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PNG Student studying emerging technologies
Photo ©Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Australia Awards alumni integral to PNG’s emerging technology sector

Research 7 minute read

The Australian Government considers supporting a stable and prosperous PNG as one of its most important foreign policy objectives. Australia Awards alumni are supporting that goal, research finds.

Scholarships have been a cornerstone of Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea (PNG) since the country gained independence in 1975. In offering scholarships for applicants to undertake study, research and professional development in Australia, it is intended that alumni return to their countries endowed with the skills and knowledge to make significant contributions.

In 2016, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) commissioned the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) to investigate the long-term outcomes of these scholarship programs through an Australia Awards Global Tracer Facility. The Facility’s latest case study focuses on eight alumni from PNG who studied in Australia between 1996 and 2005.

PNG has the goal of becoming a strong, dynamic and competitive economy, and, with the knowledge, skills and influence of Australia Awards alumni, is on its way to achieving that goal. The alumni in this case study returned from Australia armed with qualifications in data communications, applied science, information technology and engineering sciences, and equipped with highly sought-after technical knowledge, valuable English language skills and an understanding of the cultural differences between Australia and PNG.

Although alumni were highly employable across a number of sectors and ready to make an impact on the technology sector in particular, it has not always been straightforward for alumni to put their learning into practice in PNG. The information technology sector in PNG was still in its infancy at the time they completed their scholarships: it was small, limited by older technology and mainly centred in the National Capital District.

Today, PNG continues to have the lowest information technology penetration rates in the world and the country’s remoteness impacts employment opportunities. Alumni have experienced a lack of opportunities and resources, underfunding and the difficulties imposed by the high cost of equipment. Despite these ongoing setbacks, the case study reveals that Australia Awards alumni have been extremely powerful in a personal capacity, holding senior positions in government, academia and private sector organisations and have had a strong influence on public opinion and the actions of others.

Gender inequality is a known barrier for women in all spheres of life in PNG. Australia Awards alumni are actively advocating for gender equality within their workplaces and local communities. Two alumni are working to promote women’s economic empowerment in their communities.

Ms Annuncia Kokiai has funded the establishment of a cocoa plantation in her home province to help locals earn an income and support their basic needs. She is working with women and young people by teaching them financial literacy skills. ‘For them, it’s day-to-day subsistence. They don’t look at [the] long term. [There is] no savings culture.’ Ms Lulu Kuso is part of the Reliance Group at her university, which helps unemployed women with economic opportunities such as helping to sell their produce at the market.

The Government of PNG understands that an overhaul of its education sector is necessary to prepare the country for growth and development. It has the lowest level of schooling achieved by adults in the Pacific. In the higher education sector, alumni are supporting PNG to achieve its goal of increasing the number of higher education graduates from 6500 a year to 17 500 by 2030.

Mr Martin Daniel, Dr Joseph Suwamaru, Ms Regina Kiele and Ms Zillar Miro are four alumni providing education leadership and technical training to upskill the PNG workforce. In 2017, Dr Suwamaru built and designed the Autonomous Region of Bougainville’s first college, the Oceania Skills Training College, which conducts research in alternative energy, climate change, information and communications technologies, and development. Ms Miro is the Training Supervisor for ExxonMobil PNG Limited, which operates the PNG Liquefied National Gas Project. She oversees the training of operations and maintenance technicians in the field.

Environmental sustainability is a key strategic priority of the Government of PNG. Alumni have been involved with national development objectives related to empowering citizens adapting to climate change, providing efficient service delivery and transparency. Their contributions have had an impact at an organisation, national and regional level.

Alumnus Dr Suwamaru has made leading contributions to PNG and the wider Pacific’s understanding of climate change and disaster risk reduction. He is a leading contributor to debates and strategy about the role of ICT in climate mitigation and adaptation.

Another alumna, Ms Kiele, is using the geographic information skills that she gained on award to support PNG’s climate change efforts and environmental development efforts. Similarly, Mr John Muketit, acting ICT Manager for the National Fisheries Authority, has had a substantial influence on the sector in implementing strategies to create a sustainable and profitable fisheries sector. He says that the greatest benefit of the scholarship is that it develops people like himself to come back home and contribute to the development of the country.

Find out more:
To read the full Papua New Guinea case study, by Adeola Monty and Yung Nietschke, visit the Australia Awards Global Tracer Facility website.

For further information about the Australia Awards, visit the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

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