After a few minutes with Charles Wapinien it becomes clear that economic research and policy formulation are fundamental to addressing complex national challenges and shaping Papua New Guinea’s future.
“Any issues, any challenges that a country, organisation or society faces are framed into policies,” Charles said enthusiastically.
“There are many areas within economics. My specific area is in research, specifically quantitative research to do with policies and socio-economic issues.”
The father of two, originally from East Sepik but a long-time resident of Port Moresby, has a good grounding in economics – as a student, teacher and practitioner.
“I have a background in economics from Grade 12 and my undergraduate program was a Bachelor of Economics,” he continued
“I was interested because I like maths and I’m good at maths!
“I worked with BSP for seven years and then taught economics at Port Moresby Grammar School.”
In 2017, while teaching, Charles saw an opportunity to go back to school himself through the new University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) post-graduate program in economic and public policy.
The program, offered as a Masters or Graduate Diploma, was designed and taught as a collaboration between the UPNG School of Business & Public Policy (SBPP) and the Australian National University (ANU).
Students are given the opportunity to develop their knowledge and ability to create and implement effective policy in the national interest.
The two-year Master of Economic and Public Policy had ‘Charles Wapinien’ written all over it and he wasted no time in signing up.
The degree program gave Charles an academic platform to boost his skills in economic and public policy analysis in a way that he could apply in the workplace.
“The learning is critical to understanding concepts and theories, and applying them to practical scenarios,” he said.
“Zooming down on the specifics of economics, I’m very interested in quantitative modelling – that’s what I worked towards in my final research paper.”
Charles also spoke highly of the UPNG-ANU connection – an institutional link supported by the Papua New Guinea – Australia Partnership through the Pacific Leadership and Governance Precinct.
“The ANU lecturers and their UPNG counterparts motivate the whole study process,” he said.
“People like [UPNG SBPP deputy dean] Dr Lawrence Sause and my supervisor [ANU team leader] Dr Manoj Pandey – these people are my real inspirations.
Dr Manoj Pandey, ANU team leader and economics lecturer, has worked as part of the UPNG School of Business & Public Policy team since 2016.
He reiterated that economics and public policy are vital disciplines and was certain the students have all the tools needed to make a big contribution regardless of the path they take.
“They will definitely play a major role in developing PNG,” Dr Pandey said.
“Economics is important for every country and public policy is one of the pillars for development.”
After two-and-a-half years of hard work – classes, discussion and research – Charles Wapinien was at the centre of an historic moment as the first-ever recipient of the degree at the 63rd UPNG Graduation Ceremony.
“It was a milestone achievement not only for me but for my family as well,” Charles said, reflecting on the day, “a great feeling especially considering that there were a lot of sacrifices undertaken.”
His mentor Dr Pandey was similarly delighted to be present as Charles graduated, along with a cohort of undergraduate economics students.
“Charles is the first Master of Economic and Public Policy graduate – it was wonderful to see,” he said.
“You work with the students for a few years, then suddenly they’re in a colourful gown, degree in hand – for any lecturer it’s always a pleasure to see them graduated.”
UPNG’s School of Business & Public Policy is currently taking applications for the 2020 Graduate Diploma of Economic and Public Policy, which is a precursor to the full master’s program.
It was also announced recently that ten scholarships places will be awarded to middle and senior managers in the PNG public service, whose work focuses on economic management and government policy formulation.
The places are supported the Pacific Leadership and Governance Precinct, a partnership between the Papua New Guinean and Australian Governments supporting the development of public sector leadership in PNG.
Charles has already made good use of his skills as the research manager at Anglo Pacific Research. He encouraged others to take up the program and predicted he too will return to university.
“I give my encouragement to those interested to take it up,” he said, ““down the track, I’m looking at a PhD.”
“The skills and knowledge I learned are very important for the country as a whole. Doors are opening and I am here to contribute to development.”