The history of Higher Education in Papua New Guinea is closely related to the move towards Independence. In 1966, almost a decade before the cessation of the Australian administration and as part of a drive to establish a cadre of professionally educated men and women who would be able to run their own country after Independence, the first students enrolled at the new University of Papua New Guinea. There were just 58 of them. Three years later, most of them had graduated.
By its Silver Anniversary year in 1991, the University of PNG had granted 4,000 Bachelor’s Degrees in 12 different subject areas as well as nearly the same number of Diplomas, A number of students had gone on to achieve Doctorates at Universities overseas. Today students are enrolled in six faculties: Arts, Creative Arts, Education, Law, Medicine and Science. The University also runs a number of shorter courses. With its associated activities and institutions, the University, in its large main campus at Waigani in Port Moresby, occupies a prominent place in the public life of Papua New Guinea.
But now there are two Universities in PNG. The second, the University of Technology at Lae, was formally inaugurated as a fully-fledged university in 1973. Specialising in engineering, mining, business studies, forestry, surveying and land studies, it is now a vibrant academic community with functions that go far beyond the education of its 1,800 students. Most students live on campus. Recent years have seen the setting up of a number of specialist centres (the Management Development Centre, the Heritage Centre, the Land Studies Centre, for example) which are associated with the research and teaching functions of the university and serve the wider community in a number of ways, for example by interacting with policy-makers in the worlds of government, business and industry.
Topping the list of functions of a modern university, in the opinion of the University of Technology’s Vice Chancellor, Misty Baloiloi, is that of being a sort of intellectual ombudsman to society as a whole, with the task of bringing knowledge, scholarship, research capability and technical expertise to bear on the real-life issues of Papua-New Guinean society.
That is also the opinion of Joseph Onguglo, Minister of Education. “I am anxious to see the development of all forms of education that will empower our people to face the future on competitive terms with others in the Asian- Pacific region and in the world as a whole,” he said. “We need all forms of higher education and training and we need plenty of vocational education also.”
Higher education is about to undergo an explosion with the increasing demands of the extractive industries (mining, the oil industry) and the management of forests and fisheries. The growing professionalism of all forms of business and commerce requires a big surge in the numbers of qualified personnel. There is also the matter of the planned expansion in the number of secondary schools which are able to offer Year 11 and Year 12 education. This is projected to cause something like a five-fold increase in numbers entering higher education by the year 2004. At present 900 students graduate from Grade 12 each year and apply for places in higher education. Within the decade this could be as much as 5,000. This will expose even further the huge need which has to be met.