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Limited Quotas In Tertiary Institution Fails Even the Qualified Students in PNG

Every year, about 20, 000 to 28, 000 students compete for 11, 000 spaces in tertiary institutions in Papua New Guinea (not counting non-school leavers or working class applying for undergraduate degree, and international – mostly other Pacific Islanders – applying to PNG institutions). Many students meet the requirement set by the universities, and even exceed them by large margins, but still miss out. To squeeze students into these limited spaces, the universities are raising the bar higher and higher, forcing out more and more qualified students as a result.

On Monday, I assisted a friend, who brought his nephew’s Grade 12 certificate and a screenshot of his choices. He scored an aggregate GPA (Grade Point Average) of 3.8 out of 4.0. His first choice was to study law at the University of Papua New Guinea’ Law School. His second choice was to study Political Science at the University of Papua New Guinea.

Minimum GPA for Law is 3.0, though one needs to score A or B for English (L&L) and Maths, and avoid getting a D grade for any of the subjects. Political Science entry requirement is even lower, at 2.75. With a GPA of 3.8, this kid was 0.8 points more than qualified to study Law, and 1. 3 points more than qualified to study politics (he was over qualified for both subjects).

He was not selected for either of his choices – Law & Politics, even though he exceeded the requirements. We first went to the law school and asked a senior law lecturer why he was not selected. His explanation was as follows:

The law school has quota or limit of 150 students in any given year. Of the 150 spaces, they must allocate a percentage to school leavers (those finishing Grade 12 the preceding year), a percentage to non-school leavers (those who have completed first degree either at UPNG or other tertiary institutions), and a percentage allocated to international students (usually other Pacific Islanders).

This year, they selected straight A students: that is, students with GPA of 4.0. Even after filling the quota with students with GPA of 4.0, there were still a large number of applicants with GPA of 4.0 who were left out. They were left out not because they were not qualified, but because the faculty does not have enough room to accommodate all the applicants who met the requirement to study law.

So how do they determine who gets selected and who misses out if both students qualify, or even qualify with exactly the same GPA, lets say 4.0.? First, remember the percentage allocated to school leavers, non-school leavers, and international students? Well, the applicants in each pool (percentage allocated to each group) compete among themselves. All school leavers compete for the school leavers sub-quota, which is about half (75 spaces). The non-school leavers and international students compete in their respective categories, which is the other 75 spaces divided among the two groups. Ideally, students with higher GPAs (4.0) gets selected ahead of my friend’s nephew (with a GPA of 3.8). Even then the guys with GPA of 4.0 cannot fit into their respective spaces because there are too many of them.

This is when the A(s) on your certificates are further grade into (A+) , (A) , and (A -) . There process is called Tertiary Selection Score. This method further classifies your grades into three sub-categories e.g. A minus (-A), A, and A plus (A+). If the norm referencing for English, or cut-off mark (set by the Measurement Services Unit) is that any grade above 70 marks is A, then the classifications would be as


-A: 70-80%

A: 81%-90

A+: 91%-100,

the three grades classified as ‘A’s are further are classified into sub- categories for selection purposes.

Okay, that explains why my friend’s nephew not getting into law, but why was he not selected for Political Science, his second choice? It is the same as the law problem. Politics, which has a quota of 30 (accepts 30 students every year), is way lower than Law quota of 150 (Politics is a discipline within Social Sciences and Humanities, whilst Law is a School of its own). Even though Politics has a minimum GPA requirement of 2.75, only students with straight A(s), GPA of 4.0 got selected because of limited spaces.

This UPNG case can be applied to all universities and tertiary institutions across the nation.

Because they use online selection, the students who do not get into tertiary institutions of their choice are automatically selected for course that they did not apply for, but have met the requirements. My friend’s nephew got selected to study a course at Divine Word University. He neither applied to study in DWU, let alone study the subject he is not selected to study. When students are selected for studies in other institutions or to study other subjects, they are usually selected ahead of students who actually applied to study the same course in that institution as their first choice. The former gets in because of higher GPA even though he did not apply for it. This means that students who have applied for that course, and have met the GPA miss out because their spaces are taken up by someone who did not apply for it at the first place.

Out hope now is to expand existing universities, and build new ones. There is always the debate about jobs. Where are the jobs when they graduate? Getting a job is not the goal, getting a net educated population is the goal. Having the highest per capita university graduate in the region should be our goal. With knowledge they can find their way in life.

This article was first published under the “Education” section of Academia_Nomad.

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Published by Academia Nomad

Blogs on politics, economics and social issues in simple language.

6 thoughts on “Limited Quotas In Tertiary Institution Fails Even the Qualified Students in PNG

  1. This situation should compel private citizens to run private institutions. But then again, there is no quality control on existing private institutions. The certificates they give is not even worth the value of the paper it is printed on.


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