UNTL: Print Version
History of the Tertiary Education Sector in East Timor
This brief history profiles the former University (UNTIM), the Polytechnic, their libraries, student activities and the new University (UNTL).
The Former University - UNTIM
The Universitas Timor Timur (UNTIM) was a private university, the only university in East Timor. It was housed in a small complex of interlinked buildings opposite the Public Library in Dili. UNTIM’s Agriculture College was located in Hera, a small village in the hills six kilometres East of Dili.
There was no university under the Portuguese, who ruled East Timor until 1975. A handful of students studied in Portugal and later formed the core of the nationalist movement that emerged in the mid 1970s.
The establishment of the university in 1986, under Indonesian rule, was made possible through the efforts of Mario Viegas Carrascalao, a former Governor of East Timor, and the Loro Sae Foundation.
The University existed largely to train middle-level administrators, agricultural extension workers and secondary school teachers. It was not a research institution and critical and analytical thought was not encouraged. Professional courses such as architecture, law and medicine were not taught. The study of English was carefully controlled and international contacts discouraged. Only a tiny minority used computers. Indonesian history was taught, but little about other countries in the region.
Aid for tertiary education was largely for scholarships in East Timor and abroad, rather than improving overall teacher training or curriculum. Many students travelled abroad for their tertiary education, largely to Indonesia. There were problems of language and often undergraduates were unable to meet overseas entry requirements.
By 1998/99 UNTIM had nearly 4,000 students, with 73 permanent teaching staff, in three main faculties - Agriculture, Social & Political Sciences and Education & Teacher Training.
In 1995-98, at a time of escalating instability in East Timor and Indonesia, Georgetown University and USAID established the first international assistance project for UNTIM. The project involved developing staff teaching and management skills and improving curriculum. It established three new student resource centres (a teaching farm, an English-language centre and a biology lab) and acquired up-to-date books, teaching materials, and equipment for staff and students.
In April 1999 the Indonesian government effectively closed UNTIM in response to mass demonstrations demanding a referendum. Immediately following the announcement of the ballot by the UN, most students and the few Timorese lecturers returned to their villages to campaign for independence, while the Indonesian lecturers returned to their home islands.
Technical courses were based in a building in Becora, next to the Senior High School of Economics, and at the campus in Hera, close to the University’s Agriculture College. The Polytechnic provided courses in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Civil Construction and Accountancy.
Significant funding came from abroad to upgrade facilities and resources.
The UNTIM & Polytechnic Libraries
The current UNTL Library collection and facilities are already far superior to those of UNTIM (Universitas Timor Timur) under the Indonesians.
The UNTIM Library collection of 7,000 books was housed in a large closed access room with an attached reading room.
There were three small branch libraries – Politics and Education in Dili, and Agriculture in Hera (for the practical years of the course). Each had a collection of approximately 400 books.
The UNTIM Library had 5 staff members. As UNTIM was independent, all library staff were East Timorese. The UNTIM educated Head Librarian had 6 months of library training in Indonesia. The other staff included 2 cataloguers and 2 circulation staff, all Senior High School graduates.
The Polytechnic Library in Hera was considerable with 20,000 books.
It provided resources for the Engineering School (mechanical, civil & electrical) and for Accountancy and Business Administration. The relative wealth of the Polytechnic and its library was due to international aid from Germany, Australia & Japan.
The Polytechnic Library had 9 staff. Library staff included the Head Librarian, 2 cataloguers, 3 circulation staff, 1 for training people in the use of the computer catalogue, 1 in Inventory and 1 security officer. One of the two Indonesians on staff (the Head Librarian and a general staff member) went to Australia for 6 months training.
The new UNTL Library has only 9 staff members (4 librarians, 4 assistants and 1 security officer). The former UNTIM and Polytechnic Libraries had a total of 14 library staff. The small UNTL Library team is building a new, much larger and more complex library service than previously available at either institution.
In September 1999 when the Indonesian military and their militia rampaged through East Timor destroying vital infrastructure, the education system was a major target for destruction. This was known as the Scorched Earth Operation.
The first buildings to be razed were resistance centres including the CNRT offices and student centres. Then the schools, colleges and the university were destroyed. Ninety-five per cent of school buildings in East Timor were destroyed. The UNTIM and Polytechnic buildings in Dili and in Hera, as well as the Nurses Institute, were looted, smashed and burnt with little but walls surviving the onslaught.
Destruction of the UNTIM & Polytechnic Libraries
In June 1999, some months before the violence erupted, a large collection of UNTIM Library books was removed by an Indonesian academic and has reputedly been incorporated into the Protestant Library in Kupang. This included the valuable English collection. Details remain sketchy, although there have been some unsuccessful attempts at negotiating their return.
Some books and battered wooden bookshelves survived the destruction of the main campus as the result of student efforts to save surviving UNTIM Library resources. They were jammed into a small barricaded room along with some sports trophies and graduation gowns, sashes and mortar boards, and carefully protected.
About 45 boxes of largely dated books and student theses survived. Some books were charred or melted around the edges. There were bullet holes in a couple of bookshelves.
All the small specialist UNTIM libraries in Dili were completely destroyed.
The Polytechnic and Agriculture College in Hera (a small village just outside Dili) were both gutted. The Polytechnic Library and the small Agriculture Library were completely destroyed.
University students fanned across the country before the referendum in 1999 to work for the vote for independence, many being killed in the violence that followed. After the destruction students again went to regional areas to teach classes in burnt out buildings to keep the children learning and the schools open. They also organised classes for tertiary students when no other education facilities were operational.
The Timorese student associations that had been formed on the UNTIM campus and within Indonesia (ETSSC, IMPETTU and RENETIL) became the mainstay of the pro-independence campaign for the ballot and continued to be active afterwards.
They have become key organisations of Timorese civil society and many individuals active in these organisations now hold senior government positions.
East Timorese students and academics played a vital role in the clandestine resistance. Many were subject to torture, arbitrary arrest, disappearance, rape and murder. Some joined the Falintil armed forces in the mountains.
A clandestine student organisation was formed in 1997 (the East Timor Youth Solidarity Organization - OSK-TL) to encourage non-violent resistance against Indonesian occupation.
RENETIL (Resistencia Nacional Dos Estudantes De Timor Leste) began as an organization of East Timorese students attending universities in Indonesia in 1988. Its work organizing the resistance led to many of its leaders being jailed. While RENETIL was clandestine, IMPETTU was a legal organisation for Timorese students in Indonesia.
In 1997, Indonesian military opened fire at UNTIM caused damage to the university building and wounding some students. Many were arrested. Students began to speak up, writing protest letters to the UN and the International community demanding an independent investigation.
In June 1998, 17 days after Soeharto resigned, the East Timor Students Solidarity Council (ETSSC) was formed as an open body representing the views of UNTIM students, academics and high school students. ETSSC focused on empowering ordinary East Timorese in political and community development. The Council organised public meetings, demonstrations and dialogues.
When the UN mission arrived in East Timor in mid 1999, the Students Solidarity Council set up regional offices in all of East Timor’s thirteen regions. Over 3,000 students established regional education centres and disseminated information about human rights and conducted voter education, often in areas too remote to be reached by the United Nations. Many ETSSC students where attacked and at times killed by Indonesian military and pro-integration militia.
Since the ballot and the devastation in 1999, members have been involved in various community activities including teaching in primary schools, providing capacity building workshops and community study groups, and rebuilding secondary schools. ETSSC’s Student Resource Centre (SRC) provided language and computer skills training, Tetum training for NGO workers, social, cultural and environmental research and media monitoring projects for the many tertiary students who had their education interrupted.
ETSSC, IMPETTU and RENETIL continue to work to secure a democratic future for East Timor through education and training, community development, participation in the election process and other nation building programs.
Post Independence - A New Beginning
East Timor's new national university is seen as the country's hope for the future.
The New University - Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosae (UNTL)
Its existence is an amazing accomplishment. No funds had been budgeted for the University by UNTAET. Many of the former UNTIM and Polytechnic staff and students worked hard for a year with no pay to establish the University.
Tight planning and active lobbying of donors by Dr Armindo Maia (acting Rector and now Minister for Education, Youth and Cultural Affairs) and the then Minister for Education, Father Filomeno Jacob, meant that the new University, despite its serious lack of resources, was able to commence teaching classes for 5,000 students and 1,500 bridging course students in November 2000.
In September 2000, cabinet allocated $1.3US million to the University from East Timor’s education budget.
The new National University of Timor Lorosae (UNTL) is an amalgamation of the old UNTIM and Polytechnic. The University has moved to the former Technical High School in central Dili. A number of buildings have been renovated by a local firm, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Camara Municipal Lisboa funded and renovated the Faculty Of Education And Economics buildings. The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Japanese government are assisting the rebuilding of the agricultural campus and engineering school at Hera.
Many bilateral donors have preferred to fund scholarships for East Timorese in their own countries or to fund short course training offered by the Civil Service Academy for public servants already employed by the Transitional Administration.
The University opens for classes
The University opened for classes on Nov 27th, 2000 - two months later than originally envisaged due to continuing reconstruction work and the lack of resources. Most of the buildings were still being rebuilt. Few of the available classrooms had any furniture. There were virtually no teaching or curriculum resources for the newly appointed teaching staff. There was no accessible library, no administrative infrastructure, no phone network, no IT system, no Internet, no photocopiers, no fax machines, no audio-visual equipment or other basic teaching equipment. When the University opened, each faculty shared a bare classroom with a few old tables and chairs and a single secondhand computer.
Many teaching staff had returned, giving up posts or studies abroad and turned down lucrative jobs in administration, to teach at the University with no guarantee of income. Most are new to university teaching and are in need of professional training in course development, assessment, research methods, teaching styles and course administration.
Some staff resigned to take up positions elesewhere. The Rector Armindo Maia is now the Minister for Education, Culture Youth & Sports. The Head of the Political Science Faculty, Vicente Faria is now a member of the National Parliament. Others have taken up government positions. All hands are needed on deck.
Teaching and Research
There are five faculties – Agriculture, Political Science, Economics, Education & Teacher Training and Engineering. New students study a generalist course including human rights, ethics, philosophy of science and Timorese history.
The National Research Center and Institute of Linguistics were opened in July 2001. The Research Centre will support the work of the University faculties. The new national university needs to attract support for research activities to address many of the problems facing East Timor. The National Institute of Linguistics will promote the development of the Tetum language.
An Institute for English language training will be introduced over the next few years.
Long-term planning includes the development of a number of other faculties and courses, including Health Sciences, Legal Studies, Media & Communications, Fisheries, Architecture, Physics, Chemistry and Timor Studies.
The bridging courses include studies in English, Portuguese, computing, philosophy and the history of East Timor – they are seen as a way of overcoming the poor quality of secondary education under the Indonesians and the interrupted education of students involved in preparations for the independence ballot and the effective shut down of the education system in 1999 and 2000.
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