University of Papua New Guinea School of Medicine & Health Sciences: “To Be Or Not To Be Stand Alone University? That Is The Question”.

Should the School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS) of the University of Papua New Guinea be a stand alone university?

Why ask this question?

The SMHS is on life support. It is struggling to survive, let alone do its functions effectively. The main issue here is funding. Adequate funding to improve infrastructure, improve staff remuneration packages, improve staff numbers. These things have not been addressed over many years by successive governments and now the SMHS is struggling. A recent World Bank report on the PNG health workforce showed PNG has an aging health workforce. PNG’s health training institutions are not producing enough to meet the growing needs of the population. UPNG SMHS is one such training institution. I believe if SMHS become a stand alone university, it will be able to attract adequate funds on its own. Currently, SMHS is competing for the same funds that rest of the schools within UPNG are also demanding. Mind you, they also need funding. Other schools within UPNG may have they own strategies, but for SMHS, we must be stand alone university.

If Vudal and Goroka can become stand alone university, why can’t SMHS? SMHS has the administration and curriculum in place. We need only to the change the legislation to make this happen!

Status Quo of SMHS

Currently, SMHS is competing for the same funds as other schools to run its programs annually. SMHS currently runs the medical degree program (its flagship program), nursing, medical imaging, pharmacy and medical laboratory sciences. Within each of these strands, there are various divisions which are further divided into disciplines. Take medicine for example. Medicine has: Division of basic medical sciences (anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology disciplines), Division of Pathology (Chemical pathology, anatomical pathology, medical microbiology, haemotalogy, immunology disciplines) and Division of Clinical Sciences (Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Anesthesiology disciplines) and Public Health Division (with its own disciplines). And on top of these you add nursing, medical imaging, pharmacy etc. And we are all competing for funds from national government through UPNG to operate every year. SMHS can not continue to operate in this manner. Change must take place.

SMHS has also not been given the national prominence it derserves in national building. It has been silently suffering and trying its very best.

Why the change?

SMHS stand alone university will send a clear message that this institution is vital for national building and is the national institution to consult on health training matters. The government must give the recognition it deserves.

There are various nursing, community health workers schools and other cardre of health worker training institutions being established in PNG. A stand alone SMHS university will set the minimum training standards and curriculum requirements. Its simply not possible to do under the current status quo. We can not expect the Ministry of higher education, science and technology to do this. A university must be mandated by the government to do this and assist the ministry.

Funding. A stand alone university with change of legislation will ensure direct funding from national government. SMHS do not have to fight for limited number of cake pieces with other schools within UPNG. A stand alone university will also attract direct research grants.

The future

If SMHS continue to be part of UPNG as a school, the problems its facing (infrastructure, staffing, etc) will not be solved. SMHS need to cut its umbilical cord and stand on its own two feet.



About rodney itaki

Medical doctor and public health specialist from Papua New Guinea.
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