Prior to the establishment of the University of the South Pacific in 1968, all Pacific students had to travel to New Zealand, Australia or further abroad for tertiary education.
One early graduate and now an emeritus professor of pacific and asian history at the Australian National University, Brij Lal, says the USPs establishment put tertiary education within the reach of ordinary Pacific islanders.
Professor Lal says it also came at a time when independence was on the horizon for many Pacific islands.
PLAY AUDIO: BRIJ LAL LEADERS
IN:……”So USP become the supplier of trained manpower and later on provided the leaders. Presidents and prime ministers and cabinet ministers of many Pacific Island countries.”
Originally solely focussed on teaching, the USP is now an established research institute.
Its vice chancellor Rajesh Chandra says over the last five decades the institution has grown in size, scope and reputation.
PLAY AUDIO: RAJESH CHANDRA GROW
IN:……And over this period we
OUT:…academia right around the world
“And over this period we have graduated over 45,000 Pacific Islanders and students. So that is really one of the significant achievements. That these people have gone on to become heads of state, heads of government, ministers, senior public servants and gone on to make major contributions in the private sector in academia right around the world.”
One of these success stories is Solomon Islands scientist Patrick Pikacha, who has just finished a book based on 13 years documenting his country’s wildlife.
Dr Pikacha says he was able to move forward in his career through the USP’s flexible distance learning programme, which enabled him to study while working full time.
PLAY AUDIO: PATRICK TP
IN:……For me it was the
OUT:…would be here today. Yeah.
” For me it was the break that I needed. I did my under-grad and post-grad and masters at USP and then went further after that. But without USP I dont think I would be here today. Yeah.”
One long serving member of staff, emeritus geography professor, Randy Thaman, has taught at the USP since 1974.
Professor Thaman, who hails from America, says one of the institution’s finest achievements has been fostering relationships across the vast Pacific ocean.
“You almost have a USP Mafia. I say that in a good way although sometimes it can be bad, that have these relationships built up over 40 years or so. For example in the time I have been here I have probably taught five or six PMs and presidents of countries and they all have relationships with each other.”
With an increasing number of national universities being established in the region, Brij Lal says there’s a need for a more coordinated approach to Pacific tertiary education.
“You have the National University of Samoa, you have the Solomon Islands University, there are three universities in Fiji so I think there has to be coordination between all these universities so that talk about how they can work cooperatively without duplicating the functions of each other.”
Rajesh Chandra agrees.
“So that we can lift the proportion of people who should be in tertiary education if you are at two or three percent as is the case in Solomons or you are at 10 or 15 percent as it is in some other countries you really need to lift it to twenty five or thirty percent knowing that countries like Korea are at close to 100 percent.”
Looking to the future, Dr Chandra says the USP needs more funding to break into new areas and realise its ambition of becoming both an international and a Pacific institution.
“The university really needs to become a lot more of an oceanic university. Then there are other areas such as digital revolution and Pacific arts, culture, identity and heritage. And indeed we are thinking that one of the legacies from the 50th anniversary would be a more strengthened Pacific heritage hub.”
Dr Chandra says the USP also aspires to work with Pacific governments in the years ahead to improve the quality of teacher training across the region.