Keynote address by the Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, Honourable Rosy S Akbar on the USP Open Day -  Office of the Vice-Chancellor

Keynote address by the Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, Honourable Rosy S Akbar on the USP Open Day, Friday 26th July, 2019

Ni sa Bula Vinaka, Namaste, As-salam Alaikum and a very good morning to you all.

Thank you so much for your warm words of welcome and I am delighted to be with you all this morning, especially the many young prospective students preparing to enter University in 2020.

USP turned 50 last year and has a long and distinguished history serving the needs of the Pacific. We are all students of life and many of us today are students – current, past and future – of this University.

Today, marks the opening of the doors of higher learning to the next generation of students. You will get an insight into the mysteries of academic life at USP.

I am honoured today to address you, as many of you will become professionals, entrepreneurs and future leaders of our great nation and the communities from which you come. Some of you may be the first in your family to consider attending university and congratulations. Many of you may have other family members who have attended university before and congratulations on continuing in their footsteps.

The future of Fiji and the Pacific lies in the hands of you, our youth. We, like many other Pacific nations, have invested resources to shape our future generations or as per the theme of this year’s USP Open Day “Shaping Pacific Futures”.

We have a responsibility towards our youths, through our actions and our words, to guide our future leaders who will guide our future.

I believe that through the support of governments and our shared vision, we will continue to invest in our students and provide you with the platform to turn your dreams into reality. This is how we can collectively “Shape our Pacific Futures”.

The Fijian Government is committed to ensuring that we secure a future that is sustainable, addresses climate change and that inspires an ambition for a better life for all – a life in which education plays a major role.

Fiji has transitioned into the economic hub of the Pacific and is fast becoming a global leader and advocate on key areas and each year we continue to build on all that progress.

Our Honourable Attorney General and Minister for the Economy undertook an inclusive and extensive budget consultation which included secondary and tertiary students across the country. We have heard your views and have incorporated them into the budget announced in June 2019.

The Fijian Government has allocated more than $800 million to the education sector, over 21% of the national budget, of which more than $100 million is committed to Higher Education Institutions.

We are committed to meeting a key development target in our 20 Year Development Plan: “All Fijians to have access to quality education at all levels”.

    Our commitment to education is further enhanced in Government’s 5 - Year Development Plan to:
  1. Ensure every Fijian student has equal and unrestrained access to education;
  2. Improve the quality of education at all levels of Fiji’s education system i.e. at pre-school, primary school, secondary school, and university and technical colleges;
  3. Improve standards for the technical and vocational curriculum in Fiji; and
  4. Enhance support for higher education institutions.

We continue with our key policies of free education, free textbook, subsidised transportation to school and tertiary scholarships. We have equaled access to education as a result and seen an increase in enrolment at all levels of education.

In 2014, we assisted 5,940 higher education students and in 2019, we are assisting 25,471 students – an increase of 328% through an allocation of $181.8 million for scholarships and loans.

We expect numbers to rise as more Fijians are now realising their dream of tertiary education. This is an excellent example of the “Bainimarama Boom” as was highlighted in the 2019-2020 budget.

We are working with our universities to address our skills shortage areas in the labour market through the National Toppers Scheme. Over time we want to see well qualified and trained graduates absorbed to meet the demands of our economy.

We continuously emphasize the need for the Higher Educations Institutions to review the curriculum to ensure that graduates come out with both the hard and soft skills required for the labour market. We are focused on quality.

We want to use education for all not only to find jobs but create jobs through creative initiatives like the Young Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES). It is about providing the space and the resources to encourage innovation, talent and creativity and to realise dreams.

The 2017 Census shows that more than half of our population is below the age of 27. With targeted support and resources, we can nurture productive, educated, ambitious and entrepreneurial Fijians and brothers and sisters from the region with USP’s focus on entrepreneurism for the past 6 years.

The Faculty of Science, Technology & Environment, in particular, has an Entrepreneurship Cell that supports the development of ideas so these graduates can use YES to support the incubation of their innovative ideas.

USP now has an Innovation Hub and Co-working Space that will allow students, academics, researchers, experts, entrepreneurs and social innovators from across the region to share ideas, network and to work together and collaborate on projects.

These are the kinds of initiatives that we need in order to nurture our students. I believe that tertiary institutions like USP play a critical role in creating these spaces and opportunities to realise the ambitions of the Pacific.

The future of Fiji and indeed the Pacific are indivisible and intertwined. A future that reflects our aspirations, that is sustainable and rich with resources and a future that is safe for our children. We are working to ensure that our national and Pacific development does not come at a cost to our natural environment.

We as individuals and as a community need to take action now. We are therefore undertaking some key initiatives to strictly enforce legislations and adherence to the laws to preserve our natural environment.

We are increasing the duty on plastic bags and we are also on track to ban single use plastics from 1 January 2020. The use of these plastics is literally choking the life out of our environment, particularly our marine life. However we need more nations to follow suit as the plastic from other countries ends up in the Pacific.

We are also placing zero duty on all non-plastic food packaging, for example, straws, containers and cutlery. It is wonderful that at this USP Open Day, the University has banned the use of plastic bags, PET bottles and the use of balloons. I acknowledge the University’s efforts in keeping to Government’s global commitment and call to action.

USP is uniquely placed in a region of extraordinary physical, social and economic diversity. With 14 campuses in its 12 member countries, numerous international accreditations, flexibility in mode of study, strong employability of graduates and affordability, USP is clearly an attractive option for students.

While being conscious of the changing landscape of higher education, USP must now further accelerate its own transformation to a higher level, by adequately responding to challenges and opportunities facing our nations and our region.

USP has enhanced its brand by continuing to accredit more programmes internationally. Already it has 27 internationally accredited programmes and 15 international recognitions. It has also achieved a significant milestone in obtaining Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation in June 2018. USP has not only set its own standard but increased the value of the University brand and recognition of its high quality programmes.

USP gives you a choice of a comprehensive range of relevant qualifications, many of which can be pursued at all campuses and in a variety of formats – face-to-face, online, flexible learning, or via a mixture of modes.

In addition, USP students have access to the Disability Resource Centre, which caters specifically for the needs of students with special abilities. In the recent National Budget, $266,000 has been allocated for scholarships for students with special needs to enroll into tertiary institutions and a total of 48 students are expected to benefit.

USP’s academic programmes are geared towards Developing Academic Excellence, Intellectual Curiosity and Integrity; Capacity for Leadership and Working for Others; Appreciation of the cultures of the Pacific Islands including Cross-cultural competencies. Therefore, as the largest contributor to this University, the Fijian Government expects nothing short of the best from graduates of USP.

To all students present, I wish you well for your final exams - study hard, perform your best, burn that midnight oil to qualify for tertiary studies. I hope your experience here today at the USP Laucala Campus as well as in Lautoka and Labasa Campuses will inspire you to join USP in 2020.

I also take this opportunity to remind students to take up courses that will assist you find a job or start your own business through developing innovative ideas. Make the right career choice for you as it is an important decision which has an impact on the rest of your life.

Please use today as an opportunity to learn about the University, its programmes and courses, meet the lecturers and professors, speak to current students and get a better understanding of what it will be like when you join. Most importantly use this time to appreciate the challenges and opportunities of next phase of your journey.

Today is about taking the next step. It is about shaping your future as an individual and that of your country. With that next step there is a need to make a commitment to your studies which comes responsibility and sacrifice.

Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot deny the fact students in Fiji face the same social issues like other countries: drugs, alcohol, violence, cyber bullying, mental health, teenage pregnancy, STI/HIV, NCDs and suicide.

Some of these issues can and must be prevented through education and strong support from teachers, parents and our communities. We can be proactive when it comes to awareness and outreach. We must remove the stigma of mental health issues. We must work with parents and guardians to instill positive values in our children but the most important factor is you, the students. You have the freedom to choose the best life and future you want to create. The ball is in your court to a bright future.

Enjoy the 2019 USP Open Day.

Thank you. Vinaka Vakalevu. Dhanyavaad. May GOD bless you all!

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