of 7 years (it had started in 2007) on 3 April 2014 a new legitimate University Council was formed under the leadership of our Chancellor Sir Nagora Bogan. The next day, I was invited to come back from exile and form a new management team.

The priorities of this government most likely the ones afterwards as well are always going to be
  1. create financially sustainable universities and decrease their dependence on government grants;
  2. improve the quality of teaching;
  3. improve access to university education, increasing the intake;
  4. improve the conditions for staff and academics.

Now I am not going to make empty promises here, because we have already taken concrete action. Our Council has approved concrete plans to address these issues, and is holding our management accountable for results. In our 10 year business plan, we strive to decrease the reliance on government grants from 75% to 50%. This means our commercial operations and university companies must be turned around, and forced to make a profit or disappear. In November 2015, our Council approved a Master Plan for our campus, which will see among other things the construction of a New Mess and Great Hall at the main entrance of our campus. (Minister I don't want to beg, but if your colleauge Minister DNPM Charles Abel can find another K10M we will be able to complete the mess before the start of the second semester).

The north of our 220 Ha campus will see the construction of high cost and low cost, affordable housing projects. The south, will see the construction of the Uni-Mall with a market, clinic, bus stop, small and large commercial areas, offices, etc. You can check out our Master Plan on http://www.unitechpng.com.

We have already made great improvements in our infrastructure. Our perimeter fencing will soon be completed. Our male dormitories have been fenced off. Our UNIFORCE security guards have now all received training. We are confident we can provide a reasonable level of security and safety for our students and staff on our campus, if they themselves respect our rules, and behave safely.

As to the quality of our teaching, we are the only university in the country offering a full study load as per international standards and to have introduce the PNG Common Credit Currency. We are also the only university committed to international accreditation by an independent external body. In fact, we strive to achieve provisional accreditation of our engineering programs by the Institution of Engineer PNG, and Engineers Australia by 2019. We are preparing for the accreditation visit, through our internal audit by the Academic Quality Assessment Team. Their latest findings are that about 50% of our subjects now have subject files. At the end of this year, with the support of Exxon Mobile external assessor will come visit each department and report his or her findings directly to our Academic Board (or Senate). With support of DFAT this year we hope to organize 3 workshops for our Faculty on student centred teaching, online delivery and curriculum development. This is a major achievement and shows that the change from a culture based on "trust me" I am a professor, to "show me" I am teaching according to my lesson plan.

We are a true university, and teaching and research are inseparable in everything we do. We are rule by the principles of institutional autonomy, dual governance (with 2 governing board: our University Council and the Academic Board) and shared governance (with our students and staff participating in 19 Committees of Council and 16 Committees of the Academic Board. To an outside this may seem a top heavy governance structure, but this reflects the traditions of Bologna, Oxford and Cambridge through our founding Chancellor Sir Luis Matheson. Our library is named after this British civil engineer from Huddersfield, who was the excellent fist vice chancellor of Monash University in Melbourne.

We are proud of our history, and the achievements of our predecessors. I want to name in particular Vice Chancellor Mosely Moramoro, who was responsible for creating our Mining Engineering department with the support of the mining industry. He also signed the contracts with the European Commission to build the male and female PG dormitories, the Haus Europa ICT building, and the research building. Thanks to his efforts, today we can proudly run the largest PG program in the country with over 200 students. By international standards this is still small (less than 10%) and we hope the government will eventually provide scholarships for PG students.

Over the last year, with the support of our Council, we have made great progress towards creating a positive learning environment. We have invested ourselves in building an earth station for O3B fast internet satellite serves, so that our students and Faculty receive reliable broadband internet through wifi all over campus. This year, we received PIP funding from DNPM to upgrade our campus network. Our Council also allowed us to offer  laptops at 50% of the international price to all our incoming students. This year, our classrooms are going to receive permanently installed beamers and docking stations so that teaching materials can be shown and distribute electronically. Our students will leave this university not with an unorganized pile of unreadable notes and photocopies, but with well organized and accessible information on their laptops and hard drives.

As to improving access, Minister we really struggle. Our campus is full. One of the factors aggravating tensions on campus last year, was dormitory overcrowding and lack of student facilties. In our dual delivery university plan, therefore, we have taken 7% increase of student population per year as our target. As long as we can not increase the size of our classes on our main campus, we are looking to expand with the partnership of provincial government through satellite university campuses. In fact, at the end of March we hope to open the Simbu UNITECH Satellite University SUSU with governor Koole in Kundiawa.

Minister, I must make a plea to proceed with the salary review for all our university staff: non-citizens academic staff, national academic staff, and national staff. We are a University of Technology and fully qualified academics can command high salaries in the private sector. It has turned out to be very hard to attract and retain engineers and scientist on the current salary packages. In some departments we are down to 1 fully qualified faculty member. We need some help here.

In sum, this is your university minister, you are always welcome here. Universities are of course politically neutral and we work with the government of the day. In fact, you are my third Minister of DHERST I have the pleasure of working with. You have shown us that you are accessible always to our management, and prefer dialogue over confrontation. So are we. Apart from a Minister you are also father of a student at our sister University in Port Moresby. You own sun is not studying in Brisbane or the USA, but here in PNG.

We are looking forward to working with you, and confident we can achieve great things together. If we keep working as a team you will be the most successful Minister of DHERST in the country's history.









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