The University of the South Pacific (USP) received a courtesy visit from the Norwegian Ambassador to Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, Her Excellency Anne Grete Riise, on Friday, 2 June 2023.
Ambassador Riise was received by USP Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education, Professor Jito Vanualailai, Director Research Professor Sushil Kumar, Team Leader Norway-Pacific Ocean-Climate Scholarships Programme (N-POC) Dr Mele Katea Paea, N-POC Administrator Florence Toganivalu and recipients of the N-POC Scholarship.
While briefing the Norwegian Ambassador about the research being conducted at a regional level, Professor Jito said, “We hope to continue to enhance our programmes in climate change and coastal marine management in terms of research and partnerships.”
Director Research, Professor Sushil Kumar in his brief to the Ambassador, explained that the N-POC partnership is based with the Research Office, and its main purpose is to provide PhD training between the University of Bergen (UiB), Bergen, Norway and The University of the South Pacific (USP). Professor Kumar acknowledged the excellent support and teamwork of UiB colleague Professor Edvard Hviding and his team.
“Funded for 2021–2025 by Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. Last year we progressed a lot in bringing the PhD Funding to fruition with the finalising of the bi-institutional degree agreement, under which the students will get degrees from both universities upon the completion of their PhD,” Professor Kumar said.
Six students who are now recipients of the PhD N-POC Scholarship were also present to discuss their areas of research within ocean and climate research, ranging from the natural sciences to the social sciences and humanities.
Team Leader N-POC Dr Mele Katea Paea said, “So far in terms of the implementation of N-POC Scholarships, we have recruited our first cohort. So, six of them have started their PhD studies in the first semester, while the remaining four will begin in the upcoming semester.
“Just by way of an update, we have closed the application for the second cohort and the committees between USP and UiB are working together to start screening applications. Altogether we are looking at recruiting 24 PhD students from across the Pacific region that includes the 12-member countries of USP, Papua New Guinea, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau,” Dr Paea added.
Dr Paea also shared that the strategic significance that UiB and USP have established to assist the region is critical to the single threat of ocean climate nexus issues that the Pacific is currently facing.
“The outcome of what we have been building with the Norwegian government will be used by academics, researchers and governments as evidence to inform policy and decision-making and good practices when it comes to ocean climate adaptation,” she added.
The Norwegian Ambassador, Her Excellency Anne Grete Riise acknowledged the work being carried out by the Research Office and PhD students.
“What strikes me is that you are all dealing with subjects that are important to the region, which is the purpose of this programme to be in the Pacific and for the Pacific people,” Ambassador Riise highlighted.
Her Excellency Anne Grete Riise said visiting USP and hearing from the N-POC Scholarship recipients was a priority for her while in Fiji.
“During the presentation of my credentials to the Fiji President and on several bilateral visits with partners in the UN institutions in the Pacific, I spoke about the N-POC Scholarship Programme, many of whom were already well aware of this Programme. I am happy with the feedback, it is very important, and I am so happy that you all also find it important,” she said.
The Norwegian Ambassador also highlighted her briefings with UiB on the progress of the N-POC programme and looks forward to hearing more about the progress of the second cohort once it has been finalised.
Fulori Nainoca-Waqairagata a recipient of the PhD N-POC Scholarship, is pursuing a PhD in Marine Science and shared her research with Her Excellency.
Ms Waqairagata said, “My Research is focused on coral reef resilience. When you have coral reefs in a degraded state, you will need to maintain the natural processes and the natural balance and that will allow coral reefs to recover much quicker from the impacts of climate change.”
Another N-POC recipient Mr Peter Emberson acknowledged the Ambassador for visiting USP and taking the time to hear from the students.
He also thanked the Ambassador for Norway’s commitment to supporting their research through the N-POC Scholarship through UiB.
Mr Emberson said, “I am greatly privileged to be selected to be part of this scholarship programme. The choice of study or investigation I am taking up is the important role that indigenous knowledge system plays in the area of climate mobility.”
“This study, I hope, will contribute to the volume of important policies that will be needed to ensure that communities and agencies working in this area, as well as governments can make the most accurate, informed positions that peoples’ lives are safeguarded and dignities and cultures and everything that is associated with the livelihoods of people are taken into consideration” Mr Emberson added.
Laura Williams is pursuing her PhD in Climate Change, Ulamila Vakaloloma is pursuing a PhD in Aquaculture, Hulita Fa’anunu is pursuing a PhD in Maritime Affairs, and Marta Manaka is pursuing a PhD in Law were also present to share details of their research in their respective fields with the Norwegian Ambassador.