08 November 2013
Dinner Address by Australia’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, HE Ms Deborah Stokes at the PNG Universities Twinning Workshop
8 November 2013
- PNG University Vice-Chancellors and executives (list of attendees attached)
- A/g Chair of the Commission of Higher Education
- PNG Government officials
- Officers of the Australian High Commission
It is a great pleasure to be here this evening to be with you and to talk about higher education in PNG.
When there are so many needs in a country, it can sometimes be hard to justify spending money on universities.
This questioning happens in all countries but is more acute in a country such as PNG where basic health and education services are weak.
But how do you meet health needs if you don’t have doctors and nurses and the full range of other health professionals?
How do you build roads and other vital infrastructure if you don’t have engineers and surveyors?
How do you build an economy without accountants and lawyers?
How do you protect your environment and biodiversity if you don’t have scientists?
How do we know who you are if you don’t have historians and other professionals in the arts?
How do you play a part in the increasingly globalised and interconnected world and benefit fully from this if you don’t have strong universities?
Very importantly, and perhaps not given enough recognition, a strong higher education sector is an essential part of a healthy democracy.
It’s not enough to simply have universities.
Quantity must be matched by quality.
Quality spans governance, administration, research and academic programs.
Quality is also critical to the standing of an institution and its recognition by its peers – both national and international.
I welcome the Office of Higher Education’s leadership and encouragement to the sector which has produced and will continue to produce PNG’s future leaders, professionals and researchers.
Recognition of institutional quality is critical to the acceptance of the knowledge and insights generated by a university and its academics.
It will also ensure that the issues that matter to PNG are given attention by the world’s best minds and appear in international journals, conferences and discussions.
PNG’s Universities Review identified improving the quality of teaching and learning as critical among its recommendations.
Recognising this, both PNG and Australia have committed to improving university quality.
I would like to acknowledge the leadership of the Office of Higher Education and its Director-General, Professor David Kavanamur, in taking up the mantel of the higher education quality agenda.
I would also like to acknowledge Mr Simon Kenehe and the important role of the Commission for Higher Education.
As you know, OHE has led the establishment of the quality assessment processes which you have all supported.
Australia has supported the good work of the OHE through advisory support in the form of Dr Jeanette Baird.
Dr Baird’s technical skills and experience in the field of quality assurance has assisted each university to prepare for their institutional assessments.
I am very pleased that each of PNG universities have seized the opportunity to participate in the university quality assessments.
These assessments are demanding but are worth it as they provide the opportunity for universities to consider their practices and identify improvements.
We know that Australian universities stand ready to work with you on the quality agenda.
Twinning provides the opportunity to refresh long-standing relationships or to build new links where there is common interest.
Twinning is a common way for institutions to engage and share perspectives and practical assistance.
I encourage you to consider establishing twinning arrangements with Australian universities where they will contribute to your efforts to improve institutional quality and build links that will offer benefits to both institutions.
Another plank to strengthening university capacity is our support for the Association of Tertiary Education Management (ATEM).
We recognise that university administration sets the scene for effective institutional operations and the quality agenda.
We are pleased that ATEM has established a chapter in PNG. This will allow sharing of knowledge between members in Australia, New Zealand and PNG.
Alongside support for our shared higher education quality agenda, Australia is actively contributing to universities in PNG through our commitments in the Joint Understanding between Australia and Papua New Guinea on further bilateral cooperation on Health, Education and Law and Order.
The Joint Understanding reinforced Australia’s commitment to twinning and for both countries to work together to implement the recommendations of the Universities Review.
Under the Joint Understanding, Australia is contributing to the rehabilitation of the essential infrastructure at the University of Papua New Guinea.
We recognise that there is great pressure on the state universities to provide higher education opportunities for school levers. Currently, only 2-3% of children have the opportunity to reach higher education.
Our commitment under the Joint Understanding, which will help improve UPNG’s student capacity, complements our commitment to the quality agenda.
Central to both the Joint Understanding and the 2011 partnership commitments by Australia and PNG is the allocation of resources for quality improvements at universities.
To date, the PNG Government has not allocated funding for quality to trigger Australia’s kina for kina commitment.
Realisation of this funding commitment underpins reform of the sector over the long term and support for twinning arrangements.
Attention to improving the quality of PNG’s universities was first raised in the 1996 Lehman report and it has taken until now for the quality agenda to be front and centre.
I congratulate all of you for your commitment to realise the vision of a strong network of quality universities suited to the needs of the 21st century.
In closing I wish to underline that Australia is committed to a strong relationship with Papua New Guinea. Our histories are intertwined as are our futures. And links between our universities are a vital part of our relationship and our shared future.