By Chris Shearer
13 December 2021
TO ACCESS internet at Papua New Guinea’s only Anglican theological college, the principal must climb a palm tree and hold his phone in the air.
It’s one of the many challenges facing Newton Theological College, as it prepares for major reforms in 2022 to bring it into line with new Papua New Guinea legislation.
Support from places such as Australia and New Zealand has long been vital for the organisation, as the Papua New Guinea church faces financial difficulties.
But Newton College Acting-Principal and former Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide Jeffrey Driver said the college had to keep going, for the sake of its committed students who lived on next to nothing while they studied.
Mr Driver will spearhead the charge to bring the college in line with Papua New Guinea’s educational reform legislation.
In order to secure accreditation from the Papua New Guinea government, the college will have to undergo a series of complex processes to demonstrate they have the capacity to offer qualifications. Mr Driver said these boiled down to three main areas:
- Showing the college has the infrastructure to support higher education, including the physical amenities, as well as governance, administrative and financial viability systems.
- Demonstrating staff are appropriately trained, staff are required to have a qualification at least one level higher than the qualification which they are teaching.
- Presenting a cohesive curriculum in line with the educational standards and outcomes as specified by the Papua New Guinea higher education board, which will also be peer reviewed by a similar tertiary institution.
Mr Driver said that in recent years the curriculum has been revamped to be almost in line with an Australian tertiary qualification, but with a Melanesian flavour.
He said the biggest challenges for the college would be improving the infrastructure and training of their staff.
“It’s a very big leap for Newton because Newton became quite run down,” he said.
“It is clear that we need to raise the college up in lots of ways.”
Mr Driver noted that some buildings had become dilapidated, the library catalogue had “collapsed”, and that the only way currently to access the internet was to “climb a palm tree and hold my mobile phone in the air”.
On top of this, former degree accreditor the Melanesian Association of Theological Schools, stopped being an accrediting organisation. Mr Driver said this meant Newton College had been issuing degrees with no external accreditation for some time, which was had “not been idea”.
He said help from countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom had been vital for the college, as Papua New Guinea’s Anglican Church faced its own financial difficulties.
“It’s not the ideal model in the long-term of course. It should be one of significant ownership by the local church,” Mr Driver said.
“In the meantime we just have to keep going for the sake of some incredibly committed and sacrificial students who go there and live on near nothing for three years.”
Mr Driver said there were several options available for how Newton could bring itself up to the new legislative code, but it would probably need to partner with other tertiary institutions.
He said he also could start mentoring local representatives through this process so that the college could build up its local foundations long-term.
“There is really no one at the moment in the PNG church who can do that sort of work,” he said.
“It’s a matter of me not taking away from the wonderful capacities that are there, but supplementing it with what can’t be provided internally.
“Because there’s no one there that can progress this stuff it’s just stalled. So I’ve got to get on the ground to have those conversations.”
Mr Driver said he hoped to return to Papua New Guinea in early 2022 to begin outlining the process, then return for a longer stretch later in the year, depending on border restrictions.
He said that anyone looking to support the college through this process could donate via Anglican Board of Mission, Anglican Aid Abroad, or funds set up by the Dioceses of Gippsland and Brisbane.
He said he was also looking for support for individual students at the college.
“We’re coming into a new year, and I’m looking for parishes and individuals to take a student under their wing, given that they won’t be funded most likely,” Mr Driver aid.
“It’s been a wonderful thing to see not just the financial result but also the relationship results [for the students].
“They think it’s terrific … it says to them that their brothers and sisters in Australia are thinking about them, and they take that pretty seriously in their culture.
“As a church we founded the Church in PNG. So they’re not only members of the same communion, they’re actually very close.”
To find out more about donations, visit: abmission.org/pages/papua-new-guinea-newton-theological-college-2021.html