Aug 19, 2017 Last Updated 2:11 PM, Jun 12, 2017

THE recent opening of a new campus in Kiribati by The University of the South Pacific (USP) has been described as the beginning of a new chapter in higher education in the country. President of Kiribati, His Excellency Anote Tong, said that, as a nation, there were high aspirations for USP Kiribati Campus. The new three storey campus building was opened by His Excellency in Tarawa on 3 November 2015.

“This building symbolises the commitment of Government and its partners – USP, ADB and all who have supported our endeavours for accessibility to higher level and quality education for the people of Kiribati. Not only that but it affirms USP’s commitment to continue to be a dynamic institution responsive to regional and global developments and challenges,” said President Tong.

The new campus was funded through an Asian Development Bank (ADB) soft loan of US$3.6m, for which USP is truly grateful. The building comprises four teaching rooms, lecture theatre, library, book shop, video-conference room, computer lab, science lab, an Atoll Research Centre, College of Foundation Studies and student academic services offices, flexible learning room and staff offices in the top two floors. The ground floor can be used as an additional study space by students.

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Without formal qualifications, Pacific Island workers can find themselves stalled on the career ladder. When work demands make it near impossible to study and attain qualifications – and the costs and accessibility of such opportunities are out of reach – it can become a demoralising cycle.

Recognising this, the Australia-Pacific Technical College (APTC) has sought partnerships with industry across its campus countries in Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to give more Pacific Islanders the opportunity to gain Australian-standard qualifications, enhancing their skills, career prospects and earning capacities.

Over 5800 men and women from 14 Pacific Island Countries have gained qualifications from APTC, taking back these skills to their workplaces, families and communities. An initiative funded by the Australian Government to deliver training and increase the supply of skilled workers in targeted sectors in the Pacific, APTC works with governments, educational institutions as well as private sector partners to ensure that the college meets labour market demands.

“APTC does not work in isolation,” says APTC CEO Denise O’Brien. “The success of our graduates and programmes is underpinned by the strong partnerships we have forged with the training institutions, employers and industries across the region.”

A Memorandum of Understanding between APTC and the University of the South Pacific, signed in March, will see the opening of new kitchen facilities and the Pacific Fusions training restaurant this month and the provision of Hospitality training at the university’s Laucala Campus in Suva. The APTC-USP partnership supports several of the University’s priority areas outlined in its Strategic Plan 2013-2018. 

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Trial model hailed a success in NSW

What should teachers do with students when suspension and poor report cards fail? Reporting problem kids to their parents may not work because often they are as clueless as the high school teachers in dealing with truancy and unacceptable behaviour, as schools with high Polynesian students intake in Sydney suburbs in the south and west regions have found out. Some schools with headache students have been plagued with such chronic problems for years. But a trial model of giving in to students’ expectations is turning plunders to wonders. Taken on as a challenge, a school principal began luring Polynesian truants back to school— thanks to sweet talk from community elders and professional footballers from Australian rugby league teams. Acting in desperation, Principal Neale Harris of the Georges River College’s Oatley and Peakhurst campuses in Sydney’s south-west took the bull by the horn. He summoned a staff meeting to seek support to change his school’s approach to suspending or failing students who were not attending regular classes. Teachers blamed cultural and language barriers for students becoming disengaged at school. Ethnic Polynesians accounted for 15 percent of its total student numbers and the general consensus among the school teachers was that education was not regarded as a priority with family members of this community. “Many family members never finished high school,” noted Harries.

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The University of the South Pacific is clearly making its mark in the development of the region across all aspects ranging from Education, Renewable Energy, Research, Pacific Cultures, Agriculture, Learning and Teaching and in Information Communication Technology. The USP’s most recent significant input was its participation at the United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), held from 1-4 September 2014 in Apia, Samoa.

A delegation from USP led by its ViceChancellor and President Professor Rajesh Chandra, took part in a number of significant Side and Parallel Events at the SIDS conference. In line with the Conference theme, “The sustainable development of Small Island Developing States through genuine and durable partnerships”, USP hosted two Side Events, on ‘ICT for Sustainable Development’ and ‘Culture and Development - Heritage and Creativity in SIDS.’ USP hosted a Parallel Event as well on ‘Agricultural Research for Sustainable Development and Intensification in Small Islands.’

The University participated in the Side Events organised by other agencies, which included the Ocean Policy Research Foundation (OPRF); Sustainable Energy for All: and Re-energising the Pacific and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). USP took part in the cultural performance at “Our Sea of Islands, Our Livelihoods, Our Oceania – The Pacific Ocean Alliance Event and in the Main Cultural Performances during the SIDS 2014 Opening Ceremony.

In addition, USP’s delegation was part of a function hosted by the National University of Samoa (NUS) for the Pacific Europe Network for Science, Technology and Innovation PACE-NET Plus consortium. The USP is a key partner in the PACENET Plus consortium, directly responsible for liaising with stakeholders from the Pacific Island countries.

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Affordability of university education in terms of fees and easy access are a key objective of three universities in the Pacific. Already, all three universities based in Fiji – the Fiji National University (formerly the Fiji Institute of Technology), University of Fiji (UOF) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) are reporting increasing student numbers due to affordable fees.

While not releasing any figures, FNU Vice Chancellor Dr Ganesh Chand says they have had a healthy increase in student numbers in all of their colleges and the national training and productivity centre. Projections are that enrolments would continue to increase in the next five to 10 years. “We have seen good growth with around 2000 enrolments this year compared with under a thousand 5 years ago. Staff levels are now around 150 and financial health is good,” says Professor Richard Coll, Vice Chancellor of UOF, whose main campus is located in Saweni, between Nadi International Airport and Lautoka City on the west coast of Fiji’s main island. Equally, the USP is reporting a swell in student enrolments.

Said Professor Rajesh Chandra, Vice Chancellor and President of the USP: “As early September 2014, enrolment had increased by six per cent over last year, and the commencing enrolment was up by four per cent.

The university now has a total of 28,165 students, as compared to the total enrolment for 2013 of 24,986. Back in September 2009, we had a total of 19,068 students.” For Professor Chandra, a strong appeal of the USP is the quality of its programmes. He says USP qualifications are recognised and highly regarded, making its graduates employable. “USP is a widely respected institution, with strong links to governments, other universities, and businesses.

Employers know of USP and trust that (its) graduates are capable, driven, open-minded, and have great English and ICT skills. Development partners also have confidence in the University. A growing USP Alumni Network also offers graduates access to job opportunities and insights into different markets and professions. We have over 44,000 alumni.” Smaller class sizes and personalised teaching sets UOF apart, according to Professor Coll. FNU on the other hand says apart from delivering on quality education, accessibility is one of their stronger points. 

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