SPEECH FOR THE GRADUATION CEREMONY AT LAUCALA CAMPUS
THE UNIVERSITY OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC
09 April 2009
Professor Rajesh Chandra
Greetings and Welcome
The Minister for Education, National Heritage, Culture and Arts, Youth and Sports, Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment, Local Government, Urban Development and Housing, Fiji, Hon Mr. Filipe Bole and Mrs. Bole; Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources, Hon. Mr. Netani Sukanaivalu; Minister for Primary Industries, Hon. Mr. Joketani Cokanasiga; Minister for Works, Hon. Captain Timoci Natuva; Member of the Judiciary; Your Excellencies and Members of the Diplomatic Corps; the Chair of this afternoon’s proceeding and Deputy Chair of USP Council, Mr. Ikbal Jannif; Heads of International and Regional Organizations; Permanent Secretaries and Senior Government Officials; Heads of National Tertiary Institutions; Members of Council and Senate; Members of the Senior Management Team; distinguished guests; staff, students, and above all graduands; parents and spouses, ladies and gentlemen.
The graduation ceremony of any university is the highlight of its academic calendar. I wish to thank all of you for gracing this occasion and making it all the more meaningful for our graduands.
Graduation and Congratulations
Just over 1300 students will graduate today. This is one of the largest numbers we have had in one single ceremony and it is encouraging to note that the numbers are growing.
I would like to congratulate all graduands and wish you the very best for the future. You have worked hard, and your parents, families, governments and sponsors have sacrificed much to get you here. Make them and the University proud through your contributions, especially by being hard working, innovative, committed, and ethical in your future work and leadership. I invite you to take a continuing interest in your university as we all join hands to contribute to the future well-being of our countries.
USP Turns Around
I am very pleased to report that a significant and encouraging turn-around in the funding at the University has been achieved recently. USP has reversed its deficits and ended the year 2008 with an operational surplus of just over $5 million. Student enrolments that had declined slightly over the last two years have shown signs of growth this year. This year, the University is more focussed on outputs and productivity than ever before. In addition, the Management and staff are keenly aware of the importance of recognizing the fragile economic situation of our member countries.
We are very much encouraged by these positive developments. We are grateful to our twelve member countries for their continued strong support for the University. We are especially grateful to the Government of Fiji for its sustained contributions to the University. Fiji is both our largest contributor and by far its largest beneficiary. We are also very grateful to our development partners, especially Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the European Union. Yesterday we signed our Exchange of Letters with the Government of Australia, confirming a generous and significant 32% increase in support for USP in 2009, which brings its annual contributions to $A4.8 million. We acknowledge this vote of confidence in the value and quality of the University and its central role in the future development of all our member countries.
The University of the South Pacific’s role is critical to the sustainability of aid to the Pacific island countries. The University is central to the ability of our Member Governments and other stakeholders to deal effectively with an increasingly globalized world, taking full advantage of its opportunities, recognizing its challenges, and finding rational and sustainable solutions to these. The region needs a think tank and USP represents that think tank. It is a role that we will expand in the future. This is why it is crucial for both member governments and donors to strengthen the University—and to involve it in their programmes and activities.
For the significant improvements and changes at the University, I would like to thank the Council, Senate, Finance and Investments Committee, Audit Committee, members of Senior Management Team, members of staff and students. This is a collective achievement.
Reforms at the University go well beyond financial matters. We are in the process of fundamentally re-shaping the University with the goal of a better more relevant and sustainable institution in a more competitive future, and to increase its value to stakeholders such as yourselves as well as its relevance to the challenges that confront us all. To further these objectives, we have
- restructured the Faculties from 4 to 3 Faculties—this has been operational since the beginning of the year and is saving the University about $400,000 per annum in administrative costs alone
- Rationalization of institutes with the closure of one large Institute and the sharing of its activities among other sections of the University
- introduced in February 2009 a new Management Structure with lower cost and greater streamlining of responsibilities;
- improved governance through the revision of the Charter, Statutes, and related governance and management instruments through the work of the Council Taskforce on Governance
- increased internal monitoring and evaluation by increasing the number of internal audits by one third
- terminated about 90 courses that had chronic under-enrolment for many years with more to be terminated this year under the second stage of this continuing review
- introduced a formal workload policy for academic staff and aligned this to funding
- reduced expenditure in a number of areas and exercised tighter controls on expenditure throughout the University to lessen the burden on governments.
Importance of Quality and Student Focus
The world is already a highly globalised system, in which knowledge is the key to success. Whether we like it or not, we in the Pacific are already part of the globalized knowledge and will become increasingly so in the future. It is the quality of tertiary and higher education that will make the crucial difference in the success or failure of countries in this future world.
The USP is therefore putting renewed efforts and additional resources into ensuring that it provides a premier quality student experience. The new Strategic Plan under development is putting a major emphasis on quality. A new position of Pro Vice-Chancellor for Planning and Quality has been created to underline the emphasis on quality.
We are also implementing the recommendations of the External academic audit jointly conducted in 2008 by the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) and the New Zealand Universities Academic Audit Unit (NZUAAU). Such external evaluations are important to the University to provide a qualified outside view of whether we are providing the high quality, internationally recognized level of learning and teaching, research and consultancy services for which we strive. I cannot overemphasize the value of these external assessments for universities.
The USP Strategic Plan 2010-2012
This year we are developing a new Strategic Plan 2010-2012. We are developing a hybrid strategic and operational plan of a kind that we believe is needed for our new circumstances and our region’s unprecedented challenges and uncertainty. The new plan will build on progress made in 2008 and 2009 and will be focused on three themes - Quality, Relevance, and Sustainability. The USP Vision is to be proactive, deliver excellence, to be highly regarded locally, regionally and internationally, and to provide sustainable solutions in the Pacific.
This vision calls for greater engagement with our member governments, communities, development partners, staff and students alike. And, as graduates today, I hope you will also play your part in contributing to the USP’s Vision as we all belong to an ever growing pan-Pacific USP community. The new plan is all about STUDENT SUCCESS. This permeates throughout the Strategic Plan as it is our wish that, while being a student at USP, we have been able to raise your performance, to provide you with support, to provide an enabling environment where you can live and learn, to be creative, and to be a critical thinker.
Ministers, Excellencies, Deputy Chair of Council, graduates, ladies and gentlemen. I congratulate all the graduates today and wish them well. The future is uncertain and very likely much more difficult than the immediate past. But the challenges that the future will bring give us an opportunity to show that we can turn them to our advantage and can make everyone proud by our achievements.
Vinaka Vakalevu Dhanyabad Thank you.