Speech by Professor Rajesh Chandra, Vice-Chancellor and President for USP Alafua Campus Graduation Ceremony, 'Apita o Pisaga' Hall, Salelologa, Savaii, 11th December 2015
The Prime Minister of Samoa, Honourable Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi
Acting Pro Chancellor and Chair of Council, Ms Fekita Utoi’kamanu;
Minister of Education, Honorable Magele Mauiliu Magele;
Honourable Ministers and Members of Parliament;
Excellencies and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
CEOs of Government Ministries, Corporations and Business houses;
Chiefs and people of Savaii on whose land this graduation is taking place;
Vice-Chancellor of NUS, Professor Fui Tuua 'Ilaoa Le'apai Asofou;
Co-Chairs and members of the Alafua Campus Advisory Committee;
Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics, Professor Franco Gandolfi;
Alafua Campus Director, Mrs. Ruby Va'a;
Head of the School of Agriculture and Food Technology and Director of IRETA, Associate Professor Mohammed Umar;
Graduands and their families and friends;
Colleagues and Members of Staff;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
2. Welcome and Congratulations
Talofa Lava. It is with great pleasure that I join the Acting Pro Chancellor in extending a very warm welcome to you all to this very special graduation ceremony which is being held for the very first time in Savaii.
I extend a special welcome to the Prime Minister of Samoa, Honourable Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and his Ministers. Prime Minister, your presence here today is testimony of your and your Government’s commitment to higher education in Samoa and continued support to The University of the South Pacific.
I am delighted to extend a very warm welcome to the graduands and their families, relatives and guardians. It is indeed pleasing to see the radiant and proud faces of parents, relatives and well-wishers who have gathered here to witness the celebration of your success.
3. Special Nature of this Graduation
This is a very special graduation for a number of reasons. First, as already mentioned, this is the first time that our Samoa graduation is taking place in Savaii.
This allows the University to be experienced by different parts of Samoa and builds stronger support among the people of Samoa for their regional university and for the Alafua Campus.
Secondly, today the Honourable Prime Minister is being awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree. We are all very pleased to join the people of Samoa in celebrating the award of this USP Honorary Doctorate of Laws (LLD) to the Prime Minister. We are also very happy that this award is being conferred today in Samoa in front of the Samoan people.
Hon. Prime Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, unfortunately I do not have time on my side today to do full justice to the Honorable Prime Minister’s numerous accomplishments. However, I will quote two passages from the Honorable Prime Minister’s Citation of the Honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) that speak volumes about his contribution to Samoa and internationally.
“In November 1998, he became Prime Minister for his first term. He is serving his fifth term - holding the office of Prime Minister for 17 consecutive years – a remarkable feat in itself in the Pacific island region if leadership or political stability was a key measure. But when one begins to add Samoa’s progress and achievements in the social, economic, law and justice, international relations and diplomacy, and in all the other sectors of national development, one is deeply impressed by the quality of the leadership Hon Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has provided his country and people over these 17 years. Under his guidance, Samoa has been lifted out of the LDC category into a lower middle economy. Hon Tuilaepa has championed gender equality and the next  elections will see a change to improve the proportion of women parliamentarians in Samoa. Hon Tuilaepa has also been a strong advocate of Human Rights reflected in the establishment of Samoa’s National Human Rights Institution in the Ombudsman’s office and the recently launched the first ever State of Human Rights Report for Samoa."
Continuing, the citation reads:
“His international involvement has been equally impressive with stints from 1988 as the Chairman of Asian Development Bank Board of Governors; the Co-President of the ACP-EU Council of Ministers ; Chairman of the Pacific Branch of the ACP Group; August 2000 the Chair of the Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting in Apia that made recommendations to the Forum Leaders Meeting in Kiribati resulting in the Biketawa Declaration; August 2004 the Chair of the 35th Pacific Islands Forum; September 2014 President of the UN Conference on Small Islands Developing States held in Apia, Samoa and in October 2014 the Chairman of the Commonwealth Ministers of Finance Meeting, Washington, DC.”
Please allow me to congratulate you Hon. Prime Minister, and to say that it is indeed a privilege and a great honour to join you this afternoon and be amongst your people as we celebrate this extremely well-deserved recognition bestowed by the University on your Excellency.
4. Graduation Numbers
Today we have 138 students receiving certificates, diplomas and degrees. Sixty-four percent (64%) of those graduating today are women, an indication of growing gender equality in the Pacific. 56% of all those graduating today will receive PG qualifications, the figure stood at 44% last year and this is a very impressive increase in postgraduate qualifications. A total of 9 students will be getting their Masters degrees. Students from nine countries are graduating today.
I also wish to highlight the fact that today we are seeing the first cohort of students who were given scholarships by the Government of Samoa graduate. I wish to thank you, Honourable Prime Minister for your decision some years ago to give 20 scholarships to Samoan students to do agriculture. We are now beginning to see the fruit of this decision. Amongst those graduating today, we also have a student from American Samoa but originally from Savaii, Mr. John Ilalio, who has completed his LLB entirely on-line registered through the Alafua Campus. Not only did he do the whole degree without going to the Emalus campus, he also did extremely well and will receive the award today for being the top law student.
5. To the Graduands
To our graduands, I would like to begin with a quote from the famous American essayist, lecturer, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What lies behind us, and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within you.”
Your path until now has been influenced by key figures in your life, may they be your parents, families, teachers or great leaders, but from now on, it is your chance to use more of your own thinking, reflections and judgements. You have it within yourself to do that and I am confident that you can create your own path to your future.
While many of you have proven yourself as high achievers already, there are some who might be daunted by the prospects of facing challenges ahead because they have not achieved as much as their colleagues.
To you, I would like to quote George W. Bush, “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you too may one day be president of the United States."
This is a reminder that your chance to prove yourself has not ended; indeed, the really important journey has only begun now. USP has given you the foundation—and important values like integrity, good ethics, vision, humility and compassion, and the need for sheer energy and ambition—through which you all can make an outstanding contribution to your families, country and indeed the world. This is my challenge to all of you graduating today.
The University is promoting entrepreneurship. I encourage all graduates to embrace it. As graduates you should become employers and create jobs rather than being employees.
You all have worked hard and persevered. You deserve to be pleased and to celebrate. We join you in your happiness and wish you the best in the future.
I leave you with a final quote –from one of the greatest football players of all time, Pele, who broke many barriers to achieve his place in the world, “Success is no accident – It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love for what you are doing.”
6. The Alafua Campus
Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, I will highlight some of the more significant achievements of the Alafua Campus this year. Overall, the Alafua Campus has continued to make good progress this year.
Enrolment in the School of Agriculture and Food Technology increased by 24% in 2015 compared to 2014. We currently have 3 PhD, 9 Masters and 37 Postgraduate Diploma students who have either completed or are pursuing their further education at the Alafua Campus. We are also very pleased that ACIAR has offered two scholarships for Masters and three for Postgraduate Diplomas for 2016.
The SAFT Programme Review was undertaken by external reviewers last year. SAFT has already taken action on some of the recommendations to improve current activities.
The revised Bachelor of Agriculture program will be implemented in 2017.
7. Need More Growth in Alafua
Despite some positive developments at Alafua, the School of Agriculture and Food Technology is still losing significant amounts of money because of small enrolments caused partly by the lack of scholarships earmarked for agriculture from member countries. The School is still not being engaged fully by our countries sufficiently in their own activities and initiatives. It is important for the region as a whole to determine if countries are prepared to send students to make the programme more viable, and to involve the School in their programmes. We intend to convene a meeting of Ministers and Heads of Agriculture next year to have a frank dialogue on the issue of agricultural education and training and to work out shared responsibilities in this field.
The Science Teacher Training Accelerated Programme (STAP) has been one of our best recent initiatives and it continued to make good progress this year. As of November 2015, approximately 60% of the courses have been completed by the students and this is expected to increase to 75% after the Dec 2015 to Jan 2016 summer schools.
An impressive 86.5% pass rate was achieved for Semester 1. Two STAP students were also identified as outstanding first year students overall who were presented with Faculty awards. This shows that our STAP teachers are second to none and that students, under proper teaching and facilitation, can do very well.
Under Utilized Crop
SAFT and Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague (CULS) are looking at more collaborative research into essential oils, underutilized crops and stimulants such as coffee, cocoa and Kava in future, for which SAFT already has an MOU with them.
2015 has been a very good year for SAFT research output. A total of 10 research publications with a further 6 presented at International Conferences have been done.
The number of research projects undertaken by final year students has increased significantly.
Staffing in the School continued to improve, but unfortunately, the person who had been offered the post of Professor of Agriculture, Head of School and Director of the Campus declined the position, and we are now re-advertising this crucial position.
There has been a steady increase in egg production over the past 3 years that has improved the farm income significantly and the pig numbers and sales in 2015 also increased compared to 2014.
We continue to collaborate with the National University of Samoa (NUS), with three of its students serving their two weeks practical training in Poultry at the IRETA Livestock Farm to acquire practical skill in egg production and other livestock management.
Probably the single most significant benefit to Samoa from USP is the development of human resources, as this helps the economy become increasingly knowledge-based and self-reliant. In the last 47 years, USP has met this demand well by graduating more than 1,500 Samoans in a wide range of disciplines.
USP services at the Savaii Centre include the fully operational KU Band satellite service which was launched in 2012 by the honourable Prime Minister. The satellite is very effective in ensuring Savaii students enjoy continuous online communication with lecturers at Laucala, Emalus, and Alafua as well as support services. A full time Library Assistant in Savaii and other staff based at Alafua have provided key support to students taking advantage of the excellent connectivity available.
8. Achievements of USP and Future Developments
Hon. Prime Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I will now provide a short update on the University's overall progress to date.
Next year will mark the beginning of the new triennium and the second half of the Strategic Plan 2013-2018. We are grateful to the UGC and member countries for their support in putting together a viable financial plan for the next triennium. I wish to thank the Hon. Prime Minister and the people and government of Samoa for Samoa’s strong support for the University.
Enrolments are at its highest ever, reaching over 29,300 as of now. We have recently added new staff at Senior Management level, including a new Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics and a new Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and International (DVC RI). We now have the full Senior Management Team capable of providing very good leadership in support of the University’s ambition of transforming itself from good to excellent.
The University will continue with its transformation for excellence by keeping "Quality" as a core theme and aiming for more programme accreditations. I am pleased that the Senate has approved the Quality of Teaching (QoT) Policy and a Quality of Research Policy. Both these two policies represent a genuine attempt by the University to improve the quality of our teaching and research, in order to add greater value to our students, staff and our stakeholders. We continue to work relentlessly towards international accreditations and the University has been recently granted eligibility status by WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC); this means that the University is eligible to apply for Candidacy which the University will begin by submitting the application for Candidacy and Initial Accreditation.
I wish to assure all those graduating today that your qualifications are as good as those of Australian and New Zealand universities, but they are more relevant to our needs in the Pacific, and are more cost effective. We are committed to continuously improving this quality in our quest to become a great university in time to come. We continued to make good progress overall in the implementation of the Strategic Plan.
Hon. Prime Minister, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to say that the new Kiribati Campus was opened on 3rd of November by His Excellency Anote Tong, the President of Kiribati. We are happy to note that the Government of Solomon Islands has given USP new land to develop its new Campus using the ADB Loan funds, which is expected to be completed by 2018.
Overall, the University’s reputation has continued to improve regionally and internationally this year, and is systems and processes have continued to be re-engineered. The University is now on very solid foundation for the future.
9. Thanks and Appreciation
The success of the University is the result of hard work by staff. I wish to thank the Campus Director, Mrs. Ruby Va’a and her team, the Head of SAFT and IRETA Director, Associate Professor Mohammed Umar and his team for these significant improvements to the Alafua Campus, the School of Agriculture and Food Technology and IRETA.
I would like to assure our member governments, including Samoa that we will continue to provide the high quality service that our members and people deserve. The University has strong foundations to move ahead and with the blessings of our many stakeholders, we are very encouraged in our quest to transform USP from good to excellent and to have a university in 2018 when we celebrate our 50th anniversary that our leaders can be genuinely proud of.
10. A final word
Hon. Prime Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, a final word to the graduands – Congratulations once again. Make the best of the skills, values and education that you have received at USP. I have every confidence that each and every one of you will excel in your chosen paths. Be excellent ambassadors of USP and make all of us proud by your achievements.
I wish you all a blessed Christmas and a prosperous New Year. May God bless you all.
Faafetai lava (Thank you)