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Good and bad aid: A comparison between two universities in the South Pacific

The University of the South Pacific ... "good" aid model. Image: Devpolicy

Scott MacWilliam

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

MacWilliam, Scott (2014). Good and bad aid: A comparison between two universities in the South Pacific. A paper presented at a research seminar in the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Programmme at the Australian National University on 11 March 2014. Paper published on PMC online:


The University of the South Pacific stands at perhaps the most crucial crossroads in its 41-year history. It faces the call for increased provision of higher education for a region in which the participation rate in higher education is about one quarter of what is deemed adequate to be competitive in an increasingly globalised society and at the same time is being asked to improve its quality, relevance and sustainability.

- USP Strategic Plan 2010-2012, Vice Chancellor’s Foreword, p. 2.

Limit expansion of State-funded places at State universities to 3-4 per cent per year for the next decade, just above the rate of population growth, while the quality base is being rebuilt. There can be faster return to growth if high quality standards are being met, and there can be supplementary growth from private universities.

- PNG Universities Report to Prime Ministers Somare and Rudd,  May 2010 – popularly known as the Garnaut - Namaliu Report, Recommendation 1, p.1 .

THIS ESSAY, and the research which preceded it, is driven by a puzzle that is neatly embodied in the two quotations presented above. Why is the University of the South Pacific of such a quality that Vice-Chancellor and President Rajesh Chandra can speak ambitiously of the institution’s importance for raising the proportion of people in the region who attend university from its current comparatively low level?

Conversely, why do a senior Australian academic economist and a former PNG Prime Minister have to prioritise rebuilding quality and limiting enrolment increases to little more than population growth at PNG’s public universities?

In more direct and directly comparative language, why has the USP continued to be an internationally reputable university, while UPNG, the country’s most important university, has reached a state of near collapse?

About the author

PMC profile photograph

Scott MacWilliam

PMC contributor

Dr Scott MacWilliam is a visiting fellow in the State Society and Governance Program in Melanesia at Australian National University.