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Pacific uni strife continues as funds dry up

"University of South Pacific is only one of two regional universities in the world, and arguably one of the few tangible outcomes of Pacific regional integration” - Professor Albert Schram

USP dale pana
Solomon Islands student Dale Pala wants regional governments to sort out the USP mess  - 'When they come here students say we are one people, one ocean’


NOOSA – It’s been a while since this blog touched upon happenings at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.

The deportation of vice-chancellor Professor Sal Ahluwalia and his wife Sandra Price in February last year, and the subsequent withdrawal of Fiji’s funding from the regional university, have kept the issue alive.

Three short but well informed and revelatory stories from PNG Attitude will help you catch up with the drama: Michael Field’s Ahluwalia got too close to Fiji’s dark secret; David Robie’s They beat up the whistleblower says deported USP chief; and the staff of Wan Solwara’s Fiji gestapo tactics against deported uni boss.


As former PNG Unitech vice-chancellor Professor Albert Schram contextualised it for me: “I hope Fiji will concede: USP is only one of two regional universities in the world, and arguably one of the few tangible outcomes of Pacific regional integration”.

Apart from vice-chancellor Ahluwalia and his wife, the people hardest hit by the current situation are students.

The university’s pro-vice-chancellor Dr Hilda Heine told Islands Business that “students are hurting” as the conflict between the Fiji government and USP continues.

“Funding constraints and the relationship with Fiji is something that is making it difficult for the university to move forward,” Heine said, choosing her words carefully.

“We have to think about this whole thing in the context of the students….They shouldn’t be brought into this argument that the adults are having.”

In a report of its May meeting, the university’s Council stated “it was looking at other measures to deliver its core business without compromising the quality of learning and teaching, research and student support”.

But “the financial and operating risks arising out of Fiji’s withheld grant [have been] compounded by the Covid-19 economic impacts.”

The Islands Business story said the Fiji government had not met with USP leaders, nor have there been any indications that the withheld grant will be released.

Heine an educator who became the eighth president of the Marshall Islands has said it was important that regional leaders discussed this matter.

“USP is a university for the entire region,” she said, “and I think what happens there will affect the rest of the region.”

Meanwhile, Fiji’s Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has said the government wants an independent investigation into vice chancellor Ahluwalia.

“Fiji does not accept Ahluwalia as the vice-chancellor and will not provide any funding to USP for as long as he remains the supposed vice-chancellor,” he has told Parliament.

Dale Pana, a Solomon Islands student at USP, said USP is now in a rundown state compared with 2019, when he started his studies.

Pana believes the university needs to survive what he calls the “tug of war” for the sake of regionalism and the students.

“When they come here, as the saying goes, [it’s] ‘one people, one ocean’.

“It’s only in USP [that] people like me [get] the chance to interact.”


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John Beswick

Alternatively for James Cook to develop a campus in a PIF location or create a MoU with USP that also allows for Australian students to study ‘in culture’ as that is where understanding and empathy is to be found.

Lindsay F Bond

Goodo Stephen.
Only as jest, yet for a point: Add science to the menial?
Too much the thinking is of spreading the cream over a less adept loaf.
Engaging every level of society into such wonderments revealed by deployment earlier of the Hubble Telescope and now by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWT) are news stories of great magnitude, although every person scanning the reaches beyond earth has potential of increasing actual knowledge as well as founding its furtherance in community.
Of myself when as a child, I had access to JTW type images in a book (one book of only a few in the house, yet so I treasured) my delight in the visual information was enhanced and a career in visual activity was (shall we say) lifted.
University is not singularity, and a campus is not a corral.
To take another of my own interests when as a lad, one of our neighbours was Joseph T Baker, and though hardly for me to bother him by cricket balls across the back fence, his near presence enlarged my interest in his status and what his career would provide. Just being a neighbour.
So the challenge? Take actual opportunity into the 'fields' not only engage 'workers'. Create corridors of learning for esplanades of achievement?

Stephen Charteris

Cannot comment on the veracity of the claims by any party except to say the story sounds familiar.

What is certain is the Pacific needs a forward looking institution to nurture the human talent on offer and enable emerging leaders to flourish in all fields.

One alternative could be for James Cook University to open a regional campus in Far North Queensland to take a large Pasifika cohort and mix it with Australian students with an interest in Pacific affairs.

It could specialise in issues of significance to the Pacific region; response to climate change, food security, appropriate models for economic growth and human capital development, health and education.

To bolster resilience and opportunity in a region forced to confront challenges to its environment, reefs, forests and way of life, language, cultures and values.

Couple this to progressive policies around access to Australian markets including employment and immigration and you might have a blueprint for an engaged, energised and peaceful 'Blue Pacific' continent going forward.

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