This Press Statement is in response to the Post Courier article dated March 6th, 2017 page 16, titled ‘Government failing to promote universities’. I value the importance of the research conducted on Higher Education Management and Governance in PNG as the findings will encourage evidence based policy development in the higher education sector.
As the Minister responsible for higher education in PNG, I can assure that the O’Neill-Dion Government has continued to prioritize the growth of the higher and technical education sector. This is evident in the significant investment and focus on the Higher and Technical Education sector reforms to improve access and quality since 2012. Once again, it should be stressed that the pressing issues being addressed by the government are access and quality in the institutions.
The Government recognizes that the achievement of the Development Goals of PNG as articulated in the Vision 2050 is dependent upon the quality and appropriate composition of human resource pool within PNG. The investments and interventions in the higher and technical education sector continue to contribute to the sector’s growth.
Issue of limited access and quality
The increase in general population together with reforms in the education system to provide basic education for all has resulted in the demand for higher education far outweighing institutions capacity to enroll students. At the same time, parents’ perception of educating children has changed from being an option to a priority to ensure future prosperity for a child or private returns to the individual. The Government is faced with the major challenge of increasing higher education access & improving quality to meet the growing demand and the required human capital for PNG’s development goals.
The costs and equity issues of providing education has also changed significantly over the last 30 years. Prior to the 1980s, fees for general education were parents’ responsibility whilst students entering Tertiary institutions were largely government’s responsibility; however, currently students attending general education have their fees fully paid by government compared to less than 30% of school leavers given scholarships by government for further studies at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
Market and State Solutions to improve access and quality
It is evident that the State alone cannot provide the higher education services to meet the increasing number of Gr. 12 students seeking tertiary studies and PNG’s development needs. Both State and market solutions are applicable to addressing Universities’ growth in PNG. Higher education investment provides both private and social returns as it is surely a positive outcome for individuals, industries and the society as a whole. Therefore, investment in higher education needs to be supported by all stakeholders.
The Government recognizes that it is the state’s responsibility to facilitate improvements and ensure quality education standards are delivered across the sector. The challenge is to have an appropriate balance between public and private solutions. The Ministry for Higher Education, Research, Science & Technology (MHERST) through the Department of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (DHERST) has implemented key policy changes to improve governance for greater accountability in our HEIs and also create a favourable environment for private sector participation.
These key policy changes include;
- Development of the Higher Education (General Provisions) Act 2014 (HEGPA 2014);
- Elevation of the Office of Higher Education (OHE) to Department of Higher Education Research Science and Technology (DHERST)
- Development and launching of the National Higher and Technical Education Plan (NHTEP) 2015-2024;
- Completion of external quality assessments of PNG universities; and
- Establishment of the National Higher and Technical Education Board
Other policy reforms currently being undertaken include;
- Harmonisation of higher and technical education legislations;
- Introduction of a unified PNG Qualifications Framework (PNG QF);
- Follow up external quality assessments of the PNG universities;
- Roll out of the Kina for Kina program for universities to address quality assurance recommendations;
- Funding Model for Universities and the higher and technical education sector;
- Establishment of the Student Loans Scheme; and
- Encouraging and overseeing the establishment of new HEIs, including universities, both private and public.
In the last 5 years, 10 new institutions were registered by DHERST and 6 were approved by the National Education Board (NEB) of the National Department of Education (NDoE) thereby increasing the existing number of HEIs to 35 institutions nation-wide. DHERST also accredited 40 new academic programs in the last five (5) years bringing the national total to almost 200 academic programs on offer.
In 2016, 23,692 Grade 12 students from 154 National High Schools, Secondary Schools and Permitted Schools sat for the National Exams. Of the 23,692, a total of 9,999 students were selected for admission into colleges and universities throughout the country—this is a massive increase of about 90%; in previous years only 5,000 students were admitted annually.
Some of the world’s best universities are private universities having exceptionally generous need-based aid and actively looking to recruit low-income, high-achieving students. To name a few, some of these universities include; University of Notre Dame, Stanford University, Yale University and the Harvard University.
Government Funding to State Universities
The State recognises the current funding challenges faced by the four (4) State universities and is working collaboratively to create more effective funding systems for the higher education sector. Currently State universities rely on the budget for recurrent expenditure. In real terms inflation erodes the value of this allocation and so they rely heavily on Tertiary Education Study Assistance Scheme (TESAS) funds to meet their expenses. Since 2015, the government has invested a total of K381 million towards the recurrent budget of State universities.
DHERST and the Vice Chancellors Committee have developed the Relative Funding Model for Universities and the higher education sector in PNG. Once approved by NEC, this model will be equitable to all universities and the higher education sector, and most importantly is affordable by the Government. This will determine the funding position of institutions within existing and new resource levels.
As captured in the funding model the Government is not intending to move from absolute withdrawal of Government funding to State HEIs. However, to develop sufficient resources for the higher and technical education sector, the Government is encouraging universities to diversify their revenue to other possible additional sources of funding such as potential endowment funds, consulting, research, training, rental of facilities, sale of assets and production of goods thus capitalising on their existing assets. Given that PNG is relatively a small open economy subject to economic shocks which affects government revenue, HEIs can support Government funding by developing other funding sources in an innovative manner enabling a stable financial state.
Student Unit Cost
In 2013, the National Executive Council (NEC) approved K30,000 as the market unit cost per student per year. This is an average unit cost which may differ from each discipline. From this unit cost, Universities can adjust their tuition fees to be on par with the market rate.
Below is a table with 2017 tuition, board and lodging (BL) fees for the 7 universities (incl. IBS) for comparative purposes.
The table illustrates the various types of sponsorship, tuition fees for continuing resident students payable by the parent, TESAS component, total fees, indicative number of students, and the total indicative revenue for each university. The total fees indicate the university fees in comparison to the K30,000 unit cost per student per year.
For 2017, the government appropriated a total of K125 million to the state universities for their recurrent budget. In addition, the state universities earn an estimated revenue of K128 million from student fees.
Since the O’Neill-Dion Government took office in 2012, the higher education sector has seen a major transformation with over K300 million invested in over 50 items of capital infrastructure. The investments along with the registration of new HEIs and accreditation of programs have supported the massive increase in admissions experienced in 2017.
The Government will continue to support tertiary students through the TESAS scholarship. For 2017, a total of 11,000 scholarships have been awarded comprising 5,000 for new intakes and 6,000 for continuing students. Parents and sponsors are urged to appreciate that Government continues to meet its obligation towards human capital development against the backdrop of a very challenging economic situation arising from depreciating commodity prices.
Stakeholders must appreciate that Government is heavily committed to the quality of primary and secondary education as evidenced in the K3 billion Tuition Fee Free (TFF) Policy investments seen in the last five years. Parents and students have been greatly relieved of costs at lower levels, thus it is only proper that some costs in higher education fees are shared directly by parents of students and universities.
Editor’s note: A PDF version of this statement can be downloaded here.