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**** Speech by Hon. Peter O’Neill CMG MP Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea At the University of Papua New Guinea 60th Graduation Ceremony - 9 April 2015 ****
April 9, 2015
Vice Chancellor, Pro Vice Chancellor and Members of the University Council, Heads of Departments and Staff of the University, Graduating Students, Parents, Guardians and Friends.
Thank you for inviting me to join you on this occasion marking the 60th Graduation Ceremony. I have been here many times over the past 33 years, in fact since 1982 when I first studied here. I have been here as a student, I have been here as a student leader, as a graduating student and as a political leader.
But today it is very special.
I am very honoured to be here today to celebrate your success as graduating students of this fine University marking not only the 60th graduation, but the 40th year of our Independence as a Nation. Like our Nation, each students passing through this University had to endure many challenges.
Each of you with your own unique story. Many coming from remote villages and communities throughout our rugged and diverse country. And Today’s success comes on the back of many sacrifices by many people. This includes years of long hours of study, years of teaching by many lecturers, and years of endless support from many parents and guardians.
Therefore - today is truly your day to celebrate that success. It is also fair to say providing education for our children is not easy – and it is not going to get easier. As our society changes, as technology changes and as business methods change - there is an increasing demand for an educated population. We, as a country, need a better-educated population to better manage our Government services, to manage our businesses and to be the engineers, doctors and teachers in our society to provide a better quality of life for our people.
To meet that demands our socie
ty places on education – all our stakeholders including parents, educators and governments must work together. Our children deserve our attention and they deserve our support as they face the challenges of the world in the future.
Education is our children’s right – and we, as a community, must continue to our best for our children. Education, as we all know, it is a tool for every person in our society – and it should not matter if you are rich or poor. Education is a tool that opens up opportunities for each person to acquire skills, seek employment and lead a better quality life, free of poverty and diseases in our society. That is the opportunity we parents, educators and governments must provide to the youth of our Nation.
However, as a Nation, we must be bold enough to admit that there has been very modest progress made of the past 40 years. This is a lack of progress in terms of achieving quality universal education for our people – in comparison to the rest of the World and especially those around our region.
As a result of many years of neglect by many governments, many educators and relevant stakeholders – our people are largely uneducated or semi-educated, and without skills that would give them better opportunities in their lives. Our educational institutions, sadly like so many things in past decades, are run down.
That is why it needs urgent attention. Our standards are falling and are in need of urgent intervention. We simply, as a nation we cannot continue to walk down this road, a road to nowhere… a road that is not changing the lives of our people.
The world has changed – and our nation must adapt or we will feel the consequences of inaction. Today, we live in a very, very competitive world, our children need the tools that will make them competitive and create a bright future – these are the tools of decent quality education today.
As many of you know, our government has started an intervention programme in the education sector. Over the past three years we have invested close to 6 billion Kina alone in Education – making it the biggest sector of expenditure in our budget. This includes funding for free education – which has enabled close to a million extra children into classrooms.
Sadly today we hear and read about schools not receiving sufficient funds to keep schools open. This is despite the fact that we have successfully funded the schools in the last three years.
This level of incompetence and mismanagement by our officials - this cannot be excused or tolerated. I know all funds for the first half of year totalling over K300 million was released for schools fees. I do not want hear excuses that just gives people and our officials reason to divert or misuse money meant for educating our children.
Our children and people deserve better, if any official who is not able to do the job that they are paid to do, they must get out of the way. I want to assure our children and parents, and their schools that I will sort this out over the next few days. We are also investing millions of kina directly into existing education institutions for infrastructure building and maintenance.
At this University, our government is working closely with the Administration to upgrading its infrastructure. Soon, student accommodation will no longer be an issue at this university. Our students will move into new student accommodation – 4,000 rooms right after the Pacific Games.
This is first class accommodation – I wish I had this when I was in university! We must use this wisely and take care of it. This will be a great addition to the campus. But I call on all people who will live in this accommodation – to have respect for your new home and to carry out maintenance work. This applies to all campus accommodation , both the new and the old. We must be better at maintenance.
Over the next two years, our government, with the University administration, will maintain and upgrade all the teaching facilities so that we can increase the number of student intake over the coming years. We will also continue to improve teaching conditions for our educators including providing scholarships for post-graduates studies so that we can improve standards. At the same time we will introduce an exchange program to encourage leading teaching professionals from around the world to come and teach at our University so they can get better experience. To achieve this outcome, our Government will invest K100 million over the next two years at this University to upgrade infrastructure development and improve academic standards.
Also for some time now, our Government has been concerned about increasing cost of tertiary education in our country. We know that with our free education policy many more students will graduate from year 12. Many of our parents are very poor and cannot afford to send their children to University – as a result the cycle of poverty continues. Again we cannot standby and allow this to continue.
In 2016, our Government will establish a Tertiary Education Fund with 200 million Kina to start a student loan scheme. This will topped up each year so that students can borrow and repay over the lifetime of each student as soon as he or she earns some income. This program will enable all our children to be educated – not only those who can afford it but for everyone. This will open up the opportunity for a university education for people who desire academic success, not just those with money.
There will means testing so that there is no abuse. Every loan that is repaid will go into the fund to continue to educate more students into the future.
Similar funds have been successfully introduced in countries like Australia in 1975 by Gogh Whitlam – where many Australians earned university degrees and as result they moved themselves out of poverty because of education.
Papua New Guinea is a land of opportunity…and today, I want to assure all our people, we will not deny any child in our country that wants education. This is their right… As your Government, we will continue to develop policies in education and other sectors that is sustainable into the future. We must continue to consistently invest more funds in education at least over the next ten years so that we can truly change our country.
Graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As an indication of how serious our Government is to higher education, we have upgraded the Office of Higher Education to Departmental Status. Our Government is committed to ensuring that higher education is accorded the greatest importance in terms of planning and ensuring investment into the future. I thank the minister for this ongoing hard work. I commend our lecturers and administrators of the University for your commitment to educate our young. Importantly I thank our graduates – for your dedication to your studies. I call on each and every one of you to go forward to your careers and to continue to work hard for your families, work hard for your communities and work hard for our country.
You are the next generation of leaders that will contribute meaningfully to the development of this nation. This university will continue to produce this leadership. The door of our government is always open to your views and engagement – and please lets get the job done. Before I finish, I have a small piece of advice from you.
There are three important elements for success - qualification, that you have attained today; but what you need is also dedication and discipline. If you can attain these, the success in your career is right in front of you. I congratulate each and every one of you and wish you every success and we look forward to working with you in the future.