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ECONOMIST ROSS GARNAUT and former Papua New Guinea prime minister Rabbie Namaliu had to wait 17 months for their 57-page review of the dire state of PNG's public universities to be released.

It finally saw the light of day last week when PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill flew to Canberra on an official visit on 11 October.

With government spending per student at about 7 percent of what it was at independence 36 years ago, the report urges Canberra to spend up to $30 million a year for a decade to rehabilitate PNG's public universities.

"The focus of our report is on the necessity of raising the quality of the universities," Professor Garnaut said.

And while there is huge pressure for expansion, this should be resisted until many other issues are addressed, he said.

The report says PNG's resources-boom revenue -- the country's economy is growing this year by about 9 per cent -- should create "an opportunity to repair run-down services" such as higher education.

But the strategy must justify making a large investment for a small proportion of the population, "while more basic needs, including access to basic education, health and transport services, are not yet available in many parts of PNG".

Although PNG is "desperately short of skills for development", it says, "poor-quality expansion is unaffordable". So "rehabilitating or replacing run-down existing assets, and restoration of quality, should precede any investment in expansion".

The review says repairing and expanding the "badly run-down" six national high schools -- whose former high quality and status have collapsed in recent decades -- to improve the quality of intake to universities is essential for other outcomes.

Scott MacWilliam, who taught at the University of Papua New Guinea from 1983-85, said, after a recent visit, he found "there is limited internet access, little research and publishing, a library with most of its collection utterly outdated and what remains easily stolen or mutilated, inadequate housing for national and expatriate staff, and deteriorating buildings with little basic maintenance carried out".

A crucial role can be played by Australian universities, Professor Garnaut said, through "twinning" arrangements and other means of long-term close association across the range -- not only teaching and research but also administration and financial management.

The Group of Eight universities began a program of collaboration last year with UPNG, in which Australian academics in sociology, political science, journalism and computer science teach and mentor, their costs covered by AusAID and the Go8.

Source: Higher Education Supplement, The Australian, 19 October


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Barbara Short

Thank goodness something is starting to happen to help save something from the rapidly downward spirally Higher Education system in PNG.

From what I have read over the past few years, it would appear that some do-gooders have gone into PNG and thought the main aim in Education Development should be to introduce Universal Basic Education with children being taught in their local language for the first two years of school.

But this has been done at the expense of Higher Education.

These people don't seem to have realized that if you don't maintain Higher Education in PNG then the country was eventually going to collapse. I feel it is in this stage now!

The whole system of Education was changed and there have been many bad effects from these changes. I can understand why so many of the well-educated PNG people have been saying to me for the past few years that the whole Education System should go back to being as it was.

I couldn't agree more with the statement - "rehabilitating or replacing run-down existing assets, and restoration of quality, should precede any investment in expansion".

The Minister and Secretary of Education agreed in 2009 that something had to be done to improve the standards of the Year 12s - who made up the intake for the universities. They agreed to introduce these Schools of Excellence.

It was pure stupidity to think that all the high schools in the country could take over the job of training Year 12 to a level suitable for University entrance.

It takes a lot of dedicated teachers with specialist facilities, e.g. science labs, libraries etc etc to teach top students to a high level.

Also they need to be in classes with like minded students, to experience the healthy competition, to have their ideas bounch off like-minded quick witted individuals etc.

This existed at the old Senior/National High Schools. It would be fair to say that the people who brought in these new ideas into the PNG education system, who altered an already good system, had not experienced this type of school and did not appreciate what is needed to maintain a high standard in Years 11 and 12 and hence create suitable trained university entrants.

I hope the new Prime Minister and all his helpers in PNG and Australia will be able to work out the best way to solve all these problems. I feel the PNG Education Department needs a lot of help, as well as the money.

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