Finding a way forward at crisis-hit N.U.S.

The National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) has been tossed and turned like a hot potato over the last three months, and its reputation as the country’s premier institution of higher education is threatening to go belly up, if rumblings from a recent Parliament session is any indication.

The university’s governance challenges unfolded in early April this year — just over two months after Semester 1 began — when the Cabinet suspended the N.U.S. Vice Chancellor, Professor Fui Asofou So’o and placed Deputy V.C. (academic and research) Peseta Desmond Lee Hang, and Deputy V.C. (corporate services) Maugaoali’i Ufagalilo Fa’amanu Mualia on special leave, to make way for an internal investigation to get underway.

Thankfully, the developments on campus came to light a week after the NUS annual graduation, as any sort of impact on this memorable day would have been a major disappointment for the graduates and their families and friends. 

The Minister of Education Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio, told the Samoa Observer that the Cabinet acted on the recommendations of the NUS Council and its decision back then was effective immediately.

He said there were allegations levelled against the Vice Chancellor and the two Deputy Vice Chancellors, which warranted an internal investigation. 

“There is a lot of mess and they are all involved. It began from when the results for university came out earlier this year and the dispute started from there,” he said. 

Last month this newspaper revealed the internal investigation into the “mess” at the NUS was referred to the Office of the Ombudsman to inquire into and report back to the Cabinet. The Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, confirmed the referral to his office by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi. 

“On the National University of Samoa situation, the Prime Minister has referred to the Ombudsman the matter under s19 (3) of the Ombudsman Act 2013 for investigation and report as a matter of urgency,” he said.

“We cannot comment further on this as the investigation is underway”.  

Parents and guardians of students attending the N.U.S. were looking forward to the outcome of the inquiry, aware of the implications that it could have on the students’ studies and future, until this newspaper uncovered another university-connected investigation. But this time into the academic credentials of a foreign lecturer, who was recruited to lecture at the NUS School of Medicine.

Kenyan national Dr. Embiruka Osborne Nyandiva was introduced by Professor Fui Asofou So’o in October-November last year with much applause, with the now suspended V.C. highlighting his “wealth of knowledge and experience in medical teaching and research” in a statement released by the N.U.S.

Even the media including this newspaper were fascinated with his medical qualifications, and the immediate impact he could have on medical students’ learning outcomes.

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Close to six months later, an inquiry is underway into the background of the Kenyan national. And in a new twist, a university college in Tanzania advised in a public notice last month they are disassociating themselves from Mr. Osborne Nyandiva, who left them in September last year after their own checks raised questions about his academic background.

The key question entities such as the Medical Council, Samoa Qualifications Authority and the Office of the Attorney General — who are all privy to the inquiry into the Kenyan academic’s background — will ask is how he went through the recruitment evaluation process without setting off the alarm bells. The next question is how effective is the university’s screening and evaluation process, and when was the last time a review was done on that process to ensure the N.U.S. only recruited the best?

The controversy over the academic background of the Kenyan national touches at the core of the N.U.S. Charter — to address the manpower needs of Samoa. Failure to address this is tantamount to failing the dreams and aspirations of this nation, to create its own qualified and skilled workforce to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Early in the week the Member of Parliament for Lefaga and Falease’ela, Tole’afoa Ken Poutoa, told Parliament he was advised by some N.U.S. graduates that the diplomas and degrees that they obtained after studying in Samoa were not recognised in Australia and New Zealand. 

“I advise the Honorable Minister of Education to look into the degree qualifications being awarded at our the National University of Samoa,” he said.

However, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi interjected, and said the issue lies with the individual and not with the institution (N.U.S.).

“The problem is not the university, it is the individual alone,” the Prime Minister said.

“We have our own vocational schools and on top of that we also have a Technical college from Australia that is set up in Samoa teaching different trades.

“It does not matter what knowledge and skill they have. How can they measure such knowledge if they don’t have any experience? The only substance that is looked at is the individual alone.”

But with due respects to the P.M., he cannot entirely throw it back to the individual student, when the N.U.S. is recruiting unqualified lecturers in the first place. 

Doesn't the N.U.S. have a duty of care to its students to ensure the lecturers it recruits for its undergraduate or postgraduate programmes are academically qualified?

The concerns expressed by MP Tole’afoa is good feedback that the N.U.S. should immediately take on board, as it could be a hurdle that an increasing number of graduates are facing abroad when on the job hunt. Doing a survey of N.U.S. graduates in the last 10 years, specifically targeting those who have moved abroad, could be the first step towards getting to the bottom of the matter. 

Nevertheless it is good to see Minister Loau on top of his game, with his announcement of a Cabinet proposal, that would ensure the S.Q.A. gets to vet all appointments of academics with foreign qualifications. Now that's a move in the right direction for Samoa’s premier higher education institution. 

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless.

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