Papua New Guinea loses another Vice Chancellor

University of Natural Resources and Environment campus in Vudal.
Written by Stephen Howes

Last month, PNG University of Natural Resources and the Environment (UNRE) Vice Chancellor Professor John Warren quit his post — and the country — after receiving threats of legal action.

Warren, who only took up his position at UNRE in 2016, was previously Professor of Botany at Aberystwyth University in Wales. It seems, from a letter by Warren released by PNG Attitude, that he resigned after falling out with the University Chancellor and then with the Council. He writes of “the chancellor’s repeated threats to report me to the police,” and of a report he received that a court order was to be served on him.

UNRE is clearly a troubled institution. The previous Vice Chancellor had his appointment terminated following allegations of mismanagement of funds, and was referred to the fraud squad following allegations made by Rabaul MP, Dr Allan Marat. University students protested last year following the re-appointment of two senior staff. Students are once again protesting, this time at Professor Warren’s departure.

Earlier in the year, Unitech Vice Chancellor Albert Schram was arrested shortly after resigning. He had his passport confiscated on a trumped-up charge. This unfortunate turn of developments was engineered by a former senior Unitech leader Schram had earlier crossed. It took about three weeks, and various court hearings, for the former Vice Chancellor to get his passport back and leave the country.

Warren says that the treatment of Schram motivated him to leave PNG without delay to avoid becoming entangled with the police and the courts. He writes that “[a]lthough the charges were ludicrous, all the advice I received (in the light of the Albert Schram case) was that I should leave PNG as quickly and quietly as possible.”

The handling of both the Schram and the Warren cases will have a devastating impact on the reputation of PNG’s higher education sector.

There are too many powerful individuals in PNG who use the legal system as a form of harassment. The damage to both justice and the national interest is immense.

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Stephen Howes

Stephen Howes is the Director of the Development Policy Centre and a Professor of Economics at the Crawford School.

5 Comments

  • Let me respond to Dr. Telue’s false allegations. As you can see on my LinkedIn profile, I served in executive positions with board accountability for over 6 years total as Acting Center Director of School for Field Studies (based in Beverley MA, USA), as Academic Director (PVC academic) at Zudy University (Maastricht Netherlands) and as Development and Research Funding Officer accountable to the Research School board at Maastricht University (top #5 in THE ranking of young universities). The issue is moot in any case because the Sevua Investigation clearly established in 2013 that I had been lawfully and regularly appointed. The issue was brought up again in 2018 for purely political reasons. The government decided foreign Vice Chancellors were too much of a risk, exposing the joint criminal enterprise or mafia-like organizations that some PNG universities have become. In fact, Dr. Telue himself was an active participant when in November 2017 he came to the Administration Building with a fake court order and in company of armed police, trying to evict the Vice Chancellor. I helped him to find a graceful exit and establish himself, but he still enjoys attacking me with false allegations.

  • Do not believe Albert schrams story. He has never served as professor and Head of school anywhere and he was wrongly a pointed the unitechs former council for their own selfish reasons. The three of us PNG indigenous professors kept saw it from the beginning that Albert was not the right person to lead unitech.

    I was professor and Head of Dept at Civil dept unitech and though respect Albert as an individual he was and is not VC material not to appoint him.

    When Albert turned on the former council they had no one. Some of us read and know the unitech act so when NEC made a decision to appoint a new council we decided to support the unitech couch then as by Law we Know that they were the legitimate council as NEC had no powers to appoint a new council.
    We did these based on our values and principals. The two of us still around are my self and prof Clestus Gonduan. Both Of us are not on face book, twitter or publish articles though the Internet so Albert ruled the Internet with his inaccurate publications. He came to unitary with all staff and students behind him. When he left he was a very lonely person as every knew him better and all chose not to suppport him when he was terminated by the same new council that supported him 6 years.

    The chancellor of the new council was related to me by marriage (my wifes first cousin) and the university is in Lae where chancellor is from. I had to leave unitech in December 2014 and set up my own institute.

    I received a call about a week or two later after Albert was sacked from the chancellor who has since left unitech to stand in 2017 elections on other matters but advised they sacked Albert for not presenting his original PhD certificate.

    I was employed by University of Sydney in 2005 and this was one of the first things I showed to Prof Kim Rasmussen the Head of school of Civil eng at Sydney University.

    My observations in hindsight was that Albert used the new council to hang in their as VC with student backing because everyone was against the former council including myself. I was vice president of the uniteach national staff association back in 2007 and we went on strike against the former council. I stood behind them when their decision to appoint albert as VC backfired as they were still the legitimate council under the Unitech ACT and supporting all other students and staff then would be against my values and principals. That is corruption. I did that venue with the expense of my position as Prof and Head of Civil Dept.

    In 2012 I initiated the revision of the civil dept programs through appointment of a dept academic advisory board to critically look at our programs and help us prepare for acrrediation by Engineers Australia to the Washington accord of our engineering programs. CEO OF water PNG Mr Raka Tavira, fist assistant secretary of Department of Works Mr Erick Siam, current Engineers PNG president Mr Brian Alois reps from within unitech and Professor Mahen Mahendran from Queensland university of Technology was brought up to chair this meeting. Since I left and under Albertsons term as VC unitech enginering programs have not been a credited 6 years on.

    I have decided to provide these comments to give the other side of the story.

    Yaip K Telue BENG Hons 2A QUT PhD QUT FIEPNG
    Registered Structural Engineer PNG

  • Although without the required regulation, the government used its powers under the Higher Education Act 2014 to appoint new Chancellor and Council at the University of Goroka and the University of Natural Resource and Environment. Sir Nagora Bogan had been appointed as Chancellor of the PNGUoT in 2007, and then again in November 2012. At the PNG University of Technology I was the last “real” Vice Chancellor duly and lawfully appointed by Council, as the Sevua Investigation concluded in 2013.

    Prof. Burton mentions the UoG administration before 2015. All I know was that the former Chancellor was mentioned in the Panama papers, and the former Vice Chancellor was involved in shady dealings with the Chinese and regarding university procurement. Maybe it is a case of swapping one set with another set of dishonest and ineffective administrators?

    Prof. Howes correctly points about the reputational damage to the PNG universities with the last incidents is tremendous, and will be felt over the coming years. Sites like glassdoor.com and the international press coverage will make applicants think twice. What the national press writes is not so relevant. The Chancellors have now effectively achieved an end to any international recruitment of qualified academics or competent administrators.

    The current crisis raises the question whether the universities in their current state can be helped from the outside through any type of aid or support. They seem content being credential machines whose average graduates “only look good on paper” but have few real competences. I am quoting an industry partner here. Another one once asked “Vice Chancellor why is it that your graduates are unable to do anything? “. The other 2 parts of the mission, research and transfer, are barely developed at all.

    Apart from employable graduates, universities in order to stay relevant are supposed to produce active citizens and future leaders. With the elimination of the voice of the students at UPNG, UoG and PNGUoT the students are now expected to “shut up and get your degree”, while for the large majority of them little opportunity is offered to develop leadership skills in the curriculum or outside it.

    Real reform of their governance is long overdue, driving a transformation allowing them to deliver a modern, competence based curriculum. In order to stay relevant Universities must contribute to a sustainable employment situation, and currently over 60% of graduates are still unemployed 6 months after graduation. The basic conditions for any learning to take place are not in place.

    Apart from the governance and focus on the mission, in my view the main urgent challenges for PNG universities are the financial administration, ICT and restructuring. At the PNGUoT we were able to sort out the finances in 3 years, make good head way with ICT, but we barely started the scratch the surface regarding the restructuring.

    Indeed PNG universities are funded badly, with less than half of the government benchmark of K30,000 per student per year. There is however also a lot of wasteful spending, and a lack of administrative and financial controls. Just by reducing the financial mandate of the heads of departments in 2017 at the PNGUoT, for example, we were able to save over K2M in unnecessary expenses. It did not make us very popular.

    At the PNGUoT the strategy was to get the house in order first financially, and then approach industry for support. The state is rather penniless and in the 10 year business planning was not expected to fund much more than the salaries.

    Achieving an unqualified audit in 2017 for all the 2015 accounts was a major step forward. The PNGUoT was the only university to do so, and it had not been achieved in over 2 decades. Since 2014, several large companies had been strongly supporting accreditation of engineering programs, and eventually assured me would have funded the refurbishment of the laboratories. Currently, hardly any of the laboratories have usable equipment, and there is no environment where scientist or engineers can be taught.

    The second leg of the strategy was to use “digital” to overcome some of the obstacles (e.g. no library) by improving the IT infrastructure. This was partially achieved, mainly because of deficient management, and failure to restructure the university’s IT department which counted 40+ staff members, where 4 would have sufficed.

    Finally, there is a need for restructuring of all university personnel, but there is no willingness or capacity to execute a concrete plan. The academics to staff ratio in industrialized countries is 1 to 1, and even in Fiji it is only 1 to 2. In PNG public universities it is 1 to 4.

    I remember at one strategy meeting, I asked a head of department whether he would be willing to restructure and downsize some of his administrative staff. He agreed this staff was no longer necessary, but he said he could not support downsizing because of the long relationship they had in the department, and unwillingness to upset the social balance.

    Let me end with a quote: “Oh what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive.” (Sir Walter Scott (1808) in the poem Marmion)

  • Three down really, if you count the removal of the top tier of management from the University of Goroka in 2015.

    The capers at the top distract from more basic facts PNG’s state universities are funded at a fraction of the level they were in 1975 (at 17th of the level according to one ex-prof https://johnmenadue.com/allan-patience-the-serious-under-development-of-papua-new-guineas-university-system/). A colleague has been pursuing anything recent written on science education in PNG but, unless there is a hidden trove of unpublished PhDs somewhere that he hasn’t found, in the last 20 years the field seems to have gone dark. It presages rather badly for the critical shortage of useful people like doctors, civil engineers, and properly qualified provincial disaster managers (Madang’s is a former seminarian). Nothing is surprising here.

    We have polio back, such that several DWU staff needing to travel later in the year are going for boosters at Modilon this morning. Sadly to say, but the 5th funeral on our small campus for this year is scheduled for this afternoon. Stark fact: members of our university die faster than we can graduate new ones with higher degrees to grow the teaching body. Four to five deaths is the average for the last six years.

    At what point will PNG’s governmental idleness to provide for its own development future, coupled with emerging bio- and health threats, cause its regional neighbours to begin classing it as a menace to other countries in the region, I wonder.

    • I am a PNG academic and have undertaken research and have published papers in journals and conference papers internationally. My comments are nothing about png but research that will contribute to knowledge world wide. I am sure Australia steel industries have benefited from my research.

      Yaip K Telue BENG Hons 2A PhD Qut

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