PRESS STATEMENT -  Office of the Vice-Chancellor



PRESS STATEMENT

08 August 2008


In an open forum with staff at The University of the South Pacific today, the Vice Chancellor, Professor Rajesh Chandra appealed to the Academic and Professional staff to consider the economic environment in which they live and offer a 5% across the board salary reduction. The full address is below:


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VICE-CHANCELLOR’S OPEN MEETING WITH MEMBERS OF STAFF
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1.    OVERVIEW

I have taken up the Vice-Chancellorship at a time of significant financial and other difficulties at the University. My email to the University staff when I joined has provided the general overview of our challenges. These challenges, whilst difficult and perhaps painful to resolve, need to be tackled with boldness, vigor and confidence. The Council has given clear targets for the University to achieve, and it is now far more engaged in its oversight of governance and performance. I am duty-bound to respond fully to the requirements and expectations of the Council and the Governments and people of the Pacific Islands. We need to secure the future of USP in the midst of these many difficulties and uncertainties.

To resolve our difficulties, to secure our future, and to give immediate and clear signals to our stakeholders that we are determined to reshape the University to become the place of first choice for undergraduate and graduate studies; the place of first choice for scholars interested in Pacific economies, societies and cultures; the first choice of our governments for policy advice; and the preferred partner of donors for Pacific island development; we will need a strong, trusting  relationship between the Council and the Management; between the Management and Senate and staff in general, and between ourselves and all the stakeholders, including students, unions, and the NGO community.


2.    FINANCIAL CHALLENGES AND COUNCIL/FIC REQUIREMENTS

The University is facing serious financial challenges that require urgent and serious attention. Unlike any of our previous challenges, these challenges cannot be dealt with band-aid solutions—they require serious and fundamental changes. These challenges, even if significant, can be overcome provided we are ready to make the necessary changes and sacrifices. How we deal with the challenges will impact not only on our finances, but on how we are perceived and valued as an institution. It will also depend on the readiness of governments to fund us in the future.

3.1    Scale of the Problems

Many members of staff may not fully comprehend the scale of our financial difficulties. Let me summarize them:

3.2    Explanation

In order to respond to these challenges, we have to first understand how we have got into this situation. According to information prepared by the Director of Finance, the most important short term contributors to the problems of our budget deficits relate to salary increases that were granted to Academic and Comparable staff but were not funded by Governments, the creation of additional posts without funding, and the liberal use of inducement, again without regard to the funding situation and the cost of inflation which is no longer covered by the Governments.

However one looks at it, a large part of our current financial problems have to do with the fact that salary increases were awarded to Academic and Comparable staff that were not funded by governments. This is nobody’s fault in particular because of past practice where Governments did fund it—but the fact remains that the University cannot give salary increases without financial provision for it.

The other contributor to the challenges is the requirement that we need to make adequate investment in capital—both equipment, repairs and maintenance and capital works. We have not made much investment in these areas. This expenditure needs to come from our current budgets since we will not have new monies from the Government, and there is no major capacity to raise revenue from student fees.

While we have significant problems, we also need to put much more money into research and graduate activities, as well as in regional campuses—this is additional to the figures shown above.

3.3    Other Challenges

In addition to our current financial challenges, we have significant other areas of concern. There is a perception in our Governments and indeed in our community that USP pays its staff too generously; that people do not work hard enough (cf the comments of Ministers of Finance regarding the workload model); the emergence of strong national systems of higher education and the need for governments to share resources; the increasingly open higher education market; the strong push by universities in Australia and New Zealand; and, for the first time, the possibility of declining enrolments.

I wish to emphasize the point that the economies of our member countries are in crisis. In Fiji, there was a negative growth of 4.4 percent in 2007, and the outlook for this year is still problematic; the economy of Tonga contracted by 3.5 percent in 2007; Marshall Islands has declared an economic emergency due to the fuel and food price hikes; Nauru is in serious difficulty—and indeed, the other countries face an uncertain economic future.

4    Fundamental, Sustainable Changes Needed

These problems will require fundamental changes at the University that will enable it to be much more agile, responsive and responsible. Our management and administrative arrangements, our academic arrangements, the number of courses and programmes, the efficiency and effectiveness of our staff, and all expenditure will need careful scrutiny.

ONLY BY DOING ALL OF THESE CAN WE SECURE OUR FUTURE COLLECTIVELY.

4.1 Actions already taken

5. Proposals for Dealing with the Deficit

The situation we find ourselves is this:

In order to secure our future, we need to make some sacrifices. The VC and the Senior Management have already taken significant cuts to their salaries.


I do believe very strongly that the future of USP is at stake. We need to demonstrate to our Governments and people that we are not a selfish elite blind to the serious plight of the people we are supposed to serve; that instead, we are ready to give real meaning to the statement in our Mission Statement that says that we are the conscience of Pacific societies. We need to demonstrate to them that we do not just subscribe to empty ideals, but are prepared to make some real sacrifices for a University that we deeply care about.

This is our fortieth year of existence. We are at our most significant crossroads. We can lose our way in the midst of our current difficulties, or show clear leadership and determination, and demonstrate to the region that we can reshape the University to become more valued by the Governments and people for whom it was created. We have an exciting future ahead of us provided we make the necessary sacrifices and changes. With humility, I appeal to all Academic and Comparable members of staff to agree to the proposed salary cut and thereby assist in securing our future. I assure you that there will be a huge dividend from our small sacrifices.

This is our fortieth year of existence. We have done very well. We have served the needs of the region in a significant way and we are recognized as an international university and one which has led the political, economic and social thinking in the region for the past 4 decades. As your Vice Chancellor I can assure you that I will do my best to champion that role of the University to our leaders and our international partners. I also want to say to our governments,  to our leaders and our donors that while we may be going through difficult financial times we are confident that we will resolve our difficulties with the support of our staff, many of whom work very hard and care passionately about the future of our University. I also want to say to all of you that I will continue to impress upon our leaders and donors that USP is a critical institution for our region and continued and appropriate funding is vital for the well being of our countries in the future.






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