The Hon Christopher Pyne MP Minister for Education and Training Leader of the House Member for Sturt - Speech at the University of the South Pacific Laucala Bay Campus: Regional cooperation through education mobility Suva, Fiji 12:30 PM 31 August 2015
Good afternoon and thank you Professor Chandra for this opportunity to address your staff and students. I would like to acknowledge the presence of:
• Professor Rajesh Chandra, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of the South Pacific
• Representatives of the Fiji Ministry of Education
• Professor Ian Rouse, Acting Vice-Chancellor of Fiji National University
• Ms Denise O’Brien, Chief Executive Officer of the Australia-Pacific Technical College
• Members of the USP Council
• Members of the USP Senior Leadership Team
• Her Excellency Ms Margaret Twomey, Australia’s High Commissioner to Fiji, and your staff from the high commission
• Staff and students
Thank you for being here today.
This is my first visit to the South Pacific as the Australian Government Minister for Education and Training and it is a privilege to speak at the University of the South Pacific — one of the region’s leading providers of quality higher education.
I am particularly pleased to announce today a new name for this lecture theatre complex.
Constructed with Australia’s assistance, and officially opened by former Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer in 1998, this lecture theatre complex is just one of the many examples of Australia’s long history of support to Fiji and the region in the education sector.
History of relationship
Australia places a special value on its close historical, political, economic, aid and community links with the island countries and territories of the Pacific, and is committed to playing an active and constructive role in this region.
Some might say that the strength of this commitment is reflected in our development support for sustainable economic and social development through bilateral and regional programs; defense cooperation; shared maritime resources and significant trade and commercial interests in the region. It sounds quite dry.
I am thinking there is much more to our history and relationship – being about the people and how we relate to each other. We share historical ties with the United Kingdom through voyages of discovery and naming by Captain James Cook and being part of the Commonwealth, to sharing a passion for sport with a love of rugby (union), test cricket, netball and the Commonwealth Games.
Australia’s ties with Pacific countries are deep and enduring. There are currently 210,000 Australians who are Pacific island born. It goes without saying that the various cultures of Pacific nations are a fundamental part of the rich cultural tapestry of Australian life.
From my home town of Adelaide, I can recall your David Rodan, born in Lami (near Suva), who played AFL for Port Adelaide. And as much as I am a supporter of their rivals, Adelaide Crows, he did a great job for Port Adelaide. Being excellent at sport, like education, takes commitment. And what always impresses me is how often our great athletes and scholars thank their families, coaches and role models who have inspired them to achieve their dreams.
As I go on to describe Australia’s involvement in the Pacific and our support for Fiji and the University of the South Pacific, I want to bring to the forefront of our minds how all these activities are underpinned by the people to people relationships and those who inspire us to strive to do more.
Australia’s commitment to USP
Australia has supported the University of the South Pacific (USP) since it was established in 1968. It is one of only two regional universities in the world.
Owned by its 12 member countries, it is uniquely placed to provide quality higher education and promote economic growth and development across the Pacific.
I am proud that Australia assisted USP’s first cohort of 32 students in 1971 to graduate. Since then more than 40,000 students have successfully completed their studies.
Australia is committed to working closely with USP to allow more students to gain valued qualifications here and assist in building on the university’s already fine reputation as an esteemed centre of learning in the South Pacific.
That’s why last year, the Australian Government signed a new partnership, committing $49 million from 2013–14 to 2016–17, to assist USP to progress the reforms set out in its 2013–18 strategic plan.
Alongside this financial assistance, Australia has also supported the appointment of two eminent Australians to serve as representatives on the University Council and the University Grants Committee.
Former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, Professor Janice Reid is our Council representative. This year, Professor Reid was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in recognition of her contributions in Australia and internationally in the fields of higher education and health.
University of Western Sydney Vice-Chancellor Professor Barney Glover is our representative to the University Grants Committee and attended his first meeting here in Suva in July. I know that both these representatives will bring a wealth of experience to their roles.
The Australian Government places a high priority on quality education. I am very pleased to see the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between USP and the Australian National University in August this year, which paves the way for more staff and student exchanges and joint research projects between the two institutions. I understand that USP’s vision of excellence is to transform USP from being a good to excellent university by its 50th anniversary in 2018.
Australia is home to some of the world’s best universities and almost half of our universities rank in the world’s top 500 according the Times Higher Education World Rankings 2014-15. I certainly hope that the excellence of Australia’s universities can provide some inspiration and practical measures of support for that vision.
The agreement we have with USP outlines similar priorities that the Australian Government has for Australian education institutions across tertiary education:
- To provide access to and improved outcomes from high quality, internationally recognised tertiary education and research;
- To improve the equity of student experiences across all campuses, leadership in ICT development, collaboration between institutions; and produce and disseminate research relevant to national policy makers
- To enhance organisational capabilities and robust performance assessment and reporting.
That year of USP’s 50th anniversary, 2018, will be a landmark year, not only for the University, but also for Fiji to showcase itself to the world.
I understand that Fiji’s bid to host the 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) has been welcomed by the Commonwealth Secretary General, His Excellency, Kamalesh Sharma, as announced in Nassau Declaration from the 19th CCEM meeting in June this year.
There is great value in these Commonwealth meetings and I am keen to ensure that we build strong practical collaborations and deliver real outcomes. One of the key reasons I am visiting the Pacific is that I am going to Samoa for the Pacific Commonwealth Youth Ministers’ meeting.
There are strong links for our work with youth and education and building future prosperity and well-being for our nations. I certainly hope to be in a position to attend the 20th Education Ministers’ Conference in 2018.
I believe that education plays a foundational role in building strong nations and strong relationships.
Education development assistance in Fiji
The Australian Government’s support for education in Fiji is not just confined to higher education, but also aims to improve access for Fijian children to quality education.
Through its Access to Quality Education Program, Australia will invest up to $50 million from 2011 to 2017 to improve access to quality basic education for children in the poorest and most disadvantaged communities in Fiji.
As part of this programme, I was pleased this morning to hand over state-of-the-art printing equipment to Fiji’s Minister for Education, the Hon Mahendra Reddy. This equipment will help Fiji produce much needed text books and other educational materials.
Australia’s commitment to improving education in Fiji and the Pacific also extends to the vocational education and training sector.
Since 2007, over 8000 Pacific islanders have graduated from the Australia-Pacific Technical College, with more than 95 per cent of them now employed. Today we will have the opportunity to meet some of the young men and women studying at the College at the Pacific Fusion Training Kitchen and Restaurant here on the USP campus when they serve us refreshments after this event.
I am excited about how this training will broaden their employment opportunities and help them gain valuable skills.
Learning from each other
While I have talked about how Australia provides support for Fijian education programs, I also believe we also have much to learn from our regional neighbours. Fiji, along with other island nations in the Pacific, has to overcome many of the same barriers that Australia as a large island deals with – distance, access and connectivity.
There is much interest in Australia as to how best to use different modes of delivery to ensure that all Australians have access to high quality education from early childhood to higher education. There are many examples of innovative delivery in the Pacific region that we can learn from.
The work that has gone into the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth is impressive. The focus on creating skills-related post-secondary courses in areas such as tourism, entrepreneurship, professional development, disaster management reflects how powerful it can be to collaborate through innovative ICT, yet still be able to adapt courses to the specific context of each country.
The range of materials that are being developed collectively through the Commonwealth of Learning is a great model of how to achieve a lot with limited resources. Australia is proud to support the Commonwealth of Learning with our contribution of just over $1 million dollars last year.
When I look at the list of regional priorities for 2015 to 2021 agreed at the 2014 Commonwealth Regional Focal Points Meeting, I am more convinced that we have a great deal to share with each other and learn from best practice, especially for curricula development in mathematics, science and literacy, and support for teacher education with a focus on online delivery.
Fiji’s hosting of the Pacific Centre for Flexible and Open Learning for Development (PACFOLD) means there will be many more shared conversations in future about what works well for on-line learning and what the challenges are to focus our collective efforts to develop the best quality accessible education for all.
These future conversations will be underpinned by our people-to-people connections which brings me to encouraging greater student mobility.
Just a few weeks ago, I convened the second International Education Roundtable in Canberra, which brought together many stakeholders to discuss the Australian Government’s Draft National Strategy for International Education.
International students who come to Australia bring views and cultures from which we learn. While Australia earns valuable export income by providing education services, it also gains immeasurable cultural richness and understanding in return.
Students studying overseas, whether they are Australians studying in Fiji or Fijian students in Australia, get to experience another culture and a different perspective. And they develop friendships and networks that last a lifetime.
This flow of students internationally builds knowledge and understanding for all of us as individuals and as nations. As Minister for Education and Training, I’m proud that Australia and Fiji have such a strong history of exchanges.
The New Colombo Plan
The Australian Government also recognises the great value in Australian students coming to our neighbours. Through its flagship mobility programme, the New Colombo Plan, Australia is supporting around 140 Australian undergraduate students to study and intern in Fiji in 2015 and 2016 and to learn more about this beautiful country.
One New Colombo Plan scholar, Anthony Randell of the University of South Australia, who is here today, hopes that his environmental studies at the University of the South Pacific’s Laucala Bay campus will assist his future career in maintaining healthy ecosystems.
Anthony’s path to becoming a New Colombo Plan scholar is one that reflects a singular strength of the Australian education system and that is flexible learning pathways. I understand pathways and lifelong learning opportunities are also important to Pacific countries to provide access to education and higher level skills.
Anthony came to the university through a VET pathway, with a Certificate IV in environmental studies and practical work experience with Greening Australia. He is now building on these skills to be an outstanding ambassador for collaboration through his university studies and work internship that he will undertake in Fjij after his study program at USP.
Other Australian students have come to Fiji to study nutrition, Pacific society and culture and to undertake clinical placements in health programmes like nursing and medicine.
On that note, I would also like to acknowledge Kate Jackson and Charlotte Durand who are here today. They are James Cook University medical students undertaking clinical placements in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva, with clinical supervision associated with Fiji National University.
The experiences of Anthony, Kate and Charlotte here in Fiji will build their knowledge and understanding of working in a different culture, with different languages and environments, but more importantly, they will build those people-to-people relationsips that create connections from which all of us benefit.
The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, and I were delighted last Friday to announce the outcomes of the New Colombo Plan Mobility Program for 2016. For Fiji, there will be some 104 students funded to come for short term semester study and internships. Across the Pacific, there will be 78 students going to the Solomon Islands, 80 students going to Samoa, 32 for Vanuatu and 20 each for the Cook Islands and Tonga.
This is a wonderful reflection of the important relationships that we have through education and training.
Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships and Australia Awards
As well as the New Colombo Plan, Australia offers a range of government, institutional and private sector mobility and scholarship programmes, including the Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships.
Endeavour scholarships and fellowships provide students and researchers from around the world, including from Fiji, with an opportunity to undertake study, research and professional development in Australia and for Australians to do the same overseas.
These experiences can be life-changing as students from the Queensland University of Technology described their work on a project here in Fiji:
The Endeavour Program has previously funded a group of QUT students across five disciplines to work collaboratively in teams to deliver learning outcomes in Fijian primary schools using ICT. The University donated computers and the students facilitated the setting up of computer rooms. The students summed it “as a life changing experience" and all have rated it a 10/10. The latest 2014 project will see students setting up ICT learning programs in schools on Taveuni (remote island) using technology powered by solar energy. It is envisaged that 10 undergraduate students from across disciplines will participate in this project.
Since 2007, 15 Fijian students have undertaken study, research or professional development in Australia through Endeavour scholarships or fellowships. Over this same period, six Australians have accepted an Endeavour scholarship or fellowship to come to Fiji.
In addition, there are currently 61 Australia Awards Scholarship recipients from Fiji studying programmes in Australia that are not available in the Pacific region, and around 60 Australia Awards Pacific Scholarships (AAPS) recipients are studying at technical and vocational level.
Since 2007, more than 1300 Fijian Australia Awards Scholarship alumni obtained a quality education and are now making a positive contribution to their community and the region.
I was pleased to see recently that the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has partnered with USP to offer postgraduate research scholarships in agricultural development. These scholarships will play a vital role in building sustainability for Fiji’s agriculture sector and seek out new ways to broaden economic growth.
Naming of the Australia Pacific Lecture Theatre
As I have outlined, Australia and Fiji, and indeed the Pacific, share a long history of collaboration in the education sector. These relationships are ones that I, as Australia’s Education and Training Minister, hope to build further on.
In this lecture theatre beside me, lecturers and professors have been imparting knowledge, sparking curiosity and instilling inspiration in students for the past 17 years and I am confident that they will continue to inspire the future leaders of the Pacific for many more years to come.
In recognition of the close ties between Australia and our Pacific neighbours, and the partnership between Australia and the University of the South Pacific, I am very pleased to name this building today, the Australia Pacific Lecture Theatre.
The naming of this lecture hall here at USP reflects not only Australia’s deep connection with this wonderful university but also our commitment to education and learning right across the Pacific region.
For a university to truly service and provide the best it can for its student body its campus facilities must reflect that commitment to excellence.
I do hope this wonderful Australia Pacific Lecture Theatre plays a very large part in the rich student experience gained over the years ahead here at the University of the South Pacific.
This being my first visit to the South Pacific as Australia’s Minister for Education and Training, I am truly excited about seeing first-hand the drive and commitment this region is so highly regarded for in affording education and training opportunities for its citizens.
International education is a core component of Australia’s economic prosperity and a key avenue to building lasting connections between Australia and countries in the South Pacific and around the world.
Education is also a staple of Australia’s aid program in the Pacific, because we recognise that access to quality education and training should be every child’s right.
There is no greater path to economic prosperity and social cohesion than that of education, and the role this very important centre of higher learning plays in this region is a clear example of that.
I wish the USP all the best for the future and of Australia’s continuing close relationship with what is truly one of the world’s most unique universities.
Vinaka Vakalevu [Vin-ah-kah Vah-kah-lay-voo], thank you.