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Lucubrate Magazine, Issue 35, August 3rd, 2018
One of the most significant learnings for all involved in the project has been recognition of the underutilization of internal based expertise. Another essential learning is the importance of conducting regular informal professional development for staff about local, constructive teaching-learning topics.
In the middle of 2018, I was invited by the University of Technology (Unitech) Papua New Guinea (PNG), to support a process of reconceptualizing its undergraduate Engineering degrees for external accreditation of these programs. The broader aim was to ensure that the University continues to successfully contribute to the development of both human and social capital for the country. Unitech, which celebrated its 50th year of existence in 2015, is located in Lae – PNG’s second largest city and an industrial center in Morobe Province. Interestingly, 2015 was the same year that PNG celebrated 40 years of independence.
It was my first time in the township of Lae and at Unitech. Although I have spent quite a lot of time in the Solomon Islands (SI) over the past couple of years and they are close neighbor countries they are different in some significant ways. PNG has a much larger population, a higher cost of living, is about 16 times bigger than SI, with a lower life expectancy and the roads are more horrendous! Personal security is always an issue. Like the Solomon Islands, however, PNG continues to struggle with its many on-going development challenges in education and health, not helped by reasonably frequent natural disasters such as earthquakes. Just like the people I have met and worked with in the SI, the PNG University staff were welcoming, hospitable and importantly, committed to making a difference to young people’s lives and higher education in their country.
Papua New Guinea, in the southwestern Pacific, encompasses the eastern half of New Guinea and its offshore islands. Capital city: Port Moresby. Population 8 million people.
The University of Technology PNG
Unitech is the only technological university in the South Pacific outside Australia and New Zealand. It has a student population of approximately 3000 and offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs hosted by 13 academic departments including commerce, agriculture, computer science, architecture and building, applied science, food technology, engineering, forestry, language & communication, surveying, cartography and land management.
The Campus. Photo: Nita Temmerman
The University itself has had its fair share of challenges over the years, not the least of which include recent issues associated with internal governance. It is fair to say that education in PNG at all levels still faces considerable challenges of instability, scarcity of quality resources and lack of places at the higher education level. It is estimated that only about 20 percent of students who complete their final year of schooling-Year 12, go onto university or vocational training of some sort.
Enhancing profile and attracting High-Quality Students
The reconceptualization project’s expected end result is full accreditation of its Civil, Electrical, Mechanical and Mining Engineering degree programs as a means of enhancing its international profile and attracting more high-quality students from across the South Pacific. The tasks involved in achieving the desired outcome are considerable and still on-going. These include the development of Program learning outcomes, Program graduate statements, a new degree framework which has a first year that is common across all engineering disciplines, new subject specifications and consideration of new laboratory and equipment needs.
Important learnings gained
The learnings gained by staff thus far are no different to those acquired by the team in universities elsewhere that I have worked with, regardless of geographical location. Notably, they reveal to the staff that many contributing factors impact on the success of new program design and accreditation.
One of the most significant learnings for all involved has been recognition of the underutilization of internal based expertise at Unitech. It is worthy for staff to realize that it is not essential to employ outside facilitators for every aspect of the program design and accreditation process. A number of the highly qualified academics who have recently joined the University come from elsewhere including Canada, China, Germany, India, Kenya, Libya, and the United States. There are also local staff who have completed doctoral studies in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the USA. These constitute resources not fully tapped into regarding learning about practices, processes, systems and program designs in other universities.
Photo: Nita Temmerman
Another essential learning is the importance of conducting regular informal professional development for staff about local, constructive teaching-learning topics. The University has a Teaching-Learning Unit (TLMU), with a new highly qualified and very enthusiastic Director, that has as its mandate to support both students and staff in related issues. To date, it has offered formal-for-credit programs for staff, but what staff want and have indicated would be of higher value, are informal sessions on staff identified topics. Such sessions, coordinated by the TLMU, might take the form of staff sharing their own practices, seeking feedback and learning from each other about alternate ways of engaging students in the learning process and the use of different assessment tasks. These sessions will help build a stronger community of practice amongst the academics at Unitech.
Continuous Quality Improvement
Developing quality curriculum is a continuous process. It is mostly an on-going cycle of implementation, appraisal, reflection, and redevelopment of what is offered to students, based on evidence from staff, students, and external stakeholders. The process is part of an institution’s educational quality assurance system aimed to regularly improve its practices. Whatever approach is taken to continuous quality improvement (CQI), it must be inclusive of all involved in the implementation of the academic programs. Different staff will bring different perspectives, expertise, and experiences in the exercise. There must be a full representation of aspects and ownership of changes made. There should also be an opportunity to acknowledge ‘good’ practice and ensure these and actions taken are shared with relevant stakeholders including students and those external to the University.
Photo: Nita Temmerman
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The photo on top: unitechpng.com