Welcome Speech for the Pacific Roots Symposium and the 18th Pacific History Association Biennial Conference at the University of the South Pacific,
1-5 December 2008
Professor Rajesh Chandra
The University of the South Pacific
Your Excellency the Ambassador of France to Fiji, Mr. Michel Monnier; Conference convenors, Professors Serge Tcherzekoff and Ian Campbell; the co-convenors of the Pacific History Association Conference, Dr. Morgan Tuimaleali’ifano and Dr. Marama Tauira; Counsellor at the French Embassy and a strong friend of the University, Mr. Pascal Dayez-Burgeon; distinguished presenters and participants; Colleagues, staff and students of the University; ladies and gentlemen.
On behalf of the University and the organizers, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you to the University and to Fiji. We extend a special welcome to our Chief Guest, and to all those who have travelled from abroad to be with us for this symposium. I am sure that the University will provide a serene and enjoyable environment for your serious deliberations, and we are genuinely happy to have all of you here.
When you have the opening of the 18th Biennial Conference of the Pacific History Association on 8th December, I will be in Solomon Islands for discussions on our new campus there, so I also take this opportunity to welcome you all to that conference as that will follow immediately this symposium. I am very glad that our colleagues are co-hosting and co-convening this important conference, and I wish it great success.
2. THE UNIVERSITY OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC
This year, we celebrate our 40th anniversary. Over these forty years, the University has grown from a modest 154 students and only a few members of staff to a medium-sized university, with close to 20,000 students and over 1500 staff, a budget of about $140 million, and over 2,500 graduates being produced every year.
The University is now recognized regionally and internationally, and its graduates can do postgraduate studies in the best universities in the world. Many of our graduates occupy the most senior positions in Government—the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands for instance is a USP alumni—and in the private sector, academia, international organizations and in the community at large.
As high level human resources are so critically important to our Pacific Islands countries to ensure that they can deal effectively with globalization and the complexities of the world system, USP is the backbone of most of our member countries. It is their university and it is their think tank.
The University is presently engaged in an intensive process of reforms and re-shaping to ensure that it is agile in its response to the needs of member countries; produces competent and ethical graduates able to deal with change and assist with development; competes and collaborates in ways that enhance the overall development of higher education in the region; shifts is future orientation towards more research and graduate studies; and changes the perception that our communities have it to one in which we are seen as part and parcel of Pacific societies.
In the midst of these changes, there are going to be inevitable anxieties. I want to assure all of you that the University will remain a comprehensive university, which will provide for teaching and research in areas such as History—but there will be issues of how to do it better and more cost-effectively in the future.
I also wish to assure all of you that the University will do more Pacific Studies in the future. The current Pacific Studies programme has been given better placement in the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture; it will develop stronger links with the rest of the University since the whole University is the University of the Pacific; and it will be given the freedom to expand its international offerings that will provide for future growth.
Similarly, IPS Publications are being strengthened within a USP Press and I wish to assure everyone that there will be more publications in the future on the Pacific islands with greatly improved governance and administration, marketing and sustainability.
3. CHALLENGING STEREOTYPES
Much of our social, cultural and political configuration has been imposed by colonial powers. Much of our cultural classification was developed when we did not have precise information, such as now available through carbon-dating and linguistic analysis, so it is natural that we should now re-examine these classifications.
The early classifications and writing have led to much stereotyping that is also important to confront. As in many other parts of the world, we also suffer from too many stereotypes that make it difficult to build our nationhood and create an inclusive and welcoming environment for the many different groups of people who inhabit our region. Many of you will know that Pacific Islands Leaders have agreed to the speedy implementation of the Pacific Plan, which calls for a strong Pan-Pacific consciousness.
I welcome, therefore, this interrogation of our stereotypes and cultural classifications, and hope that the net result will be not greater differentiation and disunity and distrust, but greater emphasis on living together well. I am emphasising this point because many of our problems in the Pacific have to do with not having learnt to live together well, and from the lack of good governance at all levels of societies. We need to walk a tight rope between discovering our roots to find anchors in this increasingly changing and transforming world, where the certainty of yester years is replaced by growing uncertainty; but at the same time, we need to focus on universal values and frameworks to enable us to live in the world that is unfolding with relentless speed.
I would like to thank the Centre for Research and Documentation on Oceania (CREDO) and its Director, Professor Serge Tcherzekoff for co-hosting this workshop with our University. We thank the French Government for providing the funding for this workshop. Since this workshop is linked to the 18th Biennial conference of the Pacific History Association, let me thank also the co-convenors of that conference, Dr. Marama Tauira and Dr. Morgan Tuimaleali’ifano of our Division of History.
5. BEST WISHES
Let me reiterate my warm welcome to all of you to the University at this important cross-road in its life and I wish you all a very successful workshop.