University of the South Pacific (USP) Cook Islands Director Dr Debi Futter-Puati is pleased to hear the newly elected Fiji Government will release funds to the institution.
Dr Futter-Puati said the impact of the previous government’s action in refusing to pay has had ripple effects across the region impacting both staff and students.
“I am very pleased to hear that the newly elected Fijian Government will begin to pay back the outstanding contributions owed to USP for backdated student contributions,” she said.
Dr Futter-Puati said: “The other country owners of USP have paid their student contributions on time, and in fact some have paid in advance, to support the institution while the previous government refused payment.”
In January, Fiji’s new Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka had said that through its redeployment of funds, the Coalition Government would be able to clear overdue payments with the USP.
Rabuka said that the redeployment would allow the government to immediately release an initial amount of FJD$10 million (NZ$7.26m) to the institution.
He assured the institution that they were committed to restoring outstanding grant contributions totalling $78.4 million (NZ $56.98m) since 2019.
Meanwhile, Rabuka has also invited the university’s vice chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia and his wife back to Fiji.
Professor Ahluwalia had been operating from the USP Samoa Campus since he was deported from Fiji by the then prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama led government.
Dr Futter-Puati said she was pleased to hear they have extended a friendly arm to Professor Ahluwalia, inviting him to return to Fiji.
However, she added: “I think there is merit in having some senior members of USP spread across the region as this enables the Senior Management Team to get a stronger feel for the contextual differences students and campuses experience outside of headquarters (Suva, Fiji).”
She said these sorts of experiences enable the University to ensure that “centralised operations are not remaining Fiji centric”.
Cook Islands Minister for Education Vaine (Mac) Mokoroa said he had heard and read with interest the issues concerning Professor Pal Ahluwalia.
“I am deeply heartened to hear that the new Prime Minister of Fiji Sitiveni Rabuka and Minister of Education Aseri Radrodro have openly welcomed the VC to relocate back in Fiji.” He added that this is a huge relief for the region considering that USP is the largest institute servicing the whole of the Pacific region.