I am pleased to announce that the National Selections for 2017 was undertaken smoothly for the first time with better coordination and integration between the Department of Higher Education, Research, Science & Technology (DHERST) and the National Department of Education (NDoE). This also saw the eradication of cheating in schools.
As a result of positive public policy intervention in the higher education sector as well as in basic education the overall quality of education is beginning to improve nationwide post-Outcome Based Education (OBE) era.
The Tuition Fee Free (TFF) Policy of NDoE has resulted in a general turnaround in Grade 12 academic performance particularly after the removal of the OBE. This Policy has set the platform for an increase in the number of grade 12 school leavers.
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 scored high GPAs of 2.3 and above and have been 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.
Also, a total of 16,228 students qualified at a GPA of 1.6 and above meaning that any of these students could easily be admitted both domestically or into overseas universities and colleges in an ideal environment where there was sufficient space.
The national government realized the need to address the massive increases in the number of grade 12 school leavers. Thus, to complement the TFF Policy there has been investments and achievements in the higher and technical education sector through support from the national government, donors and private sector.
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 and a restructure of the Office of Higher Education to now the Department of Higher Education, Research, Science, and Technology.
In the last five years the O’Neill-Dion Government has consistently invested in the higher education institutions’ infrastructure that supported the massive increase in admissions experienced in 2017.
Registration/Accreditation of new programs and Institutions of Higher Education
The DHERST has also improved access and quality in the higher education sector through regulation and policy making process via the key pillar of the new Higher Education (General) Provisions Act 2014.
In the last 5 years, a total of 10 new institutions were registered by DHERST and 6 were approved by the National Education Board (NEB) of the NDoE thereby increasing the existing stock of Higher Education Institutions (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 line with this policy thrust, I am also pleased to announce that Government has for the first time approved the IBS University as a private sector university through the new Higher Education Act under its own constitution.
National Government Scholarship (TESAS)
For 2017, a total of 11,000 scholarships have been awarded comprising 5,000 for new intakes and 6,000 for continuing students. Government targeted programs include Agriculture and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) also in line with government commitment to APEC policy priorities and PNG Vision 2050. This is reflected in the 2017 awarding of the Tertiary Education Students’ Assistance Scheme (TESAS) Scholarship.
Over the years, the majority of students have gravitated towards business, law, and social science courses where unit costs are lower and private rates of return are high relative to social rates of return.
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 falls in commodity prices.
Stakeholders should also appreciate that Government is heavily committed to the quality of primary and secondary education as evidenced in the K3 billion TFF Policy investment 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 at this level are met directly by parents of students who have been admitted into colleges and universities.
This is the best way to distribute limited resources on scholarships and ensure financial sustainability in the sector.
The 2016 academic year was challenging for the sector and the country due to the student crisis in the three big state universities whereby massive costs were incurred and are currently being addressed by Government. DHERST through the TESAS scholarship had to pay two sets of return tickets instead of just one for scholarship recipients. The massive cost of that crisis is going to be carried by the sector for at least some years to come.
When one takes into account the positive outcomes gained thus far as a result of direct state intervention in the tertiary sector and the pressures imposed by rapid population growth in the country, the best way to address the current access and quality challenges of the PNG higher education sector is to begin to allow for market solutions to complement current state intervention. Government has allowed for institutions to align student fee charges to near market unit cost of K30,000 per student per year and/or allow for a differentiated fee cost structure for academic programs.
Government has also helped create an enabling investment environment for private sector solutions to the country’s higher education challenges through infrastructure investment and improved regulatory mechanisms.
The onus is on CEOs/Vice Chancellors and Heads of HEIs to develop good business models to cover some of the costs of their operation and capital expenditures (OPEX and CAPEX) to ensure their organizations remain afloat. Global experience demonstrates that higher education cannot be left entirely to the state.
Government directed Heads/CEOs of HEIs to develop commercialization strategies in 2014 but is yet to be fully embraced.
DHERST will ensure that Government commitment to TESAS scholarships will continue but with more emphasis on government priority areas that will contribute to the country’s socio-economic, engineering and scientific development thereby generating jobs and improving economic productivity.
The overall scenario for the country’s higher and technical education sector can only get better with contributions from all stakeholders.
I would like to wish all our students well for the 2017 academic year!
[Editor’s note: a PDF copy of this statement can be downloaded here]