UPNG classes yet to resume after boycott

4:44 pm on 5 March 2019

Classes at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) have yet to resume following yesterday's boycott by lecturers and tutors.

Outside the University of PNG

Outside the University of PNG Photo: facebook

Local media reported more than 200 academics, members of the National Academic Staff Association (NASA), withdrew their services over political interference in the university's administration.

In January, the minister for higher education, Pila Ninigi, appointed an interim university council and Kenneth Sumbuk as the vice chancellor.

In a statement, the minister said he took the action after being presented with "disturbing documents" that included "serious allegations concerning the questionable use of funds".

He said examples from the documents included:

"Serious allegations concerning the questionable use of funds relating to the National Home Ownership Scheme and the purchasing of properties.

"Neither the university council or management responded to the recommendations of an External Quality Assessment Report.

"No evidence of a university council or management response with regard to allegations of sexual harassment against a senior member of UPNG staff and students."

A spokesperson for the university, James Robins, said Monday's boycott went ahead despite a court order obtained by the university preventing industrial action that would disrupt classes.

The boycotting staff were today called to a meeting with PNG's chief justice, Mr Robins said.

"It would have been in relation to the implementation of the restraining order which was obtained by the University of Papua New Guinea against the National Academic Staff Association to prevent them from stop work meetings or other strike action in prevention of classes going ahead," he said.

The order pertained to all "university staffing" including "support staff", the spokesperson added.

On issuing the court order, the National Court had set a hearing for 20 March, he said.

 University of Papua New Guinea students gather to discuss their demand for the prime minister's resignation.

A UPNG student meeting during their 2016 boycott. Photo: UPNG4PNG

NASA's acting president Mark Kia and working committee head Linus Digim'Rina could not be reached for comment but the Post Courier reported the men wanted the prime minister to intervene by taking the following actions:

"Install Dr Frank Griffin, being the duly appointed Vice Chancellor of UPNG through a 50-year-old merit-based process.

"Reinstate the duly appointed Registrar Dr Peter Petsul.

"Remove the interim council and especially chancellor Jeffrey Kennedy, pro chancellor Jerry Wemin, and the acting vice-chancellor Dr Kenneth Sumbuk; or

re-instate the previous council under chancellor Nicholas Mann.

"Get the minister Pila Niningi to immediately institute an independent investigation into the affairs of the council and UPNG."

When notifying staff and students of his termination on 27 February, the registrar Peter Petsul said in a statement he feared "forced or voluntary" departures of staff "because of outside politics".

"Departure of these quality people will compromise academic standards. Politics and academic freedom can never have a symbiotic relationship," Mr Petsul said.

"Stand together for the interest of the university. And never allow this great university, while it is still alive, to go to the dogs and vultures."

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