In 1972 when this photo was taken, the forum at the University of Papua New Guinea was a much-used meeting place for students, as well as a kind of semi-open-air lecture hall for visiting speakers. I’m guessing that is still the case today. Traditions don’t change much – some not at all. What does immediately date this photo, however, is the makeup of the student body. There are about 150 students in the audience listening to a visitor spruiking his stuff, and only one of them is female.
In those days there was a definite female presence at the university, both among the staff and among the international post-grad students. It’s just that the PNG student body was overwhelmingly male. There was an equal number of girls graduating from PNG’s secondary schools but few of them were making it into higher education. There was an obvious reason for that. Tertiary education was expensive and cash-strapped parents favoured sending their sons to university, rather than their daughters.
Fast-forward 40 years and I’d probably struggle to recognize the university complex now with its huge student population. And while the female-to-male ratio at the university is still far from ideal, it’s much better than it used to be. I have read that funding for higher education in PNG is woefully inadequate and I don’t doubt the truth of that. From the outside looking in, though, UPNG is looking amazing. I hope it’s not an illusion.