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2018: The Culmination of Five Decades of Success for USP

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USP is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.

As we embark on a year-long celebration of The University of the South Pacific’s (USP) 50 years of service to the region, it is worth recalling that, on 5 February 1968, USP’s 160 enrolled students attended their first class at the former No 5 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Laucala Bay.

Today, the University has more than 30,000 enrolled students, in excess of 50,000 alumni, a number of patents and numerous research achievements, 26 international accreditations, tens of millions of dollars in development assistance, and many highly regarded international research projects. The list of USP’s accomplishments is long and storied, and all the more remarkable for the fact that even with five decades of existence, USP is a relatively new university by international standards.

The University, guided by its ethos of continuous improvement, has strived to provide the best possible value for money to its Member Countries, while constantly improving the quality and breadth of its academic offerings, facilities, educational and pastoral support, community projects, and regionally-relevant research. It has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1968.

Spread over 33 million square kilometres of ocean and one of only three regional universities in the world, USP is the premier higher education institution in the Pacific region. It embodies the aspirations of the people of the Pacific Islands and serves as a repository and promoter of knowledge about their history, culture, and natural environments.   Established to provide higher education to the region, the University has consistently responded to its Member Countries’ needs and has been instrumental in providing the education, training and policy advice needed to successfully address new and emerging opportunities and challenges, adapting its offerings as technology, the needs of its Members, and the expectations of prospective students and employers have changed. 

Since its inception, USP has offered much-needed academic qualifications in areas such as Education, Sciences, Business and Economics, Languages, Societies and Cultures and Marine studies.  Over the years, Tourism and Hospitality, Human Resources, Climate Change, and Information Communication Technology (ICT) were added to reflect the changing region and equip students for success in the global Knowledge Economy. 

USP today bears little resemblance to its humble beginnings.  With students from all 12 of its member countries, including Fiji, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, USP is reflective of the remarkably varied Pacific Islands region, and provides a vibrant cultural experience for many enrolled international students, who hail from countries such as Bangladesh, Germany, Jamaica, Maldives, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, and the USA. 

The cultural experience of enrolled students at USP is a major component of their learning, with many alumni fondly recalling their interactions with students from other countries and cultures. Popular events, such as Open Days and celebrations of Member Country National Days, shine the spotlight on diversity of the University.  All cultures and forms of diversity are valued and celebrated at USP, known for its welcoming environment.  People with disabilities are well-supported at USP, and increasing numbers of students access this support.  Year on year, greater numbers of female students graduate from USP, with some campuses having more female graduands than male, and this trend is expected to continue.

It is USP’s exciting environment, which celebrates intellectual enquiry, diversity and cultural exchange, and the importance of making an impact in one’s chosen field or community that attracts students, staff, international partners, and development funds. People want to be a part of USP’s success; the people who comprise USP’s community are highly accomplished and driven, determined to contribute in their own way to the development of Pacific Island Countries.

USP is governed by its Pacific Island Member Countries, and is very fortunate that its Members have always supported its goals and understood that they have been designed to both support individual country priorities and provide long-term positive results for the region.  USP’s Member Countries appreciate the consistent support of two of its major development partners, Australia and New Zealand, which were integral to the University’s establishment and continue to be core contributors to its budget. This ongoing support, which was initially granted, has since been earned by USP’s commendable performance in terms of academic rigor, good governance, and fiscal responsibility.  The support, financial and otherwise, of Australia and New Zealand, Pacific Island Member Governments, and other development partners has contributed substantially to the quality of USP’s higher education and the impact of its research and development projects. 

While there is no one “secret” to USP’s success, its Member Countries, Development Partners, Senior Management, academic and professional staff, and many notable individuals all deserve gratitude for their role in creating the outstanding university that is USP today. Every student who has passed through USP’s doors should also share in celebrating its success, for excellence has been achieved through a group effort, over time.  USP has proven that resource and practical constraints can be overcome with ingenuity and determination, and that Pacific Islanders can provide and access a world-class education of and for their own region.

A snapshot of USP through the lenses of Quality, Accreditation, and Research and Innovation show a University that has much to celebrate. Quality has always, and will always be, the primary consideration in all of the University’s activities, and accreditations and regular programme reviews provide external validation of quality claims. 

The University’s regional leadership and contribution of academic knowledge and policy advice, in particular its guidance and resource-sharing in the area of ICT, have contributed greatly to USP’s overall value to the region, and are discussed here.  USP has grown from a small campus at Laucala Bay to a regional university with fully-fledged campuses in every member country, complemented by University centres. Regional growth in enrolments, improved facilities, and the decentralisation of some services and activities have made USP more fundamentally “regional” and therefore truer to its mission and values. All of those positive developments combine to create an excellent institution and the “open secret to USP’s success”, one which USP is pleased to share. 

Quality Learning and Teaching

Education is fundamental to the development of any country or region and USP has, for the past 50 years, continuously evolved to ensure that the Pacific region is not left behind in the global competition to nurture the best minds and graduate people who are well-prepared for the modern workforce and lifelong success. USP’s many international partners validate its claims to offer a learning experience that is on par with that available at universities overseas; employers in the region seek out USP’s graduates and praise their skills, knowledge, and preparedness for work; and Member Countries continue to express their satisfaction with the academic and leadership abilities of USP alumni.

USP offers a vast range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and qualifications to its students, mainly through the three main Faculties, including the Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE), Faculty of Arts, Law and Education (FALE) and the Faculty of Science Technology and Environment (FSTE).  In order to provide options for more prospective learners, USP established the Pacific Technical and Further Education a few years ago  to offer pre-degree and sub-degree programmes, as well as pathways to higher education for mature students. With so many high-quality academic programmes, USP is an excellent choice for school leavers, people in the workforce who need qualifications to progress, and people who wish to enter the workforce and need additional education to do so. USP’s programmes, carefully designed to be relevant to the Pacific Islands, meet the needs of a wide range of learners.

According to Professor Rajesh Chandra, Vice-Chancellor and President of USP, what makes the University unique is the way it is grounded in the Pacific culture and way of life and responds to what is important to its Member Countries.

“The University has, since its inception in 1968, worked with its Member Countries to ensure that it is able to respond to the Human Resource and development needs and requirements of the Pacific people and their leaders,” Professor Chandra said.

The University has contributed immensely to the development of human resources in the region by ensuring quality graduates, who are contributing at different levels in their communities and countries. As at 10 December, 2017, USP has churned out a total of 44, 876 graduates, many of whom have gone on to become leaders, having held prominent positions such as  Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ambassadors, Academics, Government Representatives and Entrepreneurs. Most of the entrepreneurs who graduated from USP are leading the way in a diversity of fields such as retail, manufacturing and promotion of traditional crafts such as printing, perfumes, transport industry, clothing stores, IT, bakery and the fashion industry. USP is just as proud of its many graduates who are leaders in their communities and, while they may not use impressive titles, they live out the values of the University daily and use their knowledge and skills to improve people’s lives.

The leaders of USP’s Member Countries have praised both USP’s performance and its importance to the region.  Fiji’s Prime Minister Honourable Voreqe Bainimarama said USP is an important symbol of Fiji’s regional leadership and commitment, through education, to improving the lives of every Pacific Islander.

His Excellency Taneti Mamau, President of Kiribati, who graduated from USP with a Bachelor of Arts in 1982, recently reaffirmed that USP is an institution of knowledge and wisdom as well as a custodian of the Pacific people. Her Excellency, Dr Hilda. C. Heine, President of the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) has highlighted that USP has been “a significant contributor to the continuing realisation of the investment made by RMI to education, which remains the single most important priority of the RMI Government”.  The University is proud of the impacts of its work in, and for, Member Countries and will continue to provide good returns, in terms of policy advice, work-ready graduates, and practical research, on the investments of its Members.

Opening of the USPNet Satellite in 1986.

International Accreditations and Pacific Context 

All of USP’s academic programmes have been designed for the Pacific Islands context; the core academic work in introductory courses is similar to that that offered elsewhere, but local and regional data, source materials, experiments, and case studies engage students and help them acquire knowledge more readily.  More advanced courses are more obviously contextualised to the Pacific Islands.  USP appreciates the importance, and responsibility, of being the only university in the world that teaches with a Pacific Islands context “across the board”, and seizes opportunities to promote the work of Pacific Islands scholars, many of whom teach and practice at the University.

Students are also presented with international information and viewpoints and are given space to make the knowledge their own. The aim is to produce graduates with universally-valued skills, an appreciation of a wide range of perspectives, and a special awareness of their academic area within the Pacific Islands. USP graduates are proud of the heritage of the Pacific Islands and are thoroughly aware of the region’s unique strengths and challenges, have the knowledge, competencies and attributes valued by employers in the region, and possess the confidence and thorough understanding of their academic area to be able to work successfully anywhere.

In order to ensure that employers and universities anywhere recognise the value of a USP qualification and to validate its own assessment of the quality of its academic programmes, the University prioritises the attainment of international accreditations and recognitions. These represent important external validation of quality and demonstrate that USP’s qualifications are equivalent to those offered at universities in Australia and New Zealand, which are logical comparator countries.

According to Professor Chandra, “so far 26 of our programmes have received international accreditations and 10 programmes have been internationally recognized.  Nothing makes USP more valuable than these international independent validations of what USP is capable of doing.”

Symbol of Regionalism

Widely acknowledged to be on the best examples of regional cooperation, the University has grown from strength to strength.  Just as USP has become the premier provider of higher education in the region, it has taken on a crucial role as a member of the Council of the Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP), proactively engaging and taking a lead role in its respective areas to find solutions to development issues that are encountered at the regional and national levels.

The University plays a key role in fostering regionalism by implementing the priorities of the regional leaders through the Framework for Pacific Regionalism and through cooperation with other regional agencies under the CROP mechanism.  USP also actively participates and contributes to regional meetings, such as the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting and relevant Ministerial meetings.

USP has been recognised as the lead regional agency for ICT, and the Secretariat for this Working Group is based at the University’s Laucala Campus. The CROP ICT Working Group has been assigned the overall mandate and responsibility for ensuring that the vision of the leaders is effectively advocated, co-ordinated, and facilitated in the area of ICT Development, in order to yield better results and avoid the wastage of scarce resources.  This is a significant endorsement of USP’s success and commitment in this area.

As Chair of the CROP ICT Working Group, Professor Chandra has noted that Smaller Island Countries, because of their extreme vulnerabilities and small economies, need special assistance. USP works closely with key government stakeholders to ensure that all Pacific Islands Countries are able to access ICT and benefit from its use. USP also chairs the CROP HRD Working Group, which considers issues such as Skills Development and Labour Mobility. The aim of the Working Group is to ensure that the Pacific Islands have appropriately skilled-human resources to support the economic development of the region.

USP also, in cooperation with other CROP agencies, provides policy and technical advice to Pacific Island Countries.  USP offers considerable information and support on issues that are of special importance to the region, such as Climate Change, Oceans, Labour Mobility, Gender, and Persons with Disabilities. USP’s support and technical assistance helps the region’s representatives as they share the values, opinions, research findings, and experiences of Pacific Islanders on regional and international stages. 

USP’s regional leadership activities were recently validated by Honourable Henry Puna, Prime Minister of Cook Islands, who termed USP as the “perfect example of Pacific regionalism”.  Hon. Puna, who was the 23rd Chancellor of USP highlighted that “in education, USP is a shining example of what we can do as a region because education is of vital importance to all of us. It does not depend on our circumstances. We all need education to advance ourselves and this is where USP has come in and filled that need for all of us in the Pacific”.

ICT for Education

USP has also made great strides over the past five decades in the way it offers programmes and courses to its students, restructuring study modes to increase accessibility and improve communication between staff and students.  In 2016, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), during the 8th Pan-Commonwealth Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia acknowledged USP for being one of two great regional dual-mode universities in the Commonwealth.

The acknowledgement by the COL, during an award presentation to Professor Chandra, highlighted that USP is owned by twelve (12) Pacific Island Countries, has almost  30,000 students   and operates fourteen (14) campuses and ten (10) Learning Centres, all connected through a sophisticated, privately operated communications network called USPNet.  The award by COL serves as a validation that the University indeed stands for excellence and knowledge creation in the region.

The University has a fully functional Centre for Flexible Learning which is focused on excellence in the learner experience, promotes the use of Online Education Resources (OER), and helps to integrate Flexible Learning into all academic programmes. USP has a unique concept of Flexible Learning, which allows for the blending of four different teaching and learning approaches to best suit a diverse group of learners; these approaches include Online Mode, Blended Learning, Flexible Learning and Face to Face mode.  USP’s pioneering Flexible Learning and ICT initiatives have included the introduction of a Learning Management System, known as MOODLE, and the use of Tablet Learning and Lecture Capture to enhance the overall quality of learning and teaching at USP.  This has dramatically improved regional access to USP’s courses and programmes.

For USP's students and staff who are separated by great distances, or who study or work at a distance or online, USPNet provides the opportunity to participate in interactive audio tutorials (conducted from any campus), communicate by e-mail with academic staff or students, access the internet, access the online Management Information System (MIS) and Banner (a system used throughout USP) applications, watch a live video multicast, access multimedia material via server downloads, and participate in live video conferences (and tutoring) with people based at the Laucala Campus in Suva. The aforementioned capabilities are made possible by USP’s connection to AARNET, the academic and research network of Australian universities. This connection fundamentally changed connectivity at USP and brought it up to the standard at other international universities.

Students undertaking research in the early 90's

USP has done very well in using ICT services and facilities to deliver a constantly improving living and learning experience to its staff and students.  As technology continuously changes, and consistent with USP’s commitment to ongoing improvement, it is crucial that regular upgrades are made. A Grant Funding Arrangement of NZD 5.68m has been secured from New Zealand to upgrade the USPNet infrastructure at the regional campuses this year.

The University’s contribution to the region in the area of ICT, and particularly in ICT for Education, has been complimented by many of the region’s leaders. For example: Hon. Jean Pierre, Vanuatu’s Minister for Education & Training, who graduated from USP twice, with a BA in 1984 and an MBA in 2002, stated that USP is a recognised University that is a major player in the region and is also becoming well-known internationally.  

Research and Innovation

Most of the research carried out at USP is focused on the priorities of its Member Countries and is organised into one or more of the University’s seven Strategic Research Themes. The Strategic Research Themes were devised to improve the amount and quality of research that is carried out at USP and to ensure that the research is relevant to the needs of USP’s Member Countries. Interdisciplinary research is highly valued at the University, which requires that staff focus on key areas of opportunity and challenge for the Pacific and its people. Postgraduate research is also promoted, with Masters and PhD scholarships given to promising students. Most research is also carried out in conjunction with the communities in order to incorporate cultural knowledge.  

A key member of the Pacific Islands Universities Research Network (PIURN), USP has been an active researcher in areas such as Education in the Pacific, Renewable Energy, and Regional Economics to name a few.   USP also houses the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PACE-SD) which focuses its work on research into environment trends, the assessment of the impacts of Climate Change, and the recommendation of appropriate responses to environmental concerns.  

The Pacific is indeed one of the best places in the world to study Marine Science and research issues such as Climate Change.  USP has produced cutting-edge research in areas such as Coastal Protection, Biodiversity, Gender Gaps in Learning, and challenges in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.  

Innovation is also strongly promoted and encouraged at the University. Innovation is focused on producing immediate solutions and outcomes for Member Countries and communities through the use of local resources and traditional knowledge in combination with advanced skills and high tech tools to create new knowledge, approaches, and devices. USP staff and students have recently secured five patents for the following inventions that will improve lives in the Pacific Islands: namely, a Mobile Cane for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a Braille Slate to teach children with visual disabilities, a Portable Wave-Solar Harvesting Device, an Aromatic Network for Power Distribution System, and the GSM-based Early Flood Warning and Monitoring System.  All these innovations are of direct benefit to the region and its people, which is the premise of the vision of the Research Office. 

The leaders of USP’s Member Countries have taken note of the research that is carried out at USP’s campuses and throughout the region by the University’s researchers. According to the Prime Minister of Fiji, Hon. Voreqe Bainimarama, in July 2016, “USP has served the Pacific with distinction and is increasingly seen as the region’s think tank. USP is at the cutting edge of a range of research areas of vital importance to the Pacific, such as Climate Change, Renewable Energy and Green Growth Economies. So, for any person, to be educated here is a privilege”.

Regional Campuses and Improved Infrastructure

USP has, with the help of its development partners, invested heavily in enhancing and expanding its campuses, its membership, and its operations.  As stated by Professor Chandra, “(USP) continues to strive to strengthen its partnerships with stakeholders, governments, industry and communities to better serve the region.”

USP’s Regional Campuses and its presence in Member Countries are the foundation of the University’s strength in the region and are central to USP’s purpose. The Prime Minister of Samoa, Honourable Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) in 2015, said that “USP contributes towards improving standards of education in the Pacific as a premier education and research institute.”

Sir Iakoba Taeia Italeli, Tuvalu’s Governor General who graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in 1997, has commended USP for its significant improvements in terms of infrastructure development in recent years, citing the student residences and the Japan-Pacific ICT Centre.

50 Years of Service to the Pacific Islands

USP has provided Pacific Islanders with high quality educational opportunities, and their governments’ with excellent policy recommendations, technical advice and research, for five decades.  USP clearly offers more to its Member Countries now than it ever has before, delivering constantly improving value for money, educational offerings tailored to Member Countries’ priorities and the job market, and outstanding ICT facilities at purpose-built campuses and centres around the region. USP is meeting the needs of its Member Countries and proactively showing them how it can go “above and beyond” what they need or expect to deliver high-tech solutions and better results for the Pacific Islands and their people.

While acknowledging the University’s substantial contribution to the region’s intellectual capacity and the skills-set of the people, the 24th Chancellor, His Excellency Major General (Ret'd) Jioji Konusi Konrote, President of Fiji said that USP has ensured that it not only remains relevant in the ever-changing demands for higher quality education, but that it actually leads the way in this endeavour.

“I am confident that many countries in the region and their respective Governments consider USP as the University of choice as they seek to improve life for their people now, and well into the future,” H.E Konrote said.

Her Excellency Ms Margaret Twomey, Outgoing High Commissioner of Australia said “USP is the ‘big success’ and an illustration for regionalism in the Pacific, to show how people from their various countries contribute to a greater good.

USP is proud of what has been accomplished, and looks forward to celebrating that this Golden Jubilee Year of 2018, with all members of the USP Community- staff, stakeholders, students, and alumni- past and present. All have played a role in USP’s success to date, and will have an important role to play in determining the course of USP’s future.

One of the most important lessons that the region can learn from the past five decades, which have seen USP grow well beyond the expectations of anyone in 1968, is that it is extremely important not to be self-limiting. It is always best to be ambitious and to refuse to settle for anything less than excellence.  Few would have believed that the Pacific’s relatively small island countries could band together and create a university that offers many programmes that are just as good as those offered in Australia and New Zealand, with student support services that have been lauded as outstanding.

USP’s research is as good as that carried out overseas, and more valuable to the Pacific Islands as it focuses on the Pacific and is designed to help the Pacific Islands, incorporating the most modern research tools and traditional knowledge and experience.  One of the best aspects of USP is that all its research and Pacific-centred learning is taking place in the Pacific Islands. There is no need for students to spend vast amounts and leave their families and communities to study overseas, as USP provides the same quality, contextualised for the Pacific and therefore more useful in the job market, for a remarkably affordable investment.

USP helps hold the Pacific people and nations together, is a true example of an institution for the Pacific, by the Pacific, and demonstrates that the Pacific can excel in whatever it chooses to excel. 


This news item was published on 20 Jan 2018 03:35:54 pm. For more information or any High-Res Images, please contact us on email communications@usp.ac.fj


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