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Date Posted: 21:47:33 10/20/99 Wed
Student political activism is the hallmark of PNG tertiary student organizations.
How has that developed? What are the pros and cons of such activism? What kind of issues require student political activism? What consequences are possible under certain student political actions? What alternatives are available to students to get their views heard? Have taxpayers any say in whether they should or shouldn't contribute towards the maintanence of free higher education? How can learning and teaching happen more effectively. How can student activism work towards enhancing the learning and teaching environment in our institutions? These are some of the questions that come to mind as I ponder over the sad news below about the abrupt ending of the academic year at UPNG.
Much has been said. We've got some information more or less about the immediate reasons for the present student activism and the UPNG council decision to terminate the rest of the academic term for the year. The present student unrest while legitimate should have been conducted in an atmosphere of freedom of expression and choice which seems to be not the case as other reports indicate.
Thuggery and intimidation is characteristic of UPNG student organizations in situations of this kind. It is annoying, frustrating, and completely unfair for many other serious students who have paid their travel costs, tuition, board and lodging to have to terminate their studies now, knowing that they will have to pay again for something that they should have done already.
Here's one suggestion to minimize disruption to classes and serious consideration of economic and legal implications of termination of academic term. Having heard the university governing body's decision, the more serious students and their parents (guardians) should take out individual or class action lawsuit firstly against the students who have disrupted the normal academic year, and also the university for taking that decision. Compensation should then be paid by those identified to have been ringleaders in the disruption and intimidation of other students and staff and preventing normal class from happening. If they are unable to pay, they should be locked up for the duration of the time that would be possible to earn an income to pay for the prescribed tuition, board and lodging and travel from various destinations of the students affected. They would have to add up the total cost of all students who wish to continue with normal classes to arrive at the figure that ringleaders would pay and the total time that all serious students would have to spend earning an income to pay for the period of the disrupted term. The same goes also to the university. The university has the option of paying the students (mainly private students but could also be NATSCHOL students) or it could offer tuition and board and lodging wavers to those students affected plus pay the travel costs to or from the home destination. As for NATSCHOL students, the university should re-imburse NATSCHOL or the OHE for those students who have to travel home and return to complete their disrupted academic year.
If it is not already a law, the freedom of movement and right to a secure environment for learning and work should be one of the basic expectations of every student and staff on campus, violation of which should lead to certain compensation or penalties such as a jail term or appropriate remuneration. This should be an important factor that student leaders must have in mind before advocating and practicing any kind activism that infringe on the right of other students and workers to conduct their expected learning and work activities.
We know of the recent plight of settlers being handled by the judiciary. We hope the same principle should be given to the students who've come off badly during the student activisim and uni council decision.
UPNG shut Council ends year over boycott
By PHIL PEERS YOMBON
PORT MORESBY: The University of Papua New Guinea Council has closed down the Waigani campus for the remainder of the 1999 academic year.
The University Council met here yesterday and endorsed the recommendation from the Academic Board Standing Committee to suspend the final semester following boycott of classes over the 25 per cent increase in tuition fees which is due to come into effect next year.
The decision means students will now have to make their own arrangements to go home within the next couple of days.
The UPNG Council said in a statement that its decision was based on continued boycott of classes, harassment and intimidation of students to prevent them from attending lectures and other academic activities.
"Term three is no longer academically viable," UPNG Chancellor Dame Rose Kekedo said in a statement.
"In regard to the controversial 25 per cent tuition fee increase, the Council decided that it could not take an immediate decision without first having the benefit of
information on the UPNG's 2000 budget appropriation.
"The decision was therefore taken to defer making a determination on the matter to a later date, after Parliament has handed down the 2000 Budget." The university was quiet yesterday after the council decision, but student leaders are understood to be discussing their next course of action.
The early closure means: Final year students will not be graduating next year as scheduled; First year students will be competing for spaces with new intakes next year; and All students will have to repeat term three courses next year.
This is the second time that the council has closed down the university. The first was in 1991 following a similar boycott of classes over MPs' pay rise. "It (council) noted with equally serious concern and disappointment that although students' attention had been drawn to serious likelihood that term three would be terminated if there was no return to classes, the boycott of classes had continued," Dame Kekedo said.
The decision of the Council will not affect the UPNG's School of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences and the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education. The implementation of this decision has been left with the university management in consultation with other agencies like the Office of Higher Education, she said.
Meanwhile, students from other universities are continuing their boycott of classes. The councils of Unitech in Lae and University of Goroka will meet later this week to decide their university's fate. UPNG Student Representative Council president Benny Tanda last night called on Members of Parliament to ask the Prime Minister to intervene.
Mr Tanda said the students were aware that the NEC would be deliberating on their submission today. "If the NEC can intervene to reinstate the Faculties of Creative Arts and the Allied Health Science, which were axed by the council, then there is no reason why they cannot do the same here," said Mr Tanda. "We call on parents and stakeholders to understand that our cause is genuine."
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