Conference of Pacific Education Ministers 2023: Empowering education for Pacific people


E ngā mana
E ngā reo
E ngā mataawaka o te motu
Tena kotou/ tena kotou/ tena koutou kātoā
Nō reira…..Talofa lava; ni sa bula, malo e lelei, kia orana, ia orana; fakaalofa lahi atu; malo ni; iokwe; halo olgeta; (E) kamawir Omo; bonsoir, namaste……..and warm Pacific greetings to you all.

Honourable Ministers; distinguished guests and delegates; ladies and gentlemen. I am deeply honoured and privileged as Vice-Chancellor and President to be leading a regional organisation that was founded 55 years ago on the former New Zealand Airforce base in Laucala Bay Suva, gifted to our Pacific region by the Government and peoples of New Zealand.

Honourable Deputy PM and Minister Tinetti, I not only thank you for your generosity and hospitality in hosting the honourable Ministers and their delegates as well as myself and my USP colleagues from the region for this important conference and for this evening’s dinner; but I also thank you for your country’s important contribution to the founding of this illustrious institution and for your strong and on-going support throughout the 55 years.

“ka mua, ka muri” , I am told, is a Māori whākātauki  or proverb, which loosely translated means “walking backwards into the future”.

This proverb invokes the idea that we should look to the past to inform the future.

In looking to our past, as Vice Chancellor of USP, I am acutely aware that we stand on the shoulders of giants; Pacific leaders who had the prescience of their ancient navigating forbearers, to set up an institution of higher learning and to set it on a course over the horizons in pursuit of two things EXCELLENCE and EQUITY.

EXCELLENCE in the delivery of relevant post-secondary qualifications and EQUITY in outcomes.

This visionary foundation laid down by our Pacific forebearers, has made USP the greatest success story of regional cooperation, where the richness of diversity of experiences has formed the foundation of hope and choice; and has established a network for learning to know; learning to do; learning to be; and learning to share.

Where ancient familial links honed by shared challenges and resource constraints are the catalyst for enduring regional partnership in enhancement and empowerment through higher education.

USP has been and continues to be a bedrock for that regionalism. A resource owned by the region; for the region and a precious institution that needs to be protected in line with the vision of our forebearers.

Our graduates have filled critical roles and many have gone on to be leaders in their own right across all sectors in their respective countries.

We are proud of our alumni who have become Prime Ministers, Presidents, Ministers of cabinet, leaders of the public and private sector in our member countries. Many of whom are in this room tonight and are here leading their country delegations.

We are just as proud of our many alumni who are leaders in the public and private sectors here in Aotearoa [OUR TE AH RAW AH] and in Australia and have made and continue to make an immensely invaluable contribution to the development of these countries and to our region.

In a recent TWEET that went viral, the Honourable Simon Kofe from Tuvalu said that USP is where he met his wife and that TWEET was commented on by hundreds of other USP alumni who also said that they too met their spouses and partners at USP. So even in that sphere, I should add, we are contributing more than our fair share to regional cooperation and partnerships.

Although our main focus in our early years was on Teacher Education to support our member governments with their education workforce as they gained their independence, over the years, we have expanded our offerings in response to shifts in regional priorities and needs. However, as these regional needs have become more divergent, the prospects of adequately meeting them, while remaining true to our on-going commitment to excellence and equity has increasingly become a difficult challenge on diminishing resources.

The last three years of COVID and its impact; and the existential threat to our region that is CLIMATE CHANGE; has also spoken to us–not with a new message, but with new volume and has exposed deeper issues that impact Equity, Access and Excellence in Education.

The 1996 Delors Report, commissioned by UNESCO, proposed an integrated vision of education, focussed on life-long learning and the FOUR pillars of learning:

• Learning to Know;

• Learning to do;

• Learning to live together; and

• Learning to be.

The 2015 UNESCO report titled “Rethinking Education – towards a global common good?”, challenged us with a renewed vision of sustainable human and social development that is more equitable and viable;

It said (and I quote), “An empowering education is one that builds the human resources that we need to be productive, to continue to learn, to solve problems, to be creative and to live together. When nations ensure that such an education is accessible to all throughout their lives, a quiet revolution is set in motion: education becomes the engine of sustainable development and the key to a better world” (close quote);

These are profound challenges and USP and our region needs to be cognisant of our responses. This is something we owe not only our current generation but our future generations. It is an opportunity for us to review; take stock; renew; strengthen and to act strategically in these unsettling times. A prosperous and well region will require an agile, highly productive knowledge economy led by appropriately educated and skilled people; and through its regional mandate, USP will have to play a leading role in our social and economic transformation.

As Vice-Chancellor, I am immensely proud of USP’s achievements and profoundly passionate about the exciting possibilities before us and over our horizons. However, I am under no illusions that we face sizeable challenges and to realise our full potential as a regional university, we need to be at our best to efficiently and effectively teach, learn and research in the service of our regional family.

Our top 10% Times Higher Education global ranking has demonstrated that we continue to punch above our weight when compared to the more than twenty thousand universities across the globe. But, as we pursue even loftier heights internationally, we are also requiring ourselves to do things universities often find challenging. We have to listen to our people as well as other stakeholders, valuing relationships and partnerships in new and innovative ways, and caring for our communities and our natural resources that we haven’t collectively cared enough for.

We are also requiring ourselves to do something that is often even harder: stopping doing things–whether it is because they cannot be done excellently or are no longer needed or relevant or should be delivered by other providers. The emergence and growth across our region of national tertiary institutions was well foreshadowed by our forebearers. It is our responsibility now is to ensure a cohesive articulation of tertiary qualifications across this network that address specific national needs of members of our family, while also pooling resources so that we can do things together where it makes sense to do so.

These directions will require our collective leadership, capability and courage to pursue and achieve the right balance. In his forward to the 2003 USP Futures Report, the late Dr Langi Kavaliku, former Deputy Prime Minister of Tonga and our then Pro-Chancellor said [and I quote] “USP and Pacific Member Countries all have goals that they aspire to in order to provide for the well-being and needs of their people and communities. Even though resource constraints affect all efforts and seemingly place the future as an uncertain promise, USP should seize the challenges of the present with vigour and commitment and strive towards the future with hope. Not only do they ask “why?” when they see things, but they also see things that never were and say “why not!”.

However the journey must always begin with the Pacific saying: “… if you do not know from whence you sail, how do you know where you
are going?”

It is in fact hoped that with the contributions of USP and others we can successfully sail the new world just as our ancestors did in their new world over 3000 years ago, leaving us the legacy that living has to be learned and earned; that sailing the ocean of life means understanding, tolerance and sharing; and that the future means to be; and in being we therefore create.”

For us and for USP, the pathway to excellence and global relevance will always be anchored in our MOANA – the Pacific.

That innate ability to connect the past with the present in order to see, inform and shape the future, is in our region’s DNA. Just like our forebearers did over 55 years ago. We now have the responsibility to courageously chart new directions, even through uncharted waters so that in 50 years time, future generations will look back and consider us GOOD ANCESTORS.

USP has always had to be responsive and resilient and we have much more to gain than to lose from genuine innovation; and we are best positioned to claim leadership in areas no other organisation has the regional mandate, capability, need or courage to pursue.

My name and the turban that I proudly wear; demonstrates my ancestral links to Punjab in India, but the style in which I wear the turban will tell you that I am from East Africa. The greatest honour that gives me the right to wear this turban is my life-long commitment to serve others.

In the words of my mother tongue: “Satguru Ki Sewa Safal Hai jai ko kare Chit Lai” [service is fruitful and rewarding when one does it with one’s mind totally focussed on the task].

In the words of the land of my birth: “Asisa firie nyota ya mwenzio” [Don’t set sail using somebody else’s star].

ASANTE [Thank you]

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