Higher Education Institutions Reform Laws Passed in Parliament

The Higher Education Reforms Bills

I am pleased to advise that on 27th of August 2020 the National Parliament cleared the way for significant reforms to the higher and technical education sector in Papua New Guinea with the passing of the Higher Education Reform Bill Package. The Reform Bills Package consists of the following Bills that work together to improve the governance, management and operation of higher education Institutions (HEIs).

  1. Higher and Technical Education Reform Bill 2020
  2. Higher Education (General Provisions) (Amendments) Bill 2020
  3. Education (Amendment) Bill 2020
  4. National Training Council (Amendment) Bill 2020
  5. University of Papua New Guinea (Amendment) Bill 2020
  6. University of Papua New Guinea (Amendment) Bill 2020
  7. Papua New Guinea University of Technology (Amendment) Bill 2020
  8. Papua New Guinea University of Natural Resources and Environment (Amendment) Bill 2020

These Bills represent the enabling legislation for the implementation of NEC Decision 25/2017 to reform, transform and unify the higher education system in Papua New Guinea; and align with the Higher and Technical Education Plan 2020-2038 to address key education outcomes for the Higher Education Sector and for our country.

Closing the gap between the reality & promise of a better future.

The Parliamentary passage of the reforms has secured the law. We must now secure the promise and the reality of a better future across the education sector as a whole and for all Papua New Guineans coming through primary levels to secondary and for those continuing to technical and tertiary education. With the enabling legislation now in place, the Marape-Steven government will continue to its deep commitment to policies for changing the landscape of higher education sector in Papua New Guinea. These ‘green shoot’ policies for transition and change are already in place for:

  1. Offering hope and support to our young people, may of whom thought a higher education was beyond them due to the ever-increasing high costs;
  2. Securing transparent, reliable and affordable funding to the higher education insititutions and converting the previously fragmented government funding systems for institutional types into a single coherent funding model;
  3. Linking sector policies, plans and budgets in coherent and predictable ways that support efficient sector coordination and institutional governance.
  4. Making a sustainable difference in a teacher education for the benefit of our children coming through the primary grades.
  5. Changing the face of education access, education delivery and education quality, both on and off campus throughout Papua New Guinea.
  6. Achieving significant improvements in regulation and quality assurance that develop and protect quality-that most previous commodity for any of our Higher Education Institutions

There is a long way to. The law has been secured and now we must transition to the promise and the reality of a better future for the higher education sector.

Summary of the Legislative Changes.

The Reform Bills aim to improve the governance, management and regulation of HEIs in Papua New Guinea. Key elements of the reform include;

Transfer of regulatory oversight

The Bills provide a legal process for transfer of regulatory oversight of HEIs to the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (DHERST) (MHERST and DHERST) on transfer dates that will be determined as HEIs are prepared for transition.

This transition process will allow for a planned and methodical transfer of HEIs that links to budgetary and other public finance timetables. The Bills also work to remove inconsistency and confusion as to which agencies have regulatory responsibility for certain HEIs.

New Governance arrangements

For State-owned institutions and Church-agency institutions receiving significant state funding, existing Governing Council arrangements will remain in place for six (6) months after the transfer date. This will allows time for the new Governing Councils to be appointed in accordance with new government arrangements.

These new arrangements make provisions for updated objectives, powers and functions of HEIs; powers of the establishment of Governing Councils; membership and operational of Governing Councils; appointment of Academic Boards; appointment of staff and Rule-making powers for HEIs.

HEIs will have clear and unambiguous reporting requirements including the implementation of Strategic Plans; Business Plans and the preparation of an Annual Audited Financial and Performance Report.

These new arrangements are designed to create effective Governing Councils with strong industry representation; leading HEIs to be demand-driven institutions in response to economic and social sector needs.

Strong and lasing alliance-maintaining and strengthening the long-standing relationship between Church Agency Institutions and Government.

The Christain Churches have long played a key and central role in the delivery of higher education in Papua New Guinea. From the highlands to the coast and across the PNG islands, churches have been instrumental in providing higher education services in technical education, teacher training and nursing; providing training in locations where the state has not been able to. Indeed, the state and Churches have worked hand-in-hand in providing these services to the public.

With the commencement of the Higher Education Reform Package it is important to note that this long-standing relationship with government will be maintained and strengthened. Church-owned HEIs will continue to retain their unique and essential nature as independently church-owned and operated institutions, reinforced by amendments to the Higher Education (General Provisions) Act, agencies continue to have a leading role in matters of planning, governance and day-to-day operations.

Improved Terms and Conditions for HEI staff.

Staff of transferred HEIs will transfer on their existing employment terms and conditions for at least twelve months, after which they may be offered a new specialist lecturers contract of employment. DHERST, DPM and stakeholder representatives are continuing to work on the development of the new terms and conditions for HEI staff in accordance with section 144 of the HEGPA. Benchmarking of current employment terms and conditions across sub-sectors has commenced.

Strengthening Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI)

The Bills provide for the incorporation of GESI principles in a number of ways. A gender balance is required on HEI Governing Councils as far as is practicable. HEI Nomination Committees must ensure that this requirement is implemented and the National Higher and Technical Education Board (NHTEB) will scrutinise nominations accordingly.

Under the Bills, HEIs must not discriminate on basis of gender, race or religion and must actively promove principles of gender equity and social inclusion. This is reinforced by the requirement for HEIs to have current and effective GESI policies for both students and staff. An assessment of the effectiveness of a HEIs GESI polices will form part of HEI’s annual performance assessment and audit.

DHERST will support HEI’s in the implementation of GESI policies and principles with the implementation of a sector wide GESI policy and tool kit.

Transfer of Registration and Accreditation Functions for Private Training Institutions.

The Bills provides for the transfer to DHERST of the registration and accreditation functions in relation to private training institutions. These functions are currently undertaken by the National Training Council.  DHERST already had the power under the law to undertake this function for private training institutions. The Reform Bills simply formalize this arrangement and remove the duplication of functions that currently exists.

In consultation with the National Training Council, DHERST will formalize transition arrangements for the transfer of the NTC’s registration and accreditation functions to DHERST over the next 12 months.

National Skills Development.

The Bills provide processes for the DHERST to develop, national curriculum or national training packages in subject matter areas of national importance or as identified as national skills priorities.

Proposed national curriculum and national skills packages will be developed in consultation with industry and relevant HEIs, professional accreditation organizations and other stakeholders for approved by the NHTEB.

The newly formed National Skills Development Agency (an advisory body to DHERST) will play a significant role in the development of national training packages.

Stronger Engagement with Business and Industry.

The Bills ensure that DHERST and HEIs have the power to engage the power to the support of business and industry representatives, donors and leading corporate entities to ensure programmes offered by HEIs are demand-driven and support DHERST to enter into arrangements with external organizations (eg. Private training organizations, donor agencies and corporate entities) to provide targeted co-funding and co-investment in priority areas. DHERST is already well advanced in this level of engagement.

Governance of Universities.

The Bills provide various amendments to maintain the autonomy of public universities. The State, however, retains significant power to intervene in relation to the governance and management of universities and HEIs through emergency powers in specific limited circumstances; and only after appropriate investigations have been undertaken. State powers are aimed at stabilizing crisis situations and returning to normal governance. These powers are not new and have been made clearer under the Reforms.

HEI Transition Planning and Timing.

HEI governance and HEI transition planning is a continuing priority and will take place once HEI transfer dates are determined.

The transfer of HEIs to DHERST regulatory oversight will take place over the 2021/2022 and 2023/2024 budget cycles as institutions are prepared for transfer and budgetary arrangements settled in accordance with the Higher and Technical Education Sector Plan and Budget (2021-2025). Once all transfer arrangements are in place transfer dates will be determined and published in the National Gazette.

Budget cycles will play a large part in determining transfer dates and actual transition may not be determined for some time yet. In the meantime, transition implementation planning is a continuing priority for DHERST and deepening engagement on transition issues with the HEIs: especially those HEIs subsectors transitioning sooner; Nursing and Allied Health Education, Teacher Education and TVET Colleges.

Governance Manuals for each HEIs sub-sector have been drafted. The Draft Manuals will be made available for stakeholders consultation via web-links in the upcoming DHERST Newsletter.

Over the coming months, my Department (DHERST) will increase HEI’s awareness activities in relation to the transition and transfer of HEIs including visits, presentations and distribution of printed awareness material.

Expression of Thanks.

The Higher Education Reform Bills Package (2020) is the result of three years of tireless commitment, consultation and cooperation by many people across many different sectors and organizations.

Numerous public sector agencies have been closely consulted along the way and I thank the Secretary’s and senior public service personnel of those agencies who have supported the transition and reforms process: not least the Secretary and staff of my Department (DHERST) the leadership, Principles and Management of the Higher Education Institutions and the many private sector companies, civil society organizations and international staff who have provided their inputs.

Sincerely thanks to our Donors Partners, in participation: The Australian High Commission and the support of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) for their support under the PNG-AUS Partnership; the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japanese International Development Agency (JICA)

I thank my fellow Ministers for their support on NEC deliberations and vital decisions; and my fellow Parliamentarians who have passed this landmark legislation into law

Hon.Nick Kuman (MP)

Minister for Higher Education , Research Science and Technology

Declaimer: This article was the exact Press Release from DHERST which appeared in the local newsapers.