Every year potential young students who would have otherwise have a decent tertiary qualification continues to miss out on the National Grade 12 selections into tertiary institutions with the Tertiary Education Student Assistance Scheme (TESAS) under the Department of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (DHERST). Two main reasons given by DHERST and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). First, DHERST cannot accommodate every potential student under the TESAS program. Second, Higher Educational Institutions (HEI’s have limited space in terms of how much First Year students they can accommodate in each of their programs. This is due to various factors such as student living space, teaching room space, lecturer to student ratio which determined the teaching load for number of academic staff they have and etc.
The lingering question is, how long will this trend continue? The system is throwing out potential young citizens by denying them a tertiary education qualification to start their career and become productive citizens in this country. What is the national economic cost of this situation under the TESAS scheme? During the PNG LNG project construction phase the skilled labor shortage was experienced. Technical skilled workers were imported from India, Philippines, Vietnam and various other countries through various recruitment corporations to deliver the project. The scenario is set to repeat in the second PNG Papua LNG Project that is under way.
Yet, government officials and MPs continue to drum out to the public that they are concerned about the lack of human resource development in this country and they are trying their best to address the situation. In order to get general clear picture of the whole situation, one has to have the general understanding of key three key players in the tertiary education sector. These are the DHERST, the government which includes (National/Provincial/District Development Authority (DDAs) and the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Their roles in general are as follows. These are general ones for each of these players for this discussion than the specifics.
Role of DHERST
- With the recent passing of Higher Education Reform bills, DHERST is the central government department responsible for providing policy direction and advice to government on tertiary education sector in Papua New Guinea. This also includes overseeing all the public higher educational institutions and the private training institutions.
- Manage the TESAS program which includes the selection and awarding of TESAS scholarship grants to Grade 12 students. Selection is now automated using the National Online Selection (NOS) system. The TESAS scholarship program includes all continuing students as well.
- Manage the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP). HELP is the student loan program under which students can apply for loan to pay for their tuition and related fees charged by the HEIs if they fall short on the eligibility requirements of TESAS but are able to continue their studies.
- Collaborate with HEIs on infrastructure development projects, research matters and academic program accreditation.
- Engage with international aid agencies, bilateral and multilateral funding agencies and foreign governments to channel funding and technical assistance into the tertiary education sector as central government agency responsible for it.
Role of Government (National/Provincial/DDAs)
- Providing the required annual budgetary allocation in the annual National Budget to DHERST for its operations.
- Approve tertiary education related national policies and legislations in collaboration with DHERST and HEIs.
- Support international development partners in counter funding and technical assistance in projects.
- Provincial Governments and DDAs provide local funding and other need support to HEIs within their provinces and districts.
Role of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
Tertiary institutions are managed by their respective Governing Councils or Boards and they have some level of autonomy and independence by various laws which enables them. In a general sense, their roles are as follows:
- Management all the academic affairs. Example, program accreditation, development and implementation.
- Screening and recruitment of qualified academics and support staff
- Learning and teaching activities of students and academics
- Providing student support services such as library, clinic, student accommodation and etc.
- Physical infrastructure development management in collaboration with DHERST, service providers and international development partners.
- Engage and partner with other higher learning institutions both within and overseas to exchange technical skills, in research work and etc.
- Provide necessary data and information on their respective activities to DHERST for policy purposes.
- Manage their procurement of good and services from service providers in accordance and guidelines provided by National Procurement Commission.
- Set Tuition Fee pricing for each academic year.
Provincial Governments and DDAs paying Tertiary Students Tuition Fees.
Enga Provincial Government was one that pioneered the concept and heavily involved in funding school fees for tertiary students from Enga in all tertiary institution around the country. It started 1997 and continued in the consecutive years that followed. Enga provincial government also created the Enga Children’s Fund. It was an organization funded by the provincial government and had property investments in Port Moresby, with the intention to use the profit proceeds to sustain the funding of school fees for tertiary institution as well as supporting other education initiatives in the province.
This became a success model on two fronts. Firstly, lots of students from Enga graduated from tertiary institutions and started getting employed and filled in senior positions in both public and private sector. Secondly, Enga Governor, Hon.GGC, Sir Peter Ipatas was elected to Parliament as Provincial Governor for Enga to the National Parliament in 1997 General Elections and he won four (4) consecutive elections after that serving as Governor and MP for a total of 20 years(1997-2022). Interestingly, payment of schools fees was initiated during his first term of office in Parliament as Governor in 1997 and these election wins were largely attributed to this provincial government policy.
Enga being a least developed province back then, and lack of Social Security Services from National Government, many parents hailed the policy and supported it by re-electing him to Parliament in the last four (4) National Elections.
Other Provincials Governments and District followed
Soon, other provincial governments and District MPs in the country replicated the policy and started allocating provincial and district budgetary allocation to assist with payment of school fees for tertiary students from their respective provinces and districts.
District MPS have also supported tertiary students through their offices. Almost all provincial governments and districts in PNG have some schemes for paying tertiary student school fees in the tertiary institutions. Although, there has been some inconsistencies in these schemes due to political leadership changes, the concept has been tried and implemented by many provincial governments and district MPs.
Are tertiary Students Double Dipping from these schemes.
Technically it’s a yes. The obvious reason is that those on TESAS Scholarship are funded by the National Government. Depending on their academic performance each year, they will be maintained under the scholarship for 4 to 5 years depending on program of study. The total government support each of these students receive will be equal to No of Years X Annual Value of TESAS Scholarship paid by DHERST. Then these same students are receiving money from Provincial Governments and Districts in the form of Tuition Fee Payments. The main basket is National Budget allocation of the government.
Another, point to note is that the HELP student loan program was designed to help students already enrolled in programs in the Higher Learning Institutions but cannot afford the fees. Obviously, HELP is for those that are continuing their tertiary studies. Provincial Government and Districts paying for this group of students is a government scholarship package just that it’s not from DHERST but from a different proxy arrangement.
National Government Should Ban the Payment of Tuition Fees by Provincial Governments and District MPs.
The national government should ban the provincial governments and District Development Authorities (DDA) or MPs from paying school fees for tertiary students. Instead, this these funding should be channeled to fund Technical and Vocational and Education Training (TVET) initiatives at the provincial and district level so that students missing out on DHERST TESAS selection can continue their education. A lot of vocational training centers and technical colleges in the districts have huge land mass sitting ideal and they are under resourced. Development priorities should be directed towards programs to revive these technical institutions.
Provincial Governments and District budgetary allocation from the National Government Budget should be spend on educational programs in the provinces rather paying to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) already had their National Government Budget Allocation and TESAS funding from DHERST.
The lesson that needs to be learned from Enga province is this. Although, so many students who have benefited from the provincial government have now graduated and are working in high positions around the country, the province has not progressed in terms of real economic and social development at the provincial and district level. The economic conditions at the province is not conducive enough to attract educated individuals to work and live in the province.
There is no guarantee that paying for tuition fees for tertiary students will help develop the province and district. Notion that paying for tuition fees for tertiary level will help boost the human resource power in the district or province and develop it remains elusive. Enga’s 20 years legacy is a point of proof.
Therefore, funding allocated to Provinces and Districts must be used within the provinces and the districts. This is justice to potential students who missed out on Grade 12 selections by DHERST. They will have an economic base to start their SMEs and places to learn technical skills in the Vocational and Technical Colleges.