Solving PNG’s 27, 000 Student Problem: Online Learning & Open Campuses

BY Academia Nomad Blog, January 30 2021


“The greater evil is not that we are losing the best population of this generation: 27, 000 or so each year. But maintaining the status quo when we can do something about it now so the next 27, 000 don’t miss out…” Academia Nomad

There has been so much said about the 27, 000 students missing out of selection to PNG tertiary institutions. Views vary: some blame students for not investing time in their studies (so called boom-box generation), others blame COVID-19 and related disruptions, whilst others make the case for students who meet the GPA (grade point average) or entry requirements but still miss out on selection. Views of the last group, who argue for students missing out despite meeting the GPA should trouble the nation. As argued earlier in Academia Nomad’s article “Exclusive Club with low quality: trends in PNG tertiary institutions”, the first two arguments don’t hold water. You can only blame the boom-box generation after all the students have been selected and there’s still spaces available but no one is qualified to be selected. At the moment, masses of students miss out even when they qualify. Second, the problem of qualified students missing out on selection predates COVID-19, so you cannot blame COVID-19. Students have been missing out before COVID-19, and they will continue to miss out after COVID-19 is gone, unless the capacity of universities and colleges are increased. 

To solve the 27, 000 problem is not easy and can’t be done overnight. It will need massive investment in infrastructure, ICT, improvements in staffing conditions etc. Basically, the PNG tertiary sector’s capacity needs to be increased three times. Currently it takes in 9, 000. To take in the 27, 000 (27, 000/9 = 3), it needs three times more than the current capacity. 

Alternatively, PNG institutions can take the courses online, and increase satellite institutions or Open Campuses. PNG is entering a stage where these two initiatives are not only preferable, but imminent. It has to begin now, so the next 27, 000 students don’t miss out next year. And these two proposals  are relatively cheaper than building another university.

Open Campuses 

Open Campuses are small branches of universities established in the provinces with limited capacities.  They provide preliminary courses/subjects, and act as a pathway into universities. The conditions and efficiencies of these campuses are not known, but the general perception is that they are redundant, or ineffective, understaffed, under resourced, and don’t always deliver their promise as pathways to universities. 

This doesn’t mean the Open Campuses are therefore a failed concept. Those in cities, such as UPNG’s NCD Open Campus opposite the main UPNG Campus operates relatively well, giving many students access to UPNG main campus. Students can even attain a Diploma in Accounting just by attending Open Campus which is the equivalent to two years studies at the main campus. They have the choice to either continue studies as third year students at the main campus or graduate and go out and work. Divine Word has similar campuses, with the one in Port Moresby offering advanced subjects as well. Unitech offers DODL, but it’s more like code/FODE.

PNG tertiary institutions can assess what is working for their Open Campuses in the main Centre’s and duplicate them in the provinces. Offer good salaries, employment conditions, and improve the infrastructure for Open Campuses at the provincial level. The National Government should make this it’s priority. Students can complete Diplomas in their provinces. A lot more students would opt for this arrangement as boarding and lodging fees at the universities and colleges are very expensive. Also, this will open the door for public servants in the provinces to upgrade their skills. They don’t have to resign from their jobs to pursue studies in Port Moresby, Lae, Madang or Goroka. More importantly, it will account for the majority of the 27, 000 students missing out on selection.

I’m not a fan of the government loan: HELP. But to make any meaning out of HELP, education must be made available to the masses – the ‘extra’ 27, 000 students. Otherwise, the government is spending massive taxpayers money on very few privileged groups.

Online Learning 

The Open Campus concept can be complemented by either blended learning or full online learning. Online learning is basically education that takes place over the Internet. It is often referred to as “e- learning” among other terms. However, online learning is just one type of “distance learning” – the umbrella term for any learning that takes place across distance and not in a traditional classroom.

The so-called “boom-box generation” is also the most internet savvy generation this country has ever had. Great nations don’t always have the most resources, or the best circumstances, or luck. They look at their limitations and make very strategic choices. Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan etc., don’t have gold and copper and silver. They’re not islands of gold floating on sea of oil, the overused term that is associated with PNG. These are countries full of limitations. You can go back to 1945 – 1953 and South Korea was probably in a more dire situation than PNG. The WWII and the Korean War devastated almost every infrastructure, nascent industries, demoralized the population, and left massive dead bodies. And they built it up from scratch. PNG has to look at its circumstances, and use it to its advantage. If the kids are hooked to their phones, bring education to their phones.

The Coral Sea Cable, a 4700 km  underwater internet cable linking Sydney to Port Moresby will drastically increase the internet connectivity and speed in PNG. Now is the time to take education online. 

This is where we are: 27, 000 students missing out on selection; very expensive boarding and lodging fees; an internet savvy population who are stuck to their phones. Let’s change the way we do education. We can do that by going online, improving access by establishing more and better open campuses, and offering Certificates and Diplomas online or at the open campuses.

Not everyone wants a degree. Some just need an introduction into the main theories and current practices in the fields they are interested in. Some just want to learn the basics. For these people, offer diplomas and certificates online as well as at the open campuses. With the internet age, they’ll take it from there and become self-taught experts. Keep the degrees and MAs and PhDs at the universities for those who want to pursue them, and those who could afford them or have the temperament to get HELP loans and repay them forever.

My appeal to the Prime Minister, Minister for Education and Ministry for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology:

Sirs, we are losing the best population of this generation: 27, 000 each year. The greater evil is not that they are missing out, but the fact that they don’t have to miss out if we act now. Decentralize education. Take it online, and take it to the people in the provinces. For a time such as this were you put in such high places, make it count.

Academia Nomad has published several articles related to this topic. To read previous article check the links below:

  1. Exclusive Club but low quality: trends in PNG tertiary education sector 
  2. Not selected? Four ways to pursue studies in PNG 

God bless you all and take care…

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

One thought on “Solving PNG’s 27, 000 Student Problem: Online Learning & Open Campuses

  1. Online learning is the way to go. We need an educated and skilled population. At this rate, we are producing a young unskilled population. Imagine all the young bones and muscles being wasted lazing around doing nothing when they could at least plant one tree their children can harvest. If they don’t plant now, it will be the curse of – you reap what you sow – nothing. So these wasteful thrifts in wasted youth should be harnessed by free online schooling the only cost to the youths should be cheap data.

    Liked by 1 person

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