In honoring requests from the government of Vanuatu and in line with its strategic plan the University of the South Pacific on 16th October 2014 opened one more center in the northern part of the country. The center which now brings the total in Vanuatu to 4 outside of Emalus campus is located on Sola, the administrative headquarter of the Torba province. Following the signing of a MoA between USP and the Torba provincial government in 2013 a building belonging to the Arep Junior Secondary School was made available to USP for use as a center. Renovations on the premises were undertaken in early 2014. The center comprises an office for the Coordinator, a small computer lab, classroom and toilet facilities.
The opening was much to the delight of the residents of Sola and neighboring island communities. Some 300 people including students witnessed the official opening. Among guests at the opening were the Hon Bob Loughman, Vanuatu Minister for Education and Training; Dr Giulio Massaso Paunga, USP Vice President (Regional Campuses and Property and Facilities); His Excellency Jeremy Bruer, the Australian High Commissioner to Vanuatu; the President of the Torba provincial government; senior officials from the Vanuatu Ministry of Education and the Australian DFAT and also staff of the AusAID funded TVET program. In fact the Torba province witnessed the opening not only of the USP center but also a TVET center, both ceremonies happening one after the other. USP was privileged to share costs and logistical arrangements with the TVET/DFAT.
Following the arrival of dignitaries everyone assembled at the USP center for the flag raising ceremony and speeches. The first of 3 speeches was presented by the Secretary General of the Torba provincial government Mrs Ketty Napuatt. She thanked the government and USP for facilitating these additional opportunities for the young generations. Having the opening of the USP and TVET centers on the same day is a "double blessing for the province", she exclaimed. She informed that both developments have been long awaited. She added that USP will support on bridging courses for TVET.
In his address Vice President Dr Paunga noted that USP has enjoyed much progress in Vanuatu and indeed regionally, because of the strong support received from the Vanuatu government. We would therefore like to "reaffirm our commitment to supporting efforts in education and training in Vanuatu", he said. Today we "congratulate the government of Vanuatu and the Torba provincial government for choosing to host a USP center at Sola" Dr Paunga continued. He remarked that a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) was signed between USP and the Torba provincial government in 2013, enabling the establishment of the center at the Arep school. He also requested that the school, provincial and community leaders give the support necessary to the center.
Apart from Emalus campus this opening now brings USP centers in Vanuatu to 4. The Vice President explains that the university is mindful of the many challenges ahead. He stressed that "we can all agree that having a center is one thing. Operating at its optimum level and accommodating the needs of every student is quite another".
He acknowledged that for the Torba center there are some difficulties as we are still not able to have internet connectivity. "We will need the best possible in terms of connecting our center to the USP ICT network and to rest of the world. It is our sincere hope that students are able to interact with the campus in Port Vila and lecturers and others in Suva", Dr Paunga stressed.
Articulating the need for continued government support, Vice President Paunga reiterated that USP is here to serve in the interest of the people of Vanuatu, so perhaps it is high time that the government considers linking the provincial centers also to the e-government network. He explains that this if done, "could easily allow us to do away with the limitations of satellite technology". Dr Paunga remarked further that USP has made request to the government to facilitate its access to larger bandwidth through the link that Vanuatu now has through the Southern Cross cable, explaining that "USP is doing its best but will also need the support of stakeholders if we are to give Vanuatu students a more rewarding learning experience".
In making the point that USP responds to government priorities Dr Paunga observed that the opening of the center now also fulfills a request made in December 2013 by the then-Hon Prime Minister Moana Kalosil, that USP have presence in all provinces. We are pleased to say that "USP is now honoring this request in favor of the Torba people", adding that the opening of the TVET center in Sola will also enable students pursue vocational pathways. "We should now be able to deliver these here along with our regular pre-degree and degree courses", he explained.
Seizing the unique opportunity where the Australian High Commissioner to Vanuatu was also present Dr Paunga extended USP's sincere appreciation to the government and people of Australia for their increasing support to the University of the South Pacific. He remarked that "assistance you provide goes a long way in delivering quality education through the USP networks in the region. Today we are witnessing yet another achievement that is made possible through productive and genuine partnerships". He stressed that "this partnership is crucial to the successful implementation of the USP Strategic Plan 2013-2018, and in enhancing USPís service delivery in the region.
Prior to declaring the official opening of the center the Hon Bob Loughman thanked the Torba provincial authorities for the commitment demonstrated and enabling USP and the Australian government to set up the centers. The Minister thanked USP for such a the positive response, requesting that the Vice President relay government's gratitude to the offices of the Vice Chancellor and Pro Chancellor. "Thank you for opening a fourth center in Vanuatu. USP is and will continue to be Vanuatu's university", Minister Loughman assured.
The Minister echoed the sentiments of Vice President Paunga. He stressed "it is crucial we ensure that centers deliver fully". Getting the required connectivity to centers is a must. He went further to reaffirm that "Government priority is in education and we will make sure human resources development is prioritized". The Minister observed that the Torba people are very creative. "Creativity is something you already have. This USP center is here to now help you develop your mind. You have to be proud of this center", Minister Loughman remarked.
Minister Loughman also urged the people of Torba province to continue to help in the education of their children. He emphasized further that "it is hard to build something like this center but easy to destroy a good effort". He urged everyone to care for and protect what they now have.
Vice President Paunga spent the week in Vanuatu where he also met staff. This was his first trip there since joining USP.