Vice-Chancellor’s Update No. 1, 2009 to the University Community
As many of you will know, the meeting of the Forum Ministers of Education (FEDMM) took place last week in Tonga. This is always an important meeting for the University because it provides a good opportunity for Ministers to get to know what the University is doing through PRIDE and IOE and more generally. It allows the University to listen to any concerns Ministers have; to conduct other University business such as meetings with the Directors of the relevant campus; to conduct business with the donors; and generally to ensure that the work of the University is properly aligned to the needs of member countries.
In addition to the Vice-Chancellor, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Dr. Anjeela Jokhan (Acting Dean of FSTE and Acting Director of PACE-SD) also attended FEDMM 2009 to make a presentation on ESD to the Ministers as USP is the lead agency for this component of the Forum’s work. DVC is also project Supervisor of PRIDE and she chaired the meeting of the Project Steering Committee apart from attending the meeting of the Officials on PRIDE and on education in general. Dr. Puamau led the PRIDE professional team and made presentations to the Ministers.
This year’s meeting of the Ministers went very well for the University. The University’s key role in education throughout the region was fully recognized. I was also able to make a presentation to the Ministers on our strategic plan prior to the lunch we hosted. As a prelude to the Strategic Plan presentation, I also explained to the Ministers recent developments at the University, including the elimination of the deficit in the 2008 account. The Ministers expressed appreciation and satisfaction with the turnaround at the University and with the changes that have been made. They also undertook to send comments on the Strategic Plan.
Some Key Outcomes
The Ministers made many decisions which will be circulated to all of you once we get the final document. In summary, however, the Ministers:
- Agreed that PRIDE would continue to the end of 2010 with current funding and arrangements.
- Dropped “Basic” from the Education framework so that the new framework covers all education (you will also know that the Leaders had specifically mentioned the important role of higher education in their Niue Communiqué).
- Agreed to adopt a model for future implementation of the Forum Education Plan that would combine regional and national activities the detailed configuration of which would be worked out by the Forum Secretariat in the near future.
- Noted the work that USP had done in ESD and agreed that USP should continue to be the lead agency for this.
- Noted other reports presented by other CROP and international agencies.
- Emphasized the importance of monitoring and evaluation of educational projects.
Outside of the meeting, it was agreed among the three Heads that the lead for work dealing with standards for teacher competence would be jointly undertaken by UNESCO, SPBEA and USP. Previously, USP had not been included.
We also attended a meeting of the donors who meet informally to co-ordinate their activities. USP will host the next meeting of this group in September 2009. USP had not been part of these informal meetings in the past.
On the fringes of the meeting, we were able to discuss with the representative of the ADB the programme for the forthcoming signing of an agreement between ADB and USP to further develop USPNet and regional ICT infrastructure, and to explore possibilities for future borrowing for capital developments.
We were also able to meet the Director, members of staff and members of the Campus Advisory Committee of the USP Camus in Tonga. DVC was also able to discuss Tonga campus issues relating to the streamlining of that campus (as part of the overall streamlining of the University).
Dr. Jokhan was able to discuss with the PNG Minister of Education issues relating to an EDULINK project that she co-ordinates, and which involves collaboration among UPNG, USP and the National University of Samoa.
As you know already, the Council had approved the basic outline, priorities and approach for the new Strategic Plan at its October meeting. Since then much work has been done to further develop the draft plan. We have already undertaken some consultations with governments and my presentation to the Ministers in Tonga is part of the approach that seeks as much input from Governments and other stakeholders as possible.
The Deans and other Senior Staff have been fully involved in the development of the plan to date. We will now intensify our consultations with meetings with all the faculties, non-academic staff, students, donors and crop agencies. The Draft Plan has been on the Web for some time with an invitation to all staff to contribute. I look forward to your contributions and inputs as we have more consultations.
The final draft Strategic Plan is expected to be discussed and if appropriate approved by the Council at its June meeting.
The preparation of the UGC Submission has been the other main pre-occupation of the University recently. We need to have the draft ready for the consideration of the Finance and Investments Committee at its 27th April meeting and by the Council at its June meeting, to be then considered by the UGC and the Ministers of Finance—all in time for us to have a decision from the Ministers of Finance before we submit our Annual Plan 2010 to the Council for approval at its October 2009 meeting.
The preparation of the UGC Submission this time around is possibly the most challenging it has ever been because of the economic crisis that the University has faced in recent times that needs considerable work to remedy, the evolving and unpredictable fallout for the region from the world economic crisis, changing tertiary education scene in the region, rapidly evolving technologies, and the need to improve the quality, cost-effectiveness and sustainability of the University’s offerings and operations.
We will have the submission ready for the various meetings.
Improving Staff Capability
We are seeking to strengthen staffing at the University by advertising for professorial level appointments in strategically important areas. Advertisements have gone out for the Directorship of IOE; Professorship in Agriculture and Food Technology; and Professorship in Computing Science/Information Systems. The Professorship in Law has been filled. Advertisement for Professor of Climate Science/Sustainable Development will go out shortly. The Professorship in Marine Studies (focus on Fisheries) is also planned. Professorship in Teacher Education and Training is also to be advertised shortly to properly equip the School of Education to enable it to provide proper leadership to the region in this vital area.
Substantial investment was made last year to improve the management of USPNet bandwidth. This year, an additional $300,000 has been made available to expand the bandwidth from the current 7 MHrtz to 11 MHrtz. In addition, JICA experts will undertake an engineering study to ensure optimality of our USPNet configuration.
The improvement of USPNet, combined with improvements in ICT and Learning resources at regional campuses is a top priority of the University to ensure more equitable and higher quality student experience across the University. The implementation of the Success@USP orientation programme has raised the expectations of both students and stakeholders and we will need to ensure that we do not lose any momentum in this area.
Improvements in Governance and Management
Staff would be aware of the work that the Council Task Force on Governance has been doing to improve the Governance of the University. The Charter and Statues were revised last year. Follow-on work on the revision of standing orders, Handbook of Council appointments, and other documentation is proceeding at a fast pace under the leadership of the Pro Chancellor.
You will see from the Web that a number of reviews and studies are underway at the moment. A study is underway at the moment on the method of financing USP by Member Governments. Studies of the salary and terms and conditions of both senior staff and also of academic and comparable staff have also been tendered. A review of the HR Office has been advertised, and a review of the ITS will be advertised shortly. You can follow the various studies etc through the Web.
Improved Allocations for Research and Conferences
In addition to the initial allocations for research from the recurrent budget, a further $200,000 is being made available from Australian aid allocation for research, which should help improve research opportunities and output. In addition, conference allocations have been improved. Staff development allocations have also been made that should provide additional opportunities for us to improve our capabilities and productivity.
We begin this year with the positive news that the budget deficits of the past have been dealt with so that 2008 will have a surplus. A number of new initiatives have been taken that begin the process of rebuilding our capabilities to respond decisively to the needs of our region.
The economic outlook for the region is bleak. The ADB is forecasting that our region will be seriously hit later this year and will go into most of 2010. The University will need to continue to seek economies; to streamline its courses and programmes; to think of new and innovative programmes to replace those that are no longer in demand or of strategic importance (or are being now provided by national institutions). The workload for us in terms of what is expected is quite heavy. But we will deliver on what is expected. We can only do this through our collective efforts. We will have to put the interest of protecting the future of the University ahead of our personal or sectional interest. The challenges that the region faces and the challenges that we face are possibly the most severe in our history. These challenges are still evolving. But we are supposed to be the most highly educated of our institutions. We are also supposed to be good at problem solving and being innovative. We will need to call upon all our reserves of energy and quick and strategic thinking—and our reservoir of good will and commitment to USP and our region—to deal with our challenges. I seek your support and understanding in ensuring that we emerge from these challenges a strengthened and higher quality, more sustainable institution able to serve our stakeholders better than we have done in the past.
Professor Rajesh Chandra