UNI STRIKE & SUSPENSION: CONSEQUENCES STAKEHOLDERS NEEDED TO KNOW, SETBACK IN EDUCATION


May was a sad month for many parents, sponsors and students. Normal classes would not resume anytime sooner as the prime minister didn’t respond to students petitions favorably. It appeared universities in Port Moresby, Lae, Goroka and Rabaul were still on strike, no classes for over three weeks.

Whilst the other universities have allowed students to remain on campus, UPNG’s senate (a group of senior management & lecturers) resolved to suspend semester one, indefinitely.  Appearing on the PNG Tonight Current Affairs program, UPNG acting Chancellor, Dr. Mann, told John Iggins that the suspension was to diffuse tension and give the senate time to adjust 2016 academic calendar. To effect their decision, the senate gave students 48 hours to vacate the campus. Senior leaders at UPNG have seen it fit to suspend semester, but is it the right decision? This post is my opinion on students strike and the likely consequences. 

There were several questions we should ponder in the light of any further action: if UPNG SRC successfully stayed the 48-hours eviction notice and remain on campus, what would the senate do to bring an amicable solution?; if UPNG SRC failed to stop the senate, students would return when the academic calendar was adjusted –  but when?; Can the senate guarantee that students would not go on strike again on return?; the worst case scenario was going to be suspension of 2016 academic year at UPNG, UNITECH, UoG and UoNRE.

I don’t think the government would allow for the later to happen because its impacts are unthinkable. If the strike continued to a point where academic year was cancelled, not only would the students be sent home but serious consequences may follow. We are likely to see non-certification of final year degree courses, cancelling of HECAS/AES or any government scholarship for the current students, forfeiting transport and accommodation privileges and other privileges provided to current students by the government. This means one thing: most students must return as self-sponsored students.

Not only would the students feel the pinch if the academic year ended prematurely, but the government would also have created a generational setback. Subsequently there was going to be a 4-year gap as far as each stage at university level was concerned. By this I mean, we would see competition between repeating students from years 1 – 4 (those that are currently on strike) and transitioning students (those who are moving into the system). This competition would leave many eligible students without a university place, thus creating a gap that could possibly have been avoided. Again, no one in their right mind would want to envision such setback.

The government’s efforts to improve education standard would fall back too. For example, current students at universities have transited through the Tuition Fee Free policy. It is the policy of the PNC government when it came to power. I don’t think the prime minister would happily let any university senate or council suspend 2016 academic year. He would not want to see the students who have gone through the TFF policy failed because they have not collected the required/recommended GPA.

Dr Kavanamur, on FM100 news (26.05.2016 @2pm), said that students degree would be invalid if they missed classes for up to five weeks. Students have been missing classes for over three weeks. The education secretary is right. For a uni student to be eligible for government scholarship, you’d have to score a GPA above 2.00, in UNITECH’s case it is 2.25. With continued non-attendance of classes, and obviously missed assessments, you’d have realized all students may fail their course work. So, it seemed adjusting the academic calendar could be an appropriate action to take to validate awards for each student wherever they were studying this year. But was it right to ask UPNG students to vacate the campus? Unfortunately, UPNG senate had brought upon itself more headache. The senate would be contemplating how to send everyone home, deal with sponsors, adjust academic calendar, recall them to resume classes and put-up with disgruntled students and stakeholders. It would do better if it only suspended the semester and adjusted the calendar whilst students were on-campus. It simply showed the senate was incapable of handling students’ issues within its precincts.


Perhaps the best thing to do now was for the senates to adjust the academic year and negotiated for students at the 4 main universities in the country to resume classes. The sooner the better. Many parents and other stakeholders would agree on this. Two parties were involved in this debacle. The senates was the middle men. So, what was the best thing the prime minister could do to ensure resumption of classes? How could each university senate/council facilitate an amicable solution, a win-win solution? 

This strike action was, in fact, a litmus test for show of strong leadership at both political and educational levels. If the students continued boycotting classes, it would only suggest that something wasn't right with leaders at both levels.

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