Using Government Bullshit To Create Illusions In the Public Mind: It Won’t Save PNG’s Universities, My Friends

OHE Insider

All Objective External Assessments of PNG’s Universities Point To A Giant, Growing Mess

When I wrote my first article on the pathetic state of PNG’s universities, I thought the university ranking data would be enough to convince readers how unprepared our universities and their graduates are to meet PNG’s challenges in the 21st century.

Maybe I should have shared more of what is contained within the Garnaut & Namaliu paper “PNG Universities Review”(www.rossgarnaut.com.au/.../PNGUniversitiesReview310510v7.pdf).   For example:

[a nation] “pretending to educate children with pretend teachers trained in pretend universities and teachers colleges”.

“The National High Schools which were once the main source of university students have deteriorated to the extent that standards are generally no higher, and in some cases lower, than the provincial secondary schools.”      

“many members of staff draw full salaries but participate in teaching only to the extent that it suits them and fits in with other professional activities.”

The report paints the same picture as the Webometric ranking of PNG universities:   That of a government and its people letting the higher institutions it inherited at independence fall apart, with even newer institutions far from reaching acceptable standards.   If you compare the state of our universities against relevant goalposts of PNG’s 2050 vision, it becomes obvious that we’re on track to reach our 2050 development goals in 2150, 2250, or maybe never.  Never assume that countries are guaranteed to develop.   Many in the world today, despite centuries of relative independence, continue to languish in sluggish development that only benefits the privileged.  PNG could easily become just like them.

In PNG today, most uni graduates know depressingly little and can apply even less.   Yes, yes, there are a few (usually those who read widely outside of class) who become successful despite their atrocious PNG university education.   Praise those solid achievers but don’t glorify them as being any kind of “typical” graduate.  They’re not.  Most of today’s graduates, as they leave uni, are kissed with a lifelong disadvantage getting scholarships, jobs, and developing satisfying careers.  For anyone to celebrate DWU because it is PNG’s top university is to participate in a coverup of painful reality.   It’s like taking a box of rotting pawpaws and picking the least rotten one to hold up and exclaim how beautiful it looks.  Those sweet words do not in fact make the pawpaw either beautiful or sweet.

Saving PNG’s Universities Is Firstly About GETTING MORE MONEY!

There are many reasons why PNG’s universities have become so pathetic, but the core problem is NOT ENOUGH MONEY.    For nearly two generations, PNG’s universities haven’t even had close to the funding they need!

Yet, we are living in a country where the national budget has skyrocketed over the past few years.  Our government can quickly go into massive foreign debt (Exxim loan) to use Chinese companies to build our roads, but seems oddly incapable of increasing the budget of the higher education institutions that build the brains of the future.

Six Beliefs That Help Ensure That PNG’s Universities Will NEVER Be Properly Funded

Even if you, the reader, are finally realising what a disaster our PNG universities have become, be assured that our PNG universities will NEVER get the funds they need if you hold any of the following beliefs dear to your heart:

1.  Believing that “the government must start taking action”.    Of course they “must” take action to solve the problem.  But they haven’t taken action for the last 39 years and they never will as long as the current status quo persists.  People, you must understand how our government actually functions to reveal why it doesn’t function!

Do you believe that OHE should solve the problem?  Of course they “should” but they haven’t and they won’t.   OHE is totally useless at putting any pressure on government to substantially increase support for higher education.   Whoever happens to be the HERST minister at the time will never start a campaign to make higher education a national issue.  They’re afraid to!   To understand why, consider that Director General David Kavanamur, who is in the same lifestyle boat as the ministers he serves.  If Kavanamur made any waves broadcasting to the nation the 39 years deterioration of PNG’s higher learning, it could undo Kavanamur’s comfortable life of commuting to work in PNG while permanently residing in Australia.  OHE planners and staff underneath Kavanamur perpetuate this impasse.  They all know the rule:  Speak up in dissent and you’ll be on your way out.

But OHE isn’t alone in this paralysis.   The same selfishness and personal greed drives staff, managers and ministers in the National Planning Office and Department of Finance, which play roles in allocating funds to different line items in the national budget for higher education.  The overall situation is that of complete immobilisation.   That’s why the government isn’t going to “do something” about the problem just because you, the reader, demand it.

2.  Believing “the minister has promised to help our universities”.    All those flowery speeches of past HERST and Dept Education ministers have only succeeded in throwing new bullshit on top of a 39 year old mountain of bullshit.   What happened to the hundreds and hundreds of new computers Acting HERST Minister Don Polye that promised our universities would receive this year?   Long forgotten!   Now we’re applauding current Minister Delilah Gore’s airheaded project to build new libraries at the universities.  Minister Gore, look around you.  Our universities already have libraries!  The problem isn’t no buildings, it is that the libraries are nearly empty of modern, relevant books for students to learn from!   Few books, fewer magazines, no technical journals, that’s the reality.  

3.  Believing that “another investigative report is needed on the state of PNG’s universities”.    We don’t need another @#($*@#$@ report!   We’ve had nearly 40 years of decline because government WILL NOT GIVE OUR UNIVERSITIES ENOUGH MONEY.  Full stop.   The Garnault & Namaliu report said it all.  That report is now 5 years old and counting, yet there has been NO slowdown of the 39 year old trend of decline.   That’s not to say that OHE doesn’t use the Garnault & Namaliu report.  It has been their guide to carry out snail pace activities to reform the system, motivated by David Kavanamur’s promise that recommendations from these activities (such as the nearly finished quality review of all PNG’s universities) will be fully funded.   Empty promises followed by empty promises.   Throughout it all, PNG’s public universities continue to deteriorate and Divine Word’s ranking as a quality university remains worse than the top university of the chaotic warlord ruled country of Somalia!

4.  Believing that “PNG’s universities will be saved by privatization and sugar daddies”.    Hello?  Privatization is already here in the form of the abysmally ranked, horribly expensive Pacific Adventist University, as well as the poorly ranked, very expensive Divine Word University.    They both struggle to fill their available spaces BECAUSE SO FEW PARENTS CAN AFFORD THEIR HIGH SCHOOL FEES!    Not to worry.   Some of you have become convinced that there’s a sugar daddy somewhere out there willing to bail out PNG’s public universities with heaps of cash or will set up their own private university in PNG.  Sorry, laka, that’s cargo cult thinking and it won’t happen.  Bill Gates isn’t  interested in bailing out PNG higher education nor is Bill Clinton.   Nor is any other super-rich fat cat.   Nor the Australian, New Zealand, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Philippino nor American governments interested.   Nor are any truly genuine private educational institutions of those countries interested.   Repeat:  NOT INTERESTED!   Even outside idiots can see that neither PNG’s government nor its voters much concerned that PNG supports some of the worst universities in the world.   If we don’t care about our own universities, why should anyone else?

5.  Believing that “it takes time for change”.    Accepting that excuse removes every bit of energy and motivation to do anything radical to compensate for nearly 40 years of quietly watching UPNG and Unitech fall apart.   It didn't take Don Polye and Peter O’Neill 39 years to put together a K500 million supplementary budget to help their chosen candidates buy votes in the last national election.   It took a few months.   Whenever there’s a will, there’s a way, as they say.    

6.  Believing that deteriorating universities have little to do with PNG’s economic  progress.   Too many of us have come to believe that the sad state of our universities isn't relevant to PNG’s economic progress and development.  If you think that, you’re in denial.  Japan and Singapore are the world’s best examples that a highly developed human resource is more important than owning all the natural resources in the world.

As citizens of this nation, we've become like the female bird of paradise that becomes drunk on the sight of the male’s pretty feathers and impressive dance.  We put all our faith in the government’s pronouncements that the economy is growing and we’re all going to be rich.  That, in turn, motivates us to embrace LNG and other natural resource extraction as the saviors of PNG simply on their potential to grow the economy.  

WE ASSUME that more economic growth means more money entering the pockets of the average Papua New Guinean.

WE ASSUME that natural resource extraction will bring great progress in the sustainable development of our rural areas.  

WE ASSUME that billions of kina worth of gas and oil revenue won’t be stolen like it has been in Nigeria, Venezuela, Mexico, and Indonesia, to name a few utterly corrupt countries where great resource wealth has largely been squandered with nothing to show for it.  

Reminder:  Assumptions aren't the same as facts!  

Why does corruption blow up as soon as massive revenues begin flowing in from natural resource extraction?   It happens because of PUBLIC TOLERANCE caused by PUBLIC IGNORANCE.

Years of excreting half-educated university graduates has allowed IGNORANCE to dominate PNG today.   Years ago, the main cause of public ignorance was that too few people attended school.  Today, the main cause is our decrepit educational system, from the pathetic bottom to the abysmal top.  The great majority of our uni graduates (still a tiny percentage of total population) show tragic deficiencies of knowledge and understanding of how the world works and how to meet the everyday challenges they’ll face in their lives and jobs.

These kinds of half educated uni graduates tend to create an environment of PUBLIC TOLERANCE –of tolerating things like 39 years of no action to stop the collapse of PNG’s universities.  Maybe they’re hoping that the next 39 years will be better.  Probably they’re not worrying about it at all.  

TOLERANCE caused by IGNORANCE not only allows corruption to prosper but ensures that a big chunk of in flowing wealth will instantly turn around and leave PNG via expatriate held jobs, foreign owned companies, and foreign driven projects.   Where is PNG’s sovereign independence in all that?  Ha, it only exists in our imagination!   Worse, nothing will change as long as we lack sufficient numbers of highly skilled young people whose hard work leads us to get greater control of our economy and the economic processes that drive economic growth.  

If we rely instead on using OVERSEAS universities to train our youth and make up for our shameful PNG universities, we’ll never come close to producing the number of highly skilled graduates required.   Get that solution out of your head too!   It won’t work.

Why is it so damned hard for you to accept these realities?    Why is it that you who are parents with kids, haven’t figured out that they’ll likely end up with a much worse education than you got?  Why are there so many letters in the newspapers demanding better roads, improved health care, more community project support, and more new bare walled classrooms, yet no letters that demand better higher education for our cream of the crop young people?

Unless we seriously and immediately increase funding for higher education, most Papua New Guineans will forever be mere observers, not benefiting participants, of development created from our land and resources.  

If we continue leaving intact a university system that sees each new group of young people being more ignorant and dumber than that of the previous year, PNG will find itself with an army of morons who proudly hold up their degree papers, then move on to become tomorrow’s leaders.

Some of these stupefied graduates will eventually educate themselves in new ways (at least they’re getting educated!):  They’ll become conmen and conwomen who become skilled at skimming their personal 10% off of resource boom revenue.  Most, however, will become honest but brainless baboons who quietly eat their bananas, passively watch the stealing going on around them, applaud the continued growth of foreign owned and implemented activities as being symbols of “development”, and follow whatever the national dictator of the day (Peter O’Neill?) tells them to say and think.

That’s where we’re certainly headed, good people of PNG, unless our universities start getting a lot more money that results in much more educated young people than what we’re now seeing.  

I’ll end with a question concerning something that puzzles me:   Why am I writing this article instead of the handsomely paid Director of Higher Education, OHE Director David Kavanamur.   Shouldn’t he be the loudest voice raising the alarm on today’s pathetic state of higher education in PNG?    I’m picking up my ears but I still can’t hear anything.   Maybe David and the missus are at Trinity Beach today, leisurely watching the waves instead.