Aingimea: USP ‘thriving’, won’t be drawn on Fiji parliamentary criticism

Nauru President Lionel Aingimea

*This news item was updated at 5:20pm (Fiji time)

Nauru’s President, Lionel Aingimea says the University of the South Pacific is thriving, despite Fiji not providing grant funding.

When Islands Business asked President Aingimea last week about the matter, he declined to be drawn on statements Fiji’s Prime Minister and Attorney General made in Parliament recently on the status of the University of the South Pacific. The Fiji government is withholding funding to the USP.

“Needless to say, of course we need every contribution from every country to come in,” President Aingimea told Islands Business. But as to the position taken by Fiji in parliament, he says ”I’m not going to comment on that. That’s their position. For me, as long as USP is viable, as long as USP is going forward, as long as USP is still serving the region, you will have people like myself and other members of council will champion, governance, transparency and accountability at the USP.”

In parliament last month, Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said “there are a big number of students learning in an environment of corruption at the University of the South Pacific.” Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told parliament “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.”

Khaiyum went on to say: “The President of Nauru in the Council meeting in July this year, proposed that regional members of Council get together (clearly disregarding Fiji as a regional member of the Council), to work with the Vice-Chancellor and his Senior Management Team ‘to come up with strategies that would allow the University to operate without Fiji’s grant. This Committee would need to look at fees, grants, donors and the disproportionate Fiji influence on Council that is clearly not sustainable if they do not pay their grant.’ Such proposals show sheer disrespect and disregard to a sovereign nation. Nauru’s contribution to USP is $127,000 (0.003%) Fiji’s contribution is $27M (75%) and the 5 members from Fiji is clearly less than the contribution that Fiji makes. In addition to this, Government has given USP over $130M by way of TELS and NTS apart from the private students.”

[Update] This afternoon President Aingimea addressed Nauru’s parliament on USP, stating:

“In summary of the USP Council’s actions [to reappoint Vice Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia]– I state that in a democratic environment, where respect and honour is paramount, the USP Council and employer of the Vice Chancellor, discussed and voted for his re-instatement. Supported by the officeholders of staff and student unions.

“There is an ongoing contention of Fiji withholding its grant agreement due the USP Council’s decision.
This move is seen as a divisive and a dismissal move against regionalism considering that at that
particular USP Council meeting, all Pacific Island Country members of USP were present and voted
overwhelmingly to support the offering of a new contract to the VCP. USP needs every contributing
member to give its contribution.”

President Aingimea’s parliamentary statement goes into detail into several cases examined by the BDO report into the University’s governance.

High global ranking welcomed

Meanwhile President Aingimea has welcomed the “ranking of the University of the South Pacific in the top 10% of universities in the world” by the Times Higher Education world rankings for 2022. The USP released a statement about the ranking last week.

“That’s a massive feather in the cap for USP. Of course as you know my stance when I was Chancellor of USP has always been for good governance, for accountability, for transparency. And that’s the thing I’ve always looked for,” Aingimea says.

“There is still, still a long way forward, but it’s really a nice thing to achieve under the Vice Chancellorship of Prof Ahluwalia, to have been deemed in the top 10 of all the universities in the world.”

In Samoa, where Vice Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia will be based following his deportation from Fiji, Education Minister Seuula Ioane Tuuau has also welcomed news of the ranking.

The ranking is sure to help boost USP’s profile among potential students, Seuula said in a government statement.

“It’s a testament to the hard work of staff, students and the USP community and donor partners, he continued.

Fiji National Federation Party Leader, Biman Prasad says the ranking is a “monumental achievement for USP and its member states.”

Prasad, who studied, taught and researched at USP, says: “If USP is allowed to apply itself to Fiji’s and the region’s problems, USP itself will develop new knowledge and experience. This path of partnership can create multiple new opportunities for all of us here in Fiji and the broader Pacific region.”

Today President Aingimea finished his statement by saying: “USP as a regional university does not belong to any one country. Responsibilities of the institution are borne by its members. Our future generations are observing our responses and as the Council is united and committed to good governance, we will continue to assist USP in “Shaping
Pacific Futures.‟