Hostage of ICT

I reached into cyberspace in vain hope the whole of 2014! The institutional ICT support had  turned on me. What had been was my trusted domain host–for over three years– had turned a hostage taker.  No solution came where it was expected.

A last ditch attempt at the being of 2015 has worked!  I found my blog! I’ve broken free by sheer chance. And it feels good to begin resuscitating it! It feels good to start injecting ideas again into the veins of this tiny piece of cyber real estate that I have wanted to claim to exhibit my wares–the higher ed ideas that toss about in my head looking for somewhere to settle in hope of some traveler stopping by momentarily to take note.

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What an Amateur You have Been

Ouch! That does hurt! Amateurish job is one colleague’s assessment of my performance in 2013. Such an evaluation could have tipped me over on the wrong side of mental stability.

My mental state tells me 2013 has been a chock-a-block full year, in fact, a particularly taxing one.

I taught two graduate level programs, enrolled in another with Melbourne University and completed the required unit as part of staff development; attended more meetings than I can count in the course of the year, sent many documents along in many directions with feedback, led a team of supervisors for a PhD candidate, made time to mentor junior staff, tossed in two guest lectures, lead another team to audit an affiliated institution, led another as chair of panel of judges for a university activity, ran three workshops in research,  produce several reports, tried to keep my blog ticking over with articles  and engage in profession networking on social media etc.  All in an effort to run a high level organizational division solo and establish some respectability as an academic professional. Could I have possibly done more?

Well, according to a colleague I had not done enough. Or worse, that I’d been negligent on the job and shown “amateurish” leadership.

Angry? You bet I am. It’s never easy for anyone to deal with negative criticism.  The defensive gene kicks in. It kicked in all right for me and I kicked out at the criticism.

It is okay to be upset—initially that is. But you have to step back, and depersonalize the criticism.  Criticism has its value especially when offered with respect. It serves a formative purpose when it helps you take corrective action; or it helps clarify your position on issues.

Yes, I’ve not held all the scheduled meetings of my office this year. No, I’ve not kept up with producing the minutes of meetings.  There may have been other expectations I’ve not met.  I’ll reflect on these and see if I can do a better job in 2014.

My wish for 2014 would be for someone to advise me on how I can better operate a high level organizational division on the workforce strength of one person.

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The boss that brings out the worst in you

No empathy! No mercy! Here was the epitome of a straight shooter of the brashest kind if ever you were unlucky enough to cross paths with one.

The meeting had started when she walked in parting the air before her in a titanic surge. Laptop clutched close to her chest with one hand and two long arrogant strides quickly took her to a seat.  She surveyed the room as she prepared to battle and bruise all before her…if they dared take her on. All girded up with the full battle gear of the high office, she sent a current of wariness through the room.

The seated tried to grab on to whatever mental fortification they could muster and waited for the assault.

“So… ,what do we hope to achieve at this meeting? Stop wasting time and let’s get on with it.”

Directed at the chair, the voice sliced through the room sowing tension and scattering attention of those seated. The BOSS cared little that the preliminaries were over. The chair was setting the context needed for the discussion of the agenda.

Literature on effective team performance and leadership considers team player, humility and empathy amongst highly desirable attributes of both leader and rank and file employees.  A leader as catalyst would draw on these attributes to form teams, set team rules, encourage affective commitment and ensure team cohesion.   Arrogance, brashness and a domineering attitude would lead to team dysfunction and suboptimal performance.

The meeting proceeded with sufficient civility. When it ended, committee members filed out carrying with them resentment together with their laptops. They had seen leadership at its worse displayed. They had experienced leadership that was not a force for unity. Rather, here was leadership that was a power of division and dysfunction.


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Post-audit Review

They say audits are necessary to assure quality of higher education.  All those various stakeholders of higher education needs assuring that Universities are performing. Yes, we  at DWU have learned a lot from the undertaking. That may be so, but they don’t tell you how expensive and time and energy sapping activity an audit is.

DWU in 2011 was audited by what was then AUQA, the Australian Universities Quality Agency. AUQA has been replaced by TEQSA (Tertiary Education Quality  Standards Agency). Over 2012 and 2013, DWU has been implementing the audit affirmations and recommendations–quite a few of them. It has been and all energy and time consuming endeavour.

As I write, the post-audit review panel is on the ground conducting interviews. It will be my turn to face the panel at 3 o’clock.  The panel, with international representation and representation form other PNG universities and PNG Office of Higher Education, is chaire d by Dr Jeanette Baird who chaired the original audit panel as well. The panel has been tasked to assess and report on how DWU is performing in implementing the audit affirmations and recommendations.


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PNG’s Hope Riding on the Promise of a New University

Conditions of quality_002If the recent political rhetoric and policy directions out of Office of Higher Education (OHE) on the higher education sector are any indication of what is to come for higher education in Papua New Guinea, there is good reason to feel positive.

The nation’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, is reported in the news papers to have given this assurance to Papua New Guineans recently at the graduation of the University of Papua New Guinea:

“We are committed to ensuring that the opportunity for a decent and quality education is available.”

Emerging from this commitment is his revelation that the country can anticipate a new university planned for the most populous region of the country, the highlands region.

He announced that the OHE has been tasked to begin preparatory work for the new institution.

This announcement comes in a context where there are other new university establishment initiatives. There is the Lutheran University in Lae, which is still undergoing the process of institutional establishment.

Also on the table is  the proposal of the PNG Open University.  Stakeholder consultation workshops were conducted by OHE in 2011, 2012.  We have some idea of what it will cost to establish it, close to K30 million.  Capital costs to establish traditional universities will no doubt be much higher.

Positive Implications for Vision 2050

When these proposed universities become a reality, the country will have nine universities.  Having an additional three universities will certainly increase the chances for many more Papua New Guineans who desire a higher education, but prevented from getting one now, to get one.

Increased opportunity for higher education access is an important strategy to support the national vision of a healthy wealthy and wise nation come 2050. The reality of why the strategy is important speaks for it self.  PNG needs thousands more higher educated citizens to meaningfully contribute to the national development effort.

What curtails the effective leveraging of this strategy for development is this:  Thousands of students who matriculate each year are denied an opportunity at higher education.  If the numbers are to be believed, in 2013, for instance, 13 000 school leavers missed out on places in higher education institutions.  Why? Current institutional capacity could only cater for 4 000 of the 17 000 total who passed out.

The Challenges: Rhetoric and Tangible Outcomes

Whilst the growing optimism is welcome, there are some real challenges the existing system faces that cannot be understated.  These have first to be overcome before the talk and promises are effectively translated into visible outcomes.

It will take some time, a lot of time. And it will take money, a lot of it. It will also take much more than time and money to provide quality education.

The prime minister himself has stated some of these challenges. Good, well maintained functional infrastructure is one and good governance is another. In terms of good governance, the prime minister has given his government’s undertaking to “weed out a culture of inefficiency, nepotism and complacency”. He has also given the assurance that physical facilities and infrastructure will be renovated and refurbished.

These are good places to start to rehabilitate the nation’s key public universities that were once the pride of the country. However, safe well-maintained and functional physical infrastructure and good governance and administration are but two of a list of  important preconditions for quality education.

OHE has nine standards to measure quality to which four others may soon be added, if not already. These conditions include: Institutional integrity, clearly articulated purpose, quality of education programs, qualified (and committed) staff, learning resources, student support services, physical resources and financial resources.

Meeting each of these standards needs leadership, commitment and money. Some require much initial outlay of funds and continuing funding. The current state of the founding national public universities is a testament to what can happen to institutions and the system in general when standards are compromised by responsible stakeholders.

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Leadership and Greatness

Last week I team taught a course on Strategic Planning with my good friend and colleague, the President of my university. The president delivered sessions on leadership. The sessions gave me much insight into the psychology of a leader. A number of short video clips of current and past thought leaders in business and society including Martin Luther King Jr were viewed.

The influence of leaders who push humanity forward to better places in history seems more often to be the type of men and women not in the formal positions of power. These towers of influence have the power of their ideas, ideals and the values that transcend their personal lives.

Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela hold up a powerful model of such leadership. However one wants to dissect Dr King’s speeches, the greatness of the man and his leadership continue to resonate over time. In a nutshell, the kind of leadership that really matters is about finding ones greatest strengths and using that to create value for others.

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Innovation, Not Dysfunction Needed in PNG Higher Education


2013 Divine Word University Graduation

Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Higher Education sector is in need of innovation. Innovation needs to happen now if the sector is to lift itself out of its current malaise and fulfill its mandate to the nation.

But for two of the nation’s oldest and key institutions, 2013 has started in a bad place. They are in strife, one over funding and the other is embroiled in an internal governance and accountability tussle.

The oldest, University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG), is millions in the red, the new head has reported. UNITEC, the second oldest, has seen the dismissal and unceremonious deportation of its Vice Chancellor, Albert Schram.  The reason, a tug of war over the right to demand financial accountability from university administrators.  As it probably will involve the courts to settle the conflict, the issue is bringing bad publicity internationally.

Thankfully, the remaining two of the group of four public universities have not made the press for the wrong reasons. Together with the two privately administered universities, they have started their new academic year on the right footing.

PNG Higher Education Mandate

Any dysfunction in the system is not what the nation needs from a sector that is pivotal to drive the development of the nation into its desired future to be a healthy, wealthy and wise society by 2050. The national aspiration  is for its higher education sector to deliver:

A well educated, healthy appropriately skilled, and honest work force that is committed, proactive and innovative is the kind of workforce required to implement the Vision 2050.

PNG needs university enrollment and graduated output to increase to 50 percent by 2020 and beyond. Current annual enrollment and graduate output stands at less than 2000.

The Bright Spots

Despite the trials and tribulations of the two big players, positives steps continue to be taken in the sector. For Divine Word University (DWU), 2013 is a year of taking big steps forward in assuring and enhancing the quality of its education. On the 3rd of March, DWU and its affiliate colleges graduated 1741 students. The university is engaged in a twinning arrangement with Australian Catholic University in anticipation of a major curriculum review which will run into 2014.  DWU has begun to deliver the first joint program in Health Management with James Cook University.  Students in 2013 will through Pearson, improve their literacy and numeracy skills, skills that have been found wanting. The university is also set to move into online learning at the same time as it continues to deliver programs through mix mode. An online learning specialist has been hired to help faculties  move some of their units online as a precursor to moving full programs online.

With the public institutions, UPNG opened a new university center in one of the highlands provinces at the end of February, bringing the total to 27 centers the university operates. University of Natural Resources and Environment has also been opening up branches such as the one in the East Sepik Province.

Provision verses Demand

The country needs many more centers and innovative models of provision to make a real dent into the human resource needed to propel the economic and social development of the country.   The sector has to make possible for many more of the 17 000 who matriculated each year to access higher education. But as it stands, only the lucky 5 000 have a chance to enroll at a higher education institution.

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MOOC, Internationalization, Massification and Globo-Massification of Higher Education

UntitledA potential new threatening game changer has entered the  higher education market. If predictions, some dire, are realized,  the threat might soon make university and higher education delivery as we know it, a thing of the past. Higher Education provision is set to become a globo-massification phenomenon.

World renowned Harvard professor, Clayton Christensen, the father of the theory of change and innovation called, Disruptive Innovation, reportedly believes that the University together with Apple need to be afraid for their survival.

Universities everywhere, it seems, cannot afford to be complacent. Those in the developing world, mine included, would do well to plug into the global higher education conversation now and prepare to leverage new technological capabilities and knowledge expertise in new ways.

Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education

Disruption Innovation, the theory, espouses that innovative businesses at the top of their game are eventually toppled by less expensive and sophisticated rivals which initially enter the market at the lower-cost end catering to a small market sector. But as the product is further developed, it becomes more broadly accepted  increasing its market share.  Eventually, it knocks off the market leader.

What, we may ask, is the innovative startup that could topple the university and higher education model as we know it?

 Massification, Open and Distance Learning, Internationalization and MOOC

MOOC is  the  logical new but massive step up in masssification, open and distance learning and internationalization of higher education.  Internationalization  and   Massification of higher education as well as Open and Distance Learning have been well understood concepts defining  higher education for decades.  Internationalization of higher education refers to the global marketization of higher education, and Massification describes the opening up of the university and higher education to mass access instead of just the elite.

So why then is there such a buzz about the new disruptive model of higher education and online learning called MOOC?


MOOC or Massive Open Online Course, the new higher education delivery model, seems to have captured the imagination of higher education on a global scale.  The MOOC modle promises to ratchet up open and distance learning to a whole new level leveraging ICT enabled online learning management platforms.  If the critics don’t win out, MOOC promises to give new meaning to massification and internationalization of higher education and open and distance learning

 In theory, anyone at any age anywhere in the world has the real prospect of receiving higher education from the most elite of higher education institutions in the world. Class sizes in MOOCs run into the thousands and the take up of the courses is global in reach. For instance 40 000 students were enrolled in Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application, a MOOC offered by Georgia Institute of Technology. Little wonder then that some commentators have touted MOOCs as the new social levelers, distance levelers and a democratizing force, the new game changer or revolution in higher education. MOOCs offer  nations, especially those in the developing world, a real possibility to upscale cost effective higher education through online learning.

The Big Players in the Growing MOOC Industry

The MOOC format is spawning a whole new industry in higher education online learning management platforms. Not surprisingly, the biggest players are all US based as it is the birth place of the new format. This year though, UK is getting on the bandwagon.    Increasing numbers of universities globally are leveraging the services of these companies to move courses online. Some of the courses are for credit but others are not. A number of these companies are for profit, others are not and still others offer courses at reduced cost.  The biggest in the business now are:

1. Udacity

Udacity is the pioneer of the MOOC format which started in 2011. It website reads:  “Udacity was born out of a Stanford University experiment in which Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig offered their “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course online to anyone, for free. Over 160,000 students in more than 190 countries enrolled….”

2. EdX

This platform is a partnership between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). EdX  founder is  Anant  Agarwal, former Director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, serves as the first president of EdX.

3. Coursera

Launched in 2012, Coursera is another Staford University based provider of MOOC.  Its founders are both in Computer Sciences: Daphne Koller, Professor in the Computer Science Department, and Andrew Ng, Associate Professor of Computer Science. In 2011, he was the instructor of  a Machine Learning class that was one of Stanford’s first massive online courses.  Over 100,000 student enrolled for the course globally. A description about who they are on their webpage reads:

“We are a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.   We envision a future where the top universities are  educating not only thousands of students, but millions.   Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundreds of thousands of students. Through this, we hope to give everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few.  We want to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.”

4. Academic Partnerships

Academic Partnerships is a for profit company that  public and land grant universities in the US are engaging to develop courses for online delivery in the MOOC format.

5. FutureLearn: the first British MOOC Venture to be

The  new company is being created by the Open University, a veteran of open and distance education. FutureLearn hopes to start delivering programs this year.  Some leading British universities recently announced plans to capitalize on local expertise to move their courses online for free.

What has MOOC to Offer the Developing World?

If the MOOC model is the distance and social leveler, a new democratizing force and a game changer that it is being made out to be, it might just hold out the promise that the developing world so desperately needs to massively upscale the higher education of its citizens. Papua New Guinea’s higher education, for instance, has the capacity to enroll only 10 000 out of the many thousands seeking higher education. The system’s annual output of less than 3000  is not sufficient to meet national demand. It is reported that that the system’s enrollment and output has to increase by up to 50 % by 2020 to meet strategic goal demands.  There seems little indication right now of where innovation is happening in the sector. MOOCs may offer PNG the silver bullet.




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Don’t Stereotype and Dismiss Me as Just Another Woman

We stood stunned and waited… my good friend, our colleague and I.

Irate waiter Harifey shouted at us waving his hand for us to clear out of his face and out the restaurant almost slapping me in the face.

“I’ve said sorry already!  What more do you want?  If you don’t accept, it’s your problem!”

The cause of his anger?  We had spoken to the restaurant supervisor who had asked him to apologise to us.

I have experienced some great service in hotels but also some poor service more than once. But this case has to be in a league of its own. It came as a surprise, was abusive and completely unjustified.

You see, the waiter had a problem with us even before he spoke a word to us. Raised in a society known for its violence against women, it was not hard for him to pre-judge that we could not be trusted because we were women.

Harifey had come across a few too many women patrons (and men too no doubt) of his hotel who had not been too honest with him in perhaps cheating him out of a drink or two. That is what we put together from talking to staff later.  We, therefore, could not be any different to those other women, in his view.

But, Harifey did not know that this time he was not dealing with just any other women patrons, we were professional women, my friend and I were academics both with PhDs, and our colleague was enrolled in our MBA program.  My friend was a gender specialist and I had expertise in organizational culture and management. We were going to challenge his discriminatory attitude and behavior.

My good friend Anastasia, the gender specialist, had travelled in a few days earlier for a conference on gender issues being run at the hotel. It was in September 2011 and a Thursday. Our student colleague, Glenda, and  I had just arrived on a long delayed flight and checked in. I was teaching in our MBA program with sessions running from Friday to Sunday.

Seeing that we were in the same hotel, we thought it a good idea to order pizza for dinner and have it pool side.  We chose the only available table at the restaurant end in what was the smokers’ corner judging by the ash-filled tray.  It seemed it was full house as the hotel was frequently patronized by Australian trackers on the Kokoda Track pilgrimage.

Anastasia and I sat and waited for Glenda to join us and for the pizza to be delivered.  A waitress approached our table and left drinks, gin and tonic.  She left before we could ask who had ordered the drinks. The drinks sat untouched until Glenda joined us and asked what we were having so she could order one.  We said we had not ordered the drinks that were on our table.

Harifey looked like a nice chatty fellow as he mingled with patrons enjoying the afternoon at pool side. He was in the vicinity so we waved him over and told him we had not ordered the drinks that had been delivered. Harifey asked if we had touched the drinks. Of course we said we had not.  He went into the retaurant and returned. To our dismay, he became annoyed, picked up the drinks and mumbled within hearing that we were lying. In disdain he walked back into the restaurant.

Feeling unjustly treated we followed him into the restaurant and spoke to the supervisor that we had been wrongly accused of lying by Harifey.  Harifey still maintained that we were lying by insisting that the glasses had been full and were now a bit lower in volume, so we must have had sips of the drinks.  It didn’t occur to him that he had not delivered the drinks.

Upset about what had happened, we left the restaurant collected the pizza ourselves and had our dinner in Anastasia’s room. Then we sought out the night manager and logged a complaint.

Some months after when I again stayed in the hotel I didn’t see Harifey and thought his attitude and behavior towards some patrons may have become too great a liability and he may have been sacked. But then it could have been his weekend off. I also learnt with some satisfaction that our organization had decided to move its corporate account to another hotel chain.

Opportunity for Learning:

  •  Risks of Stereotyping

McShane, Olekalns and Travaglione (2010)  define stereotyping as a process of assigning traits to people on the basis of their membership in a social category. Harifey had stereotyped my colleagues and I as women and dismissed us as liars. This was of course unjustified, discriminatory and prejudicial behavior. Had Harifey not based his judgment on stereotype thinking and kept an open mind, he would have found out that we were respectable professional women not out to cheat him or his employer.  But his prejudice could easily have cost him his job and his employer’s reputation and ultimately business.

  • Customer Service and Emotions in the workplace

Two other related terms  come to mind that you will come across in the study of organizational behavior. They are emotional labour and emotional dissonance.  Emotional labour refers to the effort one has to make to make sure that s/he displays the emotions that are required by his/her workplace.    However, sometimes that might mean that you hide your true feelings. When your true emotions are in conflict with the emotions required by your workplace, that situation is one of emotional dissonance.  For instance, your organization requires that you wear a courteous smile  at all times when dealing with clients. But if you had a rough time at home and are in no mood to smile and come to work feeling angry, you are still required to make every effort to contain your anger and display the emotions required of you at work.

Perhaps the hotel that Harifey served needed to train its staff to display the required emotions, attitude and behavior no matter who the clients were and what experiences they may have had in the past.  Even if Harifey had reason to feel angry, he should have kept his true emotion contained and treated us with courtesy.

If they place a value on their brand name, those in the service industry in Papua New Guinea, or in any other country for that matter, will do well to train their employees in how to manage their emotions in the workplace. A case in point,  Malaysian Airlines is one company that places a great value in training its staff to always project the right emotions. In a highly competitive industry any leverage your company can get over your competition translates into a better bottom line.

Text consulted:

McShane, S. Olekalns, M. Travaglione, M. (2010). Organisational behavior on the pacific rim (3 ed.). Sydney: McGraw-Hill.

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Recruit and Induct or Risk Your Organization

Get the right people on the bus and in the right seats. Once you have the right people in place, figure out the path to greatness. (from “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t”  by Jim Collins).

The Test Case

It was his first chance to shine as new hire. But it would not have surprised if Cyril Humbling (not his real name) packed up and quit soon after entry.  Why did he almost come to grief on stage? Was it the anxiety of the moment on an unfamiliar space?   Was it over confidence in his ability? Was it a need of some key skill absent in his skills set? Or, was it that his leadership skills repertoire was for another time and place?

Many questions, but the scenario that played out in Cyril’s case involved key organizational players which included members of a high level governance board, the members of an organizational unit and the new executive director brought in externally to head a high value organizational division which served a high value clientele.  If enough of these clients were dissatisfied or frustrated by the service rendered, the organization risked digging a sizeable hole in its annual budget.

The division had been recently restructured.  It was hoped that the new head would inject the needed spark the division needed to reorient and consolidate as it understood and came to terms with its new place in the overall structure.

Cyril had barely stepped into his new role, arriving over the vacation period. It was scarcely a month before resumption of activities for the new year. This afforded him precious little time to get acquainted with his job and the makeup of team he would be providing leadership to.

Not surprisingly  the Board made no secret of its disappointment with the quality of the information presented by Cyril. The information was incomplete, worryingly flawed and provided in a context vacuum. Cyril stood to flounder as the board rejected large chunks of the information. Any one in his shoes would have found the experience unnerving if not highly embarrassing. The Board appeared sympathetic and placed some responsibility for the situation at the exiting leadership.

Opportunity for Learning

Such an experience as that which Cyril was subjected to provides an opportunity for learning both on the part of a new hire and on the organization.  The new hire needs to reflect on his skills set as a leader. The case should also serve an important reality check for the organization to reflect on its purpose and strategy.

For any organization, this case flags a number of organizational issues around recruitment and appointment that organizations will neglect at their own peril.  Neglecting these processes may lead to organizational dysfunction and financial risks.  Four issues are highlighted here:

1. Match between skills set and job expectations

It is important for the recruiting organization to ensure an alignment between a new hire’s skills set with the requirements of the job for which s/he has been recruited.  This provides the new hire with the best possible chance at success in his or her job.  An optimal match minimizes frustration and dysfunction and leads to better performance outcomes.

2. Importance of Induction into job and organization

A new appointee from outside the organization needs a period of transition and orientation into the new job during which time s/he is inducted into the role as well as into the organization’s purpose, core values, strategy, structure and process.

To neglect this is to recklessly place the organization at financial risk especially if a division is high value. The organization incurs both direct and indirect costs in the process of recruitment and appointment. There are direct costs involved in searches, recruitment and appointment, and the cost incurred for productivity losses, and costs for staff in terms of added workloads assumed between the time of search and hire. If as this case highlights, the division is high value to the organization, leadership induction is critical.

3. Impact on Performance

Expecting a new hire to immediately step into and perform to expected norms and standards serves neither the interest of the organization nor the new appointee.  It sets him or her up to fail.  Were the new hire your star recruit out of college, overwhelmed by sudden high expectations, s/he might exit the organization taking with him/her the potential value she/he would have added had the organization.

4. Appropriate leadership for team

Another factor that organizations need to bear in mind when selecting candidates for a leadership position is the appropriateness of leadership style of the candidate.  It is important for the new leader to understand the team, establish rapport and provide appropriate and effective leadership that motivates the team to achieve divisional and organizational goals.

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