Address by Prof Kavanamur at the academic year launch
Professor David Kavanamur, PhD
Director General, Office of Higher Education
Divine Word University Madang
Distinguished guests, President of DWU, Father Jan Czuba, senior leaders and staff of DWU, and students:
Thank you for extending to me the honour of addressing you as we gather for the start of the academic year.
I am sure that DWU academic and professional staff are returning refreshed from a well-deserved break, as are continuing students.
And, I am sure that commencing students are excited, if a little nervous, about the road that lies ahead.
On this special day, I will make some general remarks about higher education in PNG. I then would like to say a few words especially to the commencing students about their journey, about mysteries and paradoxes, about innovation, and about the getting of wisdom.
First, however, let me congratulate all DWU students who are returning to study or commencing their studies. You can be very proud of all that you have achieved so far. I know how hard you have worked for your accomplishments to date.
We should also offer our thanks to your families, friends and communities. I know that many of them are making big sacrifices to ensure you can study here at DWU. Their sacrifices are pacing the way for you – and for PNG – to have a better future. On behalf of the Government and the Office of Higher Education, I thank everyone who has invested in you bright young people.
Higher education and PNG’s future
I would like to talk firstly about the importance of higher education to Papua New Guinea’s future.
Worldwide, we see that education transforms lives and opportunities. This is a core value of Vision 2050, our long range 40 year development plan launched in 2009. We aim to become a‘Smart, Wise, Happy and Wealthy’ nation by 2050.
To drive this strategic thinking “Human Capital, Gender and Youth Empowerment’ has been placed as the number one pillar of Vision 2050. Human capital is the key to modernisation in a global knowledge economy that is driven very significantly by innovation, creativity and the application of ideas.
There is no doubt that our country needs more graduates in higher education, at all levels from diploma to postgraduate education.
There is significant market demand, both now and into the future, for people to assist our development transformation. Existing numbers of graduates meet only a fraction of the need for skilled people, to support and to capitalise on our boom in natural resources.
As well, we need knowledgeable and dedicated people willing to serve in all our public services, including education, health, and planning for sustainable development. We need people with the skills to teach others how best to use our natural agricultural and marine resources. And, to help leaders to plan to secure the future of their communities, and how to negotiate fair returns from international activity in the country, including mining.
We need people skilled in ICT, which will be so crucial to our growth, and journalists and cultural workers, who can bring messages and ideas to so many in PNG and internationally.
In these ways, our higher and technical education sectors have enormous potential to change the situation of many Papua New Guineans. Equipping our young people with the knowledge and skills of formal education is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.
The O’Neill-Dion government is now reaffirming Vision 2050 with a Five Year Plan setting higher and technical education as one of its top priorities. And, my Office is finalising a new National Higher Education Plan, to build a stronger platform.
So, what are some of the things we in PNG need to do, to improve the quality and quantity of our higher education?
Given our great need for better quality in our higher education, the Government plans to work with existing good providers, to expand and uplift post-secondary education in PNG. We know we cannot rely solely on public institutions. We must also actively partner with and encourage non-State providers who have demonstrated the quality of their graduates. DWU is a prime example of the providers we wish to encourage to grow.
I must here offer my congratulations and thanks to DWU for all that it has achieved in a short time and with limited funds. The University has a great reputation among employers for the quality of its graduates, for both their skills but even more importantly for their qualities of diligence, adaptability and ability to work in teams, collectively and constructively.
When you look around, you see so much that DWU has built from its own resources, cleverly and well. These developments include initiatives from students, such as the BBQ area opened last year. DWU is a testament to the power of smart thinking and smart working.
Another hallmark of DWU is its openness to change and to learning from others. DWU is a leader in using technology in education, in taking improvements tested by others and adapting them to better serve its students. The University knows that in today’s fast-changing world, if you do not keep up with knowledge, you fall behind – or even, stagnate. The fresh water of new ideas is constantly circulating at this University, making sure that you students have maximum opportunities for self-learning.
We know also that we need to focus on the areas of study in schools – sciences and maths, but also English language skills – that are prime enablers for higher education. We recognise that our existing school system does not always prepare students adequately for university study and that we need urgently to address this. On this matter, I applaud Divine Word University for being pro-active, in developing initiatives that will help and support all commencing students to make the transition to university studies effectively.
These initiatives are a fine example of the ‘can do’ spirit that is such a feature of DWU. If there is one thing I know about this University, it is that it does not sit around waiting for others to do something – it gets on and does them itself!
Let the others catch up when they can! DWU is usually at the forefront of higher education development in PNG and is to be commended for this.
On other initiatives, we know we need to enable better coordination between the various bodies responsible for technical and higher education, and across higher education institutions.
We will be looking to providers such as DWU to suggest new ways to increase coordination and to enrich cross-institutional activities, so providers can better learn from each other about best practice developments.
Other steps being taken by the Government to expand the quantity and quality of higher education include regular quality assurance reviews for all universities, and more partnerships and alliances between educational institutions and industry. We encourage universities to expand their international collaborations with universities on other countries, and to engage in more exchanges with overseas academics for the cross-fertilisation of ideas.
There is also an urgent need for the expansion and upgrading of our existing State universities, so they can play their part in expanding access to higher education and in building a greater critical mass of expert academics and researchers in PNG.
You are lucky in being able to attend university, but too many of your schoolmates do not have such opportunities. We must change this.
As part of the national expansion of technological education and training, we plan to build much clearer pathways, so that any graduate can go on to further study. DWU already has such pathways for graduates of its affiliated institutions and we need to extend this system, to establish lifelong learning as a way of life in PNG.
In this manner, we plan gradually to increase the skills of a wider section of our population. There will be more higher and technical education available as a base, and there will be more opportunities for people to learn flexibly, at different stages of their life.
DWU students, you play an important role in this vision for our future. Each of you is adding to the knowledge base of Papua New Guinea, and each of you contributes to helping us achieve the goals of Vision 2050.
The student journey
I would now like to offer some thoughts to you, the commencing students.
It is often said that life is a journey. This part of your journey, as a student at DWU, has the potential to be one of the most rewarding, exciting and splendid parts of your own personal journey.
Many of the world’s most famous stories are about people who go on a journey, or a voyage of discovery. I hope that when you look back on your time at DWU, after graduating, you are able to reflect on the journey you have taken here and what you have gained from it.
Around the world, each year, thousands of new university students gather to start their journey. They are excited but apprehensive – they know they will be travelling through a strange new world, where the culture and customs will be unfamiliar at first. They know their old identities will now sit alongside a new ‘student’ identity. Some may be scared of losing their links to family and friends. Many new students are young: while in this strange new world, they will also be growing into their own adult bodies and minds. Many new students will be living on campus, with people from quite different cultural traditions. The experience will be intense and testing.
The good news is that most students not only survive but thrive on this stimulation! There is so much to explore, so much to think about, so much to take in. Learning occurs quickly when humans are confronted with new and unexpected situations.
And, if it seems a bit overwhelming, there are plenty of people who will help, and support you.
But, when you need to, take some time out for yourself, reflect on the identities you already have established through your families and communities, and build on these. And think of the courage you have shown already, in taking on this strange world. Remember, it is all part of a journey!
DWU prides itself on offering ‘an authentic model for national unity’ and I know that it truly does so. There is a healthy, vibrant campus culture here, where all students, women and men, are able to speak up, strongly, confidently and yet respectfully. The ability to appreciate diversity and the differences of others – while also being free to disagree in friendly terms – is one of the strongest ideals of a university. Always keep in mind the principle of respect for others!
Mysteries and paradoxes
‘Knowledge’ is a dry-sounding word. I suggest to you that you are not here at DWU just to ‘get’ knowledge. And, you cannot assume that knowledge will magically fly from a lecturer’s mouth and lodge in your brain. It doesn’t work like that!
The way I see it, you are here to explore a whole series of mysteries, problems that don’t yet have good enough answers.
There are the immediate mysteries, about the rules and norms of conduct in a university, and the mysteries of getting to know your fellow students (!).
But I’m talking mainly about the mysteries of your disciplines:
• how to diagnose illness;
• how to distinguish good quality from poor quality environments;
• how to be a great teacher;
• how to be an ethical and fair manager;
• how to be courageous in speaking truth to power;
• how to make things work better;
• how to find new treatments and cures;
• how to live in harmony with nature and our fellow humans;
• how balance extreme conflict and extreme peace neither of which are tenable
• how better to understand our nation’s history and future trajectory.
These are the exciting mysteries. They are the big issues, the ones that we’re all striving to tackle, all throughout our lives. This for me is what university education – and lifelong learning – is all about.
Your teachers will give you tools and tips and ideas about how to tackle these mysteries. They’ll help you learn what is already known by others (and thus what you will know too), and what is not yet known. You’ll learn what some people think about the issues and you may disagree. But if you disagree, you’ll be challenged to say why in ways that others find convincing! And, you’ll be asked to practice your skills in addressing these mysteries.
There are no simple answers to these issues, and the answers will always depend on the specific situation. But, please, never forget that you are at university to explore mysteries, not just to absorb some facts. Keep your level of curiosity high!
One way of ensuring you keep being curious is to engage with paradoxes.
A paradox is a figure of speech in which a statement appears to contract itself. One example is the statement: ‘The simplest things in life are the most complex’.
A very wonderful example comes from Mother Teresa, who says: ‘I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love’.
Or, as a piece of practical wisdom from Alexander Smith: ‘If you wish to preserve your secret, wrap it up in frankness’.
Our lives here in Papua New Guinea, our own free and independent nation, give us many examples of paradox. Why are so many people very poor when we have so many riches to draw on?
I encourage you to ponder on the paradoxes you observe – and the paradoxes you can think of. Explore their meaning and how they might be explained.
Innovation and creativity
This brings me to my next point, about innovation and creativity. As a nation, wouldn’t it be great for PNG to be known for its ability to do things creatively? After all, we have many unique features as a nation, and we need to find new ways to solve problems that are appropriate for our own national context.
I suspect many of you already know how to innovate. And I know that former DWU students can innovate. As a country, we need to harness your bright ideas as well as your enthusiasm, to develop our capacity to innovate and improve the ways we do things.
I remind you that even if an innovation seems small to you, it couldlead to million-kina impacts, through improvements to systems and products.
All companies are seeking ways to work ‘smarter’, to achieve the same or better quality more cost-effectively. And we know that passionate and entrepreneurial people are devising new products that will change the lives of people in even the poorest countries around the world. I hope that some of you will become entrepreneurs in both industry and service sectors, through the creative new ideas that you generate with your friends here at DWU.
I urge you to be alert for opportunities to innovate, fuelled by a desire to improve the lives of other people.
The getting of wisdom
Wisdom is one of the greatest achievements any of us can hope for. In life, one of the greatest accolades we can give anyone is to say they are ‘wise’. You can be rich, be a celebrity, have a high profile, but you may not be wise.
What do we mean by wise? Well, for me, I think of wise people as those who think deeply and reflect before they talk. They think for others, for the greater good; they think beyond the first immediate idea that comes to mind; they think past the surface problem to root causes; they think for the longer-term. They are calm; they are respectful of others but strong in themselves.
Wise people are rare. I am sorry to have to tell you this, young students, but wise people also usually have a lot of life experience! They have seen and learnt much on their long journeys.
In your journeys as students, I encourage you to look for wise people and treasure them when you find them. Learn from them, and see if you can puzzle out the difference between ‘wisdom’ and the easy, quick answer.
We all hope to be regarded as wise rather than foolish. Yes, there are times to fool around with your friends. But there are times also to be serious. Wisdom is when you know the difference – the right times to do things!
To all at Divine Word University, I again thank you for all that you are doing for Papua New Guinea and for your enriching campus culture. DWU is truly living up to the ideals of a university.
Students, my messages to you are:
• Journey with joy
• Make many friends
• Explore many mysteries
• Ponder some paradoxes
• Innovate to improve, and
• Find sources of wisdom.
May our good Lord be the Captain of your life journey!
Thank you and God Bless You All.