Dec 18, 2017 Last Updated 3:10 AM, Dec 12, 2017

Without formal qualifications, Pacific Island workers can find themselves stalled on the career ladder. When work demands make it near impossible to study and attain qualifications – and the costs and accessibility of such opportunities are out of reach – it can become a demoralising cycle.

Recognising this, the Australia-Pacific Technical College (APTC) has sought partnerships with industry across its campus countries in Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to give more Pacific Islanders the opportunity to gain Australian-standard qualifications, enhancing their skills, career prospects and earning capacities.

Over 5800 men and women from 14 Pacific Island Countries have gained qualifications from APTC, taking back these skills to their workplaces, families and communities. An initiative funded by the Australian Government to deliver training and increase the supply of skilled workers in targeted sectors in the Pacific, APTC works with governments, educational institutions as well as private sector partners to ensure that the college meets labour market demands.

“APTC does not work in isolation,” says APTC CEO Denise O’Brien. “The success of our graduates and programmes is underpinned by the strong partnerships we have forged with the training institutions, employers and industries across the region.”

A Memorandum of Understanding between APTC and the University of the South Pacific, signed in March, will see the opening of new kitchen facilities and the Pacific Fusions training restaurant this month and the provision of Hospitality training at the university’s Laucala Campus in Suva. The APTC-USP partnership supports several of the University’s priority areas outlined in its Strategic Plan 2013-2018. 

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Affordability of university education in terms of fees and easy access are a key objective of three universities in the Pacific. Already, all three universities based in Fiji – the Fiji National University (formerly the Fiji Institute of Technology), University of Fiji (UOF) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) are reporting increasing student numbers due to affordable fees.

While not releasing any figures, FNU Vice Chancellor Dr Ganesh Chand says they have had a healthy increase in student numbers in all of their colleges and the national training and productivity centre. Projections are that enrolments would continue to increase in the next five to 10 years. “We have seen good growth with around 2000 enrolments this year compared with under a thousand 5 years ago. Staff levels are now around 150 and financial health is good,” says Professor Richard Coll, Vice Chancellor of UOF, whose main campus is located in Saweni, between Nadi International Airport and Lautoka City on the west coast of Fiji’s main island. Equally, the USP is reporting a swell in student enrolments.

Said Professor Rajesh Chandra, Vice Chancellor and President of the USP: “As early September 2014, enrolment had increased by six per cent over last year, and the commencing enrolment was up by four per cent.

The university now has a total of 28,165 students, as compared to the total enrolment for 2013 of 24,986. Back in September 2009, we had a total of 19,068 students.” For Professor Chandra, a strong appeal of the USP is the quality of its programmes. He says USP qualifications are recognised and highly regarded, making its graduates employable. “USP is a widely respected institution, with strong links to governments, other universities, and businesses.

Employers know of USP and trust that (its) graduates are capable, driven, open-minded, and have great English and ICT skills. Development partners also have confidence in the University. A growing USP Alumni Network also offers graduates access to job opportunities and insights into different markets and professions. We have over 44,000 alumni.” Smaller class sizes and personalised teaching sets UOF apart, according to Professor Coll. FNU on the other hand says apart from delivering on quality education, accessibility is one of their stronger points. 

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