As you would know already, we had a very successful Council meeting, 5-6 November. This was one of the most crucial meetings because it approved the Strategic Plan 2013-2018 that will shape the University’s future very significantly, and it approved the 2013 Annual Plan – in addition to noting the decision of the USP Ministers of Finance approving all the recommendations of the UGC, including the level of government contributions for the next triennium.
The approval of the new Strategic Plan was particularly important. The Council Workshop went through the entire Plan page and word by word and made some minor changes. It was approved the next day at the Council meeting proper. The approval of the new Plan that is so transformative and ambitious indicates both the amount of thinking and consultations that had gone into it and confidence in the University.
The new Plan has undergone extensive consultation with all our stakeholders and everyone will need to own it and work for its successful implementation. I thank all staff, students and stakeholders for their contributions.
I was very pleased that the Council firmly rebuffed the attempt by the Staff Association to break procedures and protocols by trying to table papers directly at the Council. The Council directed that the document be first discussed with the Management which is the norm in universities and has been the custom at the USP. This was an important reminder to all that we need to respect rules, procedures and protocol and that our over-riding concern should be to help solve any problems that we feel exist rather than to malign the institution or its staff.
The Council accepted my assurance that the Management and AUSPS will deal constructively with the findings of the staff climate survey commissioned by AUSPS. It also requested that the University’s climate survey that I had given a commitment to the Council that we would do be undertaken in time for it to be considered at the May Council along with the outcomes of our discussions with all the unions and the report commissioned by AUSPS. It rejected the argument that the University should not have its official staff climate survey done.
Those familiar with the circumstances of the University before 2008 will know that the University had faced serious problems including financial deficits, alarmingly small cash at bank to handle operations (there was talk of taking a loan to meet operational needs), declining enrolment and seriously eroded relationship between Council and management.
Objective analysis of the progress of the University since then would show that all these problems have been dealt with decisively through the support and co-operation of everyone concerned. The University is now much more respected; the Council is confident about the leadership of the University; development partners are extremely positive about USP as progressive, reliable and sustainable institution. Australia’s doubling of its aid to the University in 2013 is a strong indicator of this. The majority of the staff members are excited by the new Strategic Plan.
The attendance at this year’s Open Staff Forum on 1 November was the best attended of all previous forums, and response suggested staff satisfaction. It is also interesting that a recent review of the University by two independent professors on behalf of Australia and New Zealand concluded that the University had strong but inclusive leadership that took its role in meeting the needs of both external and internal stakeholders seriously. They also felt that the University was a well-run institution.
This is an independent assessment and its finding contradicts the impression being created by a small group of people that the University has major problems.
This does not mean that things have not been difficult, or that everything is fine now. But we are in a much better place now than we were some years ago. Indeed, the turn-around of the University is being widely admired in our region – and this has been a constant feedback at the meetings of Finance Ministers that I have attended regularly since taking up my position.
We will work hard to resolve inadequacies in our system; work inclusively and collaboratively to implement our new Strategic Plan; to develop and nurture our people; and to make USP and even more admired and respected institution, known for its quality and commitment to serving our region.
Please do not allow a small group of disgruntled people – who have never run a complex organization, let alone a university – to spoil our future or to promote dissent and disharmony. We need people who believe in the Pacific, in the University and, in our capacity to achieve excellence.
Please, let us join this exciting journey and make a difference to our countries and communities.
Professor Rajesh Chandra
Vice-Chancellor and President