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No help for shutout students

Thursday 26 May 2016 | Published in Regional

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PAPUA NEW GUINEA – There is no money to help students being evicted from the University of Papua New Guinea to return home to their provinces, according to the Higher Education Minister.

Malakai Tabar’s comment comes after the UPNG suspended the first semester and gave about 4000 students occupying its campuses 48 hours to leave.

For almost four weeks they’ve boycotted their classes while demanding that Prime Minister Peter O’Neill stand aside and face police questioning over an alleged fraud case.

Student leaders are demanding that the university flies them home as most stay in dormitories on the campus.

But Tabar indicated they’re on their own.

“We don’t have any money to send anybody home. If they want to go home, they go home on their own,” he said.

The minister urged students to allow the university to resume normal business.

“You have to be around when the university calls you up for re-enrolment. If you’re not there and you don’t enrol, you’ve made yourself unavailable, you’ve lost your scholarship. End of the story.”

Tabar said the students boycotts had brought complications to the whole university system and that staff were trying their best to prevent the whole academic year becoming a write-off.

“The university and the administration of the university needs to organise itself to save the semester,” the minister said, urging students to opt for a return to class in order to salvage the academic year.

“If nothing is done within the next few weeks, we can forget the whole year – that’s the issue.”

Meanwhile, a student leader warned that police may use force to evict protesting students.

Hercules Jim said the majority of students lived in dormitories on the campuses and would have nowhere to go if they were forced onto the streets of Port Moresby.

“Police will obviously move in. But we have contained the situation without any violence without any harm and without the destruction of any properties,” he said.

“And now they are trying to break it off within 48 hours without giving us the tickets or whatever things we need to travel home because the students have their belongings with them in their rooms. You cannot just send students in the streets.”

Hercules Jim said the students’ protest had reached a point where they could not back down.

However, Prime Minister O’Neill has also been clear in his response to the students’ demands that he will not resign, as matters they are protesting about are still before the courts.

O’Neill has appealed to the University of Papua New Guinea Council to consider creating an opportunity to allow students who genuinely want to complete their studies this semester.

O’Neill’s appeal comes amidst parents earnestly begging him on a radio talkback programme to make concessions and give their children a second chance at University education.

“I understand that this is a suspension of the semester, and that the university is not closed.

“The UPNG Senate and administration made a decision based on the situation on campus over recent weeks,” O’Neill said.

“I appeal to the university to consider creating the opportunity to allow students who genuinely want to complete their studies this semester to complete their semester.

Some parents in the New Guinea islands and southern regions are now looking at legal options to take against the student Representative Council and others for jeopardising the “education of their innocent children”.

A group of disheartened parents turned up at the studio of radio station FM100 at Four-Mile yesterday attempting to force a meeting with Prime Minister O’Neill.

The parents were unable to meet the PM but told the Post-Courier that their children were innocently victimised.

And they pleaded that all those in charge of the protest, boycott and now the suspension of the first semester of the university year should come out and advise how to help the parents who self-sponsored their children.

Elaine Misikaram, a single mother said: “My daughter is privately sponsored and a first year student and I am a single parent who has sacrificed so much for her.”

“We don’t want to touch on the politics side of things, let the leaders deal with it, all we are worried about is the education of our children,”a couple from the Highlands who have two children attending UPNG said.

The parents said they had constantly been in touch with their children over the boycott period reminding them of their purpose to be there and begging them to return to classes.

- PNC sources