Declining funds and political control 'killing' PNG's uni system

2:33 pm on 7 September 2017

The vice-chancellor of Papua New Guinea's University of Technology has warned that the country's university system is gradually being killed by declining funding and political interference.

Unitech vice-chancellor Albert Schram (right) talks to a colleague on the institution's Lae campus

Unitech vice-chancellor Albert Schram (right) talks to a colleague on the institution's Lae campus Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Albert Schram said the government cut funding for Unitech from 45 to 40 million kina (US$13.8 to US$12.3 million) this financial year, and he expected the trend to continue.

And since a new Higher Education Act was passed in 2014 the government has sought to gain control over the appointment of university management staff.

This was particularly vexing for Unitech since it had only recently emerged from a long governance crisis marked by political interference.

Dr Schram was hoping for change on these fronts in the new term of parliament, in order for the university system to survive.

"It's dying a slow death by a thousand cuts because of the annual funding cuts. But if you, in addition, politicise the governance of it, then you can be sure that in 10 or 15 years there's not a credible university system left in Papua New Guinea."

According to the vice-chancellor, Unitech had done its best to get back on its feet after significant destruction and unrest stemming from student protests against the prime minister last year.

Unitech seats

Unitech seats Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

But Dr Schram explained there was a limit to what the institution could achieve with declining funds.

The funding cuts meant the institution could not grow as it needed to in order to get more students, improve the quality of education and produce competent graduates.

"With good leadership and adequate investment you can grow a university system very quickly," Dr Schram explained.

"But if the investment is not there, then that becomes very challenging. So because we have not a lot of confidence that we would get funding for infrastructure, we have not increased the intake of students (which remains at around 3000)."

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