U.S.P. saga shows national university's value: Minister

Minister of Education, Sports and Culture Loau Keneti Sio said ongoing drama at the University of the South Pacific, is proof Samoa needs to continue investing in its own institution of higher learning.

Speaking in Parliament, Loau urged people to enrol at the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) and said the institution needs investment.

Having a locally owned and operated university means Samoan students can be offered a range of courses at home, he said. 

“It is important to have this university as well (NUS) to have more programmes available to Samoans, and to upgrade the standard of our own university so we can be competitive,” Loau said.

“This is one way to ensure that our children are well-educated.”

Earlier this year, University of the South Pacific’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia was deported from Fiji, after butting heads with senior staff with close connections to the Government.

Last week he left Brisbane, Australia, where he and his wife Sandra Price underwent two weeks of quarantine and travelled onto Nauru where they will reside for the time being. The President of Nauru Lionel Aingimea is a Chancellor of the University and has been a vocal supporter of Professor Ahluwalia.

Last week he condemned Fiji’s unilateral decision to expel the Professor from Fiji and U.S.P.’s headquarters and said the region's university should not be treated as a political football.

“It is not a university of any particular country. It is not a political institution; it should not be treated as a political institution,” he told the Fiji Times newspaper. 

“I am also concerned that because of the reputational risk that U.S.P. carries, that we have to carry a reputation that will want donors to come in and give money.”

Samoa has invited Professor Ahluwalia to work out of Samoa Campus in Alafua. Before a permanent decision is made, a University Council subcommittee is investigating whether Fiji was right to deport the professor and whether his contract is void as a result.

Mr. Aingimea said he plans to work closely with Professor Ahluwalia while he is in Nauru to strengthen the university, and to learn more about its operations outside of Fiji.

Nauru’s president is also concerned that Professor Ahluwalia’s treatment will instil fear in other lecturers or staff who travel to U.S.P. countries for work.

He said expatriate staff should have the security of tenure and job security, which is essential for themselves and also for the University’s academic reputation. 

“One of the most important things for us to remember is that the university is a regional institution and what I would like to basically tell the students and the staff is this, as a Chancellor that I want to reassure them and want to emphasise that first and foremost are the staff and the students of the U.S.P., their interests come first," Mr. Aingimea said. 

“Good governance strategy and vision must go hand in hand and that’s what many council members are concerned with and of course council must always be thinking ‘how do we safeguard our students, how do we safeguard our staff.’”

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