National University of East Timor
The National University of East Timor (Portuguese: Universidade Nacional de Timor Lorosa'e; Tetum: Universidade Nasionál Timór Lorosa'e), based in the East Timorese capital Dili, is the major institution of higher education in East Timor.
Universitas Timor Timur
The university has its roots in the Universitas Timor Timur (UNTIM). UNTIM was private and 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 kilometers 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 Mário Viegas Carrascalão, then-Governor of Indonesian-occupied 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 traveled abroad for their tertiary education, largely to Indonesia. There were problems of language and often undergraduates were unable to meet overseas entry requirements.
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 centers (a teaching farm, an English-language center and a biology lab) and acquired up-to-date books, teaching materials and equipment for staff and students.
Cuba sent hundreds of medical instructors to the country, while preparing to receive many more East Timorese for training in Cuba.
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 East 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 a campus in Hera, close to the University’s Agriculture College. The Polytechnic provided Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Civil Construction and Accountancy.
Significant funding came from abroad to upgrade facilities and resources.
In September 1999 when the Indonesian military and 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 centers including the CNRT offices and student centers. 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 surviving the onslaught.
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 organized classes for tertiary students when no other education facilities were operational.
The East 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 organizations of the East Timorese civil society.
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 (Resistência 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 East Timorese students in Indonesia.
In 1997, Indonesian military opened fire at UNTIM, causing 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 were 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 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.
East Timor's new national university is seen as the country's hope for the future.
The new university
No funds had been budgeted for the university by UNTAET. Many of the former UNTIM and Polytechnic staff and students worked 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, the cabinet allocated $1.3US million to the university from East Timor’s education budget.
The new National University of Timor Lorosa'e (UNTL) is an amalgamation of the old UNTIM and Polytechnic. It has moved to the former Technical High School in central Dili. Buildings have been renovated by a local firm, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The 'Câmara Municipal Lisboa' (Lisbon Municipal Council) 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.
University opens for classes
The university opened for classes on November 27, 2000 — two months later than originally envisaged due to reconstruction activities and the lack of resources. Most of the buildings were being rebuilt. Few of the 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 here, 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 elsewhere. 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.
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 East 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, Accountancy, 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.
- Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa'e Official website