PNG’s student unrest hitting finances, reputation, says education chief

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By Serah Aupong in Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea’s long standing university student unrest is costing the country’s higher education sector financially, and is also damaging its international reputation.

Higher Education Secretary Prof David Kavanamur gave this verdict at the second departmental heads meeting today after students have been locked in an up to six-week protest over national politics, demanding that Prime Minister Peter O’Neill resign.

However, Kavanamur said the situation was not all bad.

He said the University of Natural Resource and Environment at Vudal “has been running academic programmes for two months now,” while both the Divine Word University and Pacific Adventist University “are intact”.

At the University of Goroka, Secretary Kavanamur said the students had been home for two weeks and the administration aimed to sort our their issues within that time.

Speaking about the situation at the University of Technology — before the latest attack last night killing a student and setting fire to several buildings in an unrelated issue —  Kavanamur said “full credit” to the vice-chancellor, Professor Albert Schram, for “holding the place together” despite tensions being high.

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The government’s main concern now was the University of Papua New Guinea’s main campus of Waigani.

‘Running full swing’
However, Dr Schram said, the School of Medicine at the UPNG’s Taurama campus was “running full swing” along with the postgraduate programmes.

Kavanamur told the meeting that, for medical students, the unrest had meant those scheduled to graduate in 2017, would now be graduating in 2019 instead.

Another unfortunate consequence of the unrest is damage done on plans to attract more international students to the country, which Kavanamur described as a “major reputational risk” that needed to be addressed.

Apart from international reputation, the unrest had also put a financial drain on the higher education sector.

“Possibly K15 [NZ$6.6 million] to K20 million [NZ$8.9 million) already, that’s money that we could be spending on prioritised areas.”

He indicated that academically, drastic decisions might be made soon.

“We are coming to the end of that period whereby the academic senate will meet to decide on the tenability of the academic programme.”

Serah Aupong is an EMTV News reporter.

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