GRADUATING from the University of Papua New Guinea was one of the proudest achievements in my life; my own pride outmatched only by my mother’s.
It was a great feeling to read that diploma – “By authority of the Council, Michael Dom, having fulfilled all the requirements and conditions prescribed by the By-Laws of the university has been admitted to the degree of Bachelor of Science”.
But it was the next few words which had my mind reeling, “and to all its privileges”. Affixed with a golden star – the Common Seal. Magical!
It was even better that a dear and long-time family friend, Prof Lance Hill, was on the dais to hand the diploma to me (with some resistance I might add, because I was clearly hung-over).
It was a few months later, when I was unemployed and on the streets, that I realised what those privileges did not cover. It took more than a few years to realise what they did cover.
This year I rejoined the University of Papua New Guinea alumni through its website portal. I had first signed on as an alumnus immediately after graduation in 2001, but I have no idea what happened to the organisation afterwards.
Mostly the alumni seems to be a dead horse. But bear in mind I have lived outside Port Moresby for the last 10 years, so things could be happening of which I am unaware.
The resumption of the Waigani Seminars comes to mind but, in my opinion, we may still be some way off from reaping the full benefit of what should be heated public debate within this forum.
A new initiative at UPNG is John Kaupa Kamasua’s Career Development and Employment Enhancement Program. I wish I had been through such a program when I was in university.
Nevertheless, the generally poor and struggling status of UPNG (and that of other higher learning institutes) reflects poorly on the elite members of society who have had the benefit of higher education and who should be leading alumni and alumnae.
A few names come to mind, in no particular order: Sir Rabbie Namiliu (Political Science), Sir Mekere Morauta (Economics) and Governor Paias Wingti (Economics), Bart Philemon (Arts) and Peter O’Neill (Accountancy and Commerce).
(Oops, I just realised I’ve implicated four of the five founding fathers and the current Prime Minister to boot! Argh! How totally non-Melanesian of me!)
I’m sure most of you have heard of these Melanesian big-men, but there are many others, and women too, in less exalted, but equally important positions in PNG today.
These are powerful alumni representatives that permeate our society; men and women once educated and enlightened within the intellectual sanctuaries of the University of Papua New Guinea. So why is this temple of higher learning now mostly desecrated and otherwise left to ruin and decay?
(Even the development of the dormitories was given over to a former television personality and all-round clown!)
Perhaps this educated elite was unhappy with its time there, or dissatisfied with the outcome and would rather forget that whole period they were forced to endure.
If that’s the case, then I’m so very sorry their lives were tainted during that formative period. But I’m quite sure that, over the years, they’ve more than taken back their rightful benefits in one way or several others.
Alternatively, perhaps these elite alumni understood all too well the powerful influence that such intellectual sanctuaries could have on the rest of their people if they allowed the temples to flourish unchecked.
(God forbid if the rest of the population wised up to them! There’d be anarchy!)
Martyn Namorong claims that some of my fellow alumni have become the predatory elites, who feast on the juicy flesh of the PNG economy and prostitute our society to their Philistine whims.
Conspiracy theories abound.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that universities were the central agencies responsible for generating the intellectual, skilled and dedicated professionals to drive a nation forward.
(It’s no insult to our more technically-oriented training academies, but we need to understand ‘why’ something works in order to ‘use it’ properly to our benefit.)
Perhaps I have been led astray in my thinking, after all it has been 15 years since I graduated from UPNG and I’m now being brain washed by my supervisors and experiences at the University of Adelaide.
Last year UPNG celebrated its 50th graduation – 50 years of “dedicated services to human capital development through the provision of higher education, research, and community engagements in Papua New Guinea and the region.”
Truly. Fifty years and 15-30,000 graduates later (my guestimates).
The evidence of “human capital development” must be in our declining health, education and employment statistics, in our poor delivery of basic services, in our eager encouragement of exploitative resource extractive industries and in our externally oriented and self-serving macro-economy, with little to nil input into the vast informal economy, and governance provided by a recycled cesspool of cronies and political philanderers with little integrity, dignity or respect for their people.
(Wow! All that and I haven’t even said ‘fuck’ yet – oops!)
But this article is about prestige not politics and governance. Fair dinkum, mate!
While living at Roseworthy Campus in Adelaide, I’ve had the time for much serious reflection, as happens when you live far away from the hustle and bustle of your home city and are isolated from normal duties, finding yourself free to contemplate the meaning of life and everything (which is zero by the way).
And so I’ve tried to reconnect with my alma mater, or at least the most important part of the university – the students.
This, copied below, is a discussion topic which I raised and which was also the first to register (if site admin accepts it) on the UPNG Alumni website.
I recently had a lunch conversation with a colleague formerly of Australia's CSIRO. While talking about our research activities and the involvement of universities he mentioned his understanding that UPNG was the premier institute in PNG.
I felt a sense of pride to hear this from someone who has not had very much contact with PNG or our universities. In fact, the same identification of UPNG still lingers elsewhere.
For example, a highly placed intellect from Samoa, trained at the UPNG Medical School under a PNG scholarship, remarked with great pride and a sense of debt about his benefit and the many pleasant experiences he had while in PNG.
But my pride was tinged with a sense of disappointment, because whether we all admit it or not the UPNG, like many other institutions of higher learning, has fallen on bad times which have lasted for far too long.
There are some very good developments happening in recent times. In particular, the advancement of the Science and Technology Council and its executive arm, the S&T Secretariat, headed by Prof Lohi Matainaho.
This group, as I understand, are lifting the standard of science and technology research and training.
This bodes well for the future of PNG.
But there is one other more fundamental group that needs to rise from its slumber.
The students and alumni.
Make a list of PNG's elite members of society and you may find that many of them received undergraduate training at the UPNG.
Where they, and what are they contributing back to their alma mater?
Also, the current students, who will in future find some place in society should also be taking part in raising the standard of their university.
They say that an organization is only as good as the people who make it up.
Similarly our university is only as good as the staff and students who make it up.
And our country.
Students are easily the biggest population on any campus. So, by simple corollary, students should have the greatest influence on the institute’s status.
As a former graduate, and proud product of the UPNG, I would like to know what is happening at the university, what is planned, what good activities are there that former graduands can also participate in with the present and future community.
There is surely a lot more we can do to raise the prestige of our university, and place it once again on that pedestal which in days gone by made it the most vibrant place of learning in the Pacific.
I eagerly await responses and will update Attitude readers as need be.