Pacific Nation Building

Pacific Adventist University

Pacific Adventist University (PAU) is dedicated to serving the nations of the Pacific. Located in Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, this premier Christian university is providing much needed support to a region faced with a serious shortage of educational opportunities…

One of the problems with the Pacific is that there are very few educational institutions and the number of places that are available for students is very, very low, explains Ben Thomas, Vice Chancellor of PAU’s School of Business. “In Papua New Guinea, for example, you have just 18,000 high school leavers – people who have come through primary and high school and are graduating. And that’s from a population base of 7 million, where 37 per cent of the population is under 15 years of age. So the actual number of people who graduate from high school is extremely low.” And, he adds, only about 4,000 of these high school leavers go on to get a tertiary education. “With the region’s high population growth, it is cause for grave concern,” Professor Thomas insists.

PAU is working hard to bring these numbers up and prepare the Pacific for a strong future. In 2009, the university’s council took a serious look at how they could best support the region and provide more opportunities for its citizens. They realised that increasing enrolment at PAU could be crucial to the nation’s development. In response, the university has launched a major growth plan, and aims to achieve a five per cent growth rate every year for the next 20 years, increasing the number of students to about 3,500 by 2035. These numbers could be even higher if PAU can secure additional external funding.

The expansion has the potential to create a widespread, positive impact across PNG and neighbouring countries. Growth is being pushed, Professor Thomas adds, “not just because we want to serve the church, but because we actually want to serve the nations of the Pacific.” Indeed, serving the church and serving the nations is a closely intertwined concept at PAU. The university’s mission statement is “to prepare graduates who are equipped and willing to serve their Community, their Country, their Church and their God.”

This strong Christian foundation reflects the region’s ideology and social fabric. “Churches play a very big role in the Pacific,” Professor Thomas reports. “The whole of the social infrastructure is church based to the point that even aid agencies who have, in the past, had policies of not supporting religious institutions now support churches across the Pacific. Because if they don’t support churches, they cannot be effective… In fact, there are several private universities attempting to establish a presence in PNG, and all of them are church based institutions because religion is such an integral part of society in the Pacific.”

PAU has six faculties offering programs of study: Arts and Humanities, Business, Education, Health Science, Science, and Theology. Health Science and Education are two areas that are particularly important to Pacific nation building. PNG currently faces a dire shortage of health care workers – and the problem is predicted to get even worse. The healthcare sector in PNG is problematic. As Professor Thomas reports, “Currently, there are 50 nurses for every 100,000 people.” Compare this to a nation like Australia, which has around 1,100 nurses for every 100,000 people. And 80 per cent of PNG’s nurses are over 45 years old, which means that there will be a significant reduction in these already low numbers as nurses begin to retire over the next ten years. “We are facing a serious problem,” Professor Thomas points out.

One of the most acute nursing shortages in PNG is in the area of maternity care and childbirth. PNG is ranked amongst the lowest nations in terms of maternal health, and skilled attendance at birth is low. In response to this crisis, PAU offers a midwifery program in an effort to improve maternal outcomes – an absolutely critical factor in the nation’s overall health.

In response to the nation’s health care worker shortage, the Australian government is investing heavily in PNG’s health education; in fact, all of PAU’s first and second year nursing students are fully funded by the Australian government. Fortunately, the number of Health Science students at PAU continues to increase and this year, the program boasted the largest intake of new students of any program across the university. In response, PAU is expanding its school of health science through the addition of staff and construction of new buildings. This construction project will significantly increase the size of the program’s facilities, and is completely funded by the Australian Aid Program.

Access to education is another crucial issue for PNG and the rest of the Pacific, and PAU is working hard to provide the region with the teachers they need. “We need to focus on the area of secondary education and expanding that program because the shortage of teachers – both primary and secondary – is huge across the Pacific,” Mr Thomas reports. In the Solomon Islands, for example, countless communities have no school, and no immediate hope of getting one. All across that country, Professor Thomas says, villages are taking matters into their own hands and establishing local schools for their children. However, once a village school is established, there is rarely anyone qualified to teach. Typically, whoever has the highest level of education in the community will be expected to step in – even though their schooling may not have gone past grade six. “Getting people trained and giving them a proper teaching qualification is a huge challenge.”

With the population level rising rapidly throughout the Pacific, the need for schools is becoming even more acute. It is estimated that just to maintain the current level of primary school enrolment as compared to the population, PNG would need to open 100 new primary schools each year. “That is almost impossible,” says Professor Thomas. “ And that is just to maintain the current level, which is somewhere near the 60 per cent mark – nowhere near where it needs to be.” In response to the Pacific’s educational concerns, PAU is working hard to grow its teacher education programs in order to bolster primary and secondary education across the Pacific.

However, the lack of educators in the Pacific goes beyond secondary school; PAU faces a shortage of qualified lecturers as well. “The biggest challenge that we have is getting sufficient lecturers who are qualified to teach at the tertiary level,” Professor Thomas reports. “If you look at PNG and across the Pacific, anyone who has a tertiary qualification and has an interest in university teaching or research is already employed in that sector. Usually, if we put an advert out, the only response we get is from people who are already employed by universities [in the Pacific] and if we hire them, we actually make a hole elsewhere. We’ve made a decision that we don’t want to do that. Because overall, that doesn’t actually improve the sector. All that does is shuffle the problems around.”

In the past, there were a significant number of expats teaching in PNG, but many of them returned home when the PNG kina lost its value. At the church based PAU, however, staff are present because they believe in the cause, not just because they are getting a good salary.

The university has created a program to help bring in the educators that it needs. The initiative grants scholarships to master’s degree students in return for a two year teaching commitment at PAU after graduation, and the program also helps ensure that positions at the school will go to those born in the region. “We want to keep that Pacific focus,” Professor Thomas explains. The team is also working on giving faculty members with master’s degrees a chance to earn a Ph.D. “That’s really expensive,” he admits, “but fortunately there are some scholarships available. We expect that one staff member every year will be on a Ph.D. program overseas.”

PAU’s planning and growth has already proven remarkably successful and the university is undertaking a number of building projects. In addition to the Health Science additions already mentioned, the team is building a completely new School of Business, and adding dormitory extensions, staff duplexes, and married student duplexes, much of which is being funded by the Australian Aid Program. PAU has also partnered with the District Administration to build a secondary school on its land to help meet the needs of the local community.

Hopefully, this is only the beginning. “We have a building schedule for the next 20 years that will see more significant developments,” Professor Thomas reports. “I think the future is very, very bright in terms of actually making a real difference to the nations of the Pacific and really helping the Pacific to develop and take their place on the world stage.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

October 19, 2018, 6:26 AM AEDT