SPEECH FOR THE GRADUATION CEREMONY
THE UNIVERSITY OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC
18 DECEMBER 2008
Professor Rajesh Chandra
1. Greetings and Welcome
Reverend Fepai Kolia; Your Highness, the Head of State, Afioga Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi; Deputy Prime Minister, Honourable Misa Telefoni; Ministers; Members of the Judiciary; Your Excellencies and Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Pro Chancellor and Chair of Council, and also Minister of Women, Community and Social Development, Honourable Fiame Naomi Mata’afa; Members of the USP Council and Senate; Distinguished Guests; Graduands; parents, family and friends; Colleagues; Members of Staff; Ladies and Gentlemen.
The graduation ceremony is the most significant and meaningful occasion in the University’s calendar for our graduands, and I would like to thank you all for honouring the achievements of our graduands and sharing in their happiness. I would like to especially welcome you, Your Highness for gracing this special occasion despite your other commitments. We are greatly honoured by your presence and by this gesture, Your Highness.
Thank you Pro Chancellor for your kind words of welcome. I am delighted to be speaking to you all today as USP’s seventh Vice-Chancellor, and to say how pleased I am to be back at USP. I take this opportunity to thank the Government of Samoa for the trust bestowed on me to lead this wonderful institution and to serve the people of the region. Please be assured that I will do my best to steer this University out of its current difficulties, and to reshape it to become a university that is a model of good governance and high ethical standards, cost-effectiveness and efficiency, agility in decision-making, and responsive to the needs of our Member Countries and communities—in short a university that our governments and people can be proud of.
Before proceeding further, I wish to convey to all present the regret of our Chancellor, the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, His Excellency Litokwa Tomeing, who unfortunately could not join us because of an urgent commitment in relation to the Compact negotiations with the US.
2. Graduation and Congratulations
This morning, we have 110 students graduating here at Alafua.
This year we have had two graduation ceremonies at Laucala Campus and one in Emalus last week and this is the last graduation ceremony for 2008. By the end of this ceremony, we will have graduated more than 2,500 students in 2008 bringing the total that have graduated from USP over its 40 years of existence to well over 33,000.
I would like to congratulate all of you graduating today. I join with your parents, families, government, sponsors as well as friends in celebrating your achievement with you today. You carry the flag of a unique university. We wish you the very best for the future. Make the University proud through your contributions, especially by being hard working, innovative, committed and, above all, ethical in your future work and leadership.
3. USP’s Fortieth Anniversary
This year is the 40th anniversary of USP. In the last 40 years, the University has made an invaluable contribution to the development of all its member countries. Its alumni are now occupying the highest levels of Government, civil society, the private sector and academia. The University has been a world leader in the application of technology in distance and flexible learning and teaching. It is widely respected for its research on the Pacific Islands and it is well placed to make a significant contribution to the development of the Pacific Plan. There is much that the Member countries and people of the Pacific Islands can be proud of in their regional University’s 40 years of consistent development and service. As we look ahead to a knowledge-based future, USP will be even more critical to the development of our Member Countries.4. The Alafua Campus
Over these 40 years USP has branched out and developed into a multi-campus, multi-modal institution with its specialized School of Agriculture and Food Technology based here in Alafua. We have also seen a Centre in Savai’i. The main Samoa Centre has now been integrated into the main Alafua campus, reducing costly duplication, improving range and quality of our services, and better utilizing our scarce resources. All these campus developments plus improved USPNet have provided better services to the 406 students at Alafua Campus.
In recollecting our history, let me also say that Samoa has played a critically important role in the development of the University through our first Chancellor, the late Masiofo La’ulu Fetauimalemau Mata’afa. Mr. Esekia Solofa, also from Samoa, served as Vice-Chancellor for nine years, and we have the benefit of the leadership of our current Pro Chancellor, Hon. Fiame Mata’afa, who carries on the excellent tradition established by her late mother.
5. The School of Agriculture and Food Technology (SAFT)
I would like to refer to Agriculture Programme at Alafua Campus. Ever since the establishment of the School of Agriculture in 1997, it has faced many challenges. In more recent times, it has faced falling enrolments, and there has been a mis-match of excellent facilities and low numbers of students.
In 2005, the School of Agriculture (SOA) changed its name to include Food Technology (FT) to signal an attempt to broaden its scope of activities. However, significant problems have continued to challenge the campus and the University.
Agriculture being the mainstay of our Pacific Economies. With the recent unprecedented rise in food prices, the issue of adequate production of food, food security, and the opportunities in niche agriculture have come to the fore.
This year, the University has streamlined its Agricultural courses and based on the outcomes of our consultations with Ministers of Agriculture of USP member countries, has placed the School of Agriculture and Food Technology in the Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE) in order to align it more to new areas of emphasis vis-à-vis agribusiness and marketing. The University Council has approved the restructuring to begin in January 2009.
A major renewed effort is needed to re-vitalize and re-energize the Alafua Campus and the School of Agriculture and Food Technology. We will advertise the Professorship of Agriculture early next year to provide senior academic leadership. We will re-introduce programmes supporting farmers through extension networks. We will reinforce research efforts in close collaboration with national institutions and Departments of Agriculture. I will personally devote my attention to finding long-term solutions to our problems at Alafua and I am confident that we can succeed.
6. Community Engagement
I wish to acknowledge with gratitude the cordial relationship that exists between the University and the Government and other institutions of Samoa and the Government’s on-going commitment towards the University strategic goals and budget. As a matter of fact, the Government of Samoa is up-to-date with its contributions to the University and continues to play an important role in the development of the University. I should also add that Samoa’s governance is widely admired both within and outside the region.
7. Financial Situation
Your Highness, Ministers, Excellencies, graduates, ladies and gentlemen, there has been much discussion in the past about the financial problems of the University. The University went from a surplus of about $2.3 million in 2003 and $3.4 million in 2004 to a cycle of deficits after the arrival of the former Vice-Chancellor—in 2006, the deficit was $5.1 million; in 2007, it was $2.3 million; and a deficit of $1.6 million was initially projected for this year.
I wish to assure everyone that we have taken a firm grip of the financial situation, and the University should end our cycle of deficits by the end of 2008 and have a surplus of at least $1 million. We have also prepared a surplus budget for 2009, and we hope to ensure that in all future years, we have a surplus budget through we which we can rebuild the surplus eaten up by the deficits of the last few years. This reserve will be needed to cushion us in what will be a more unpredictable and challenging future.
8. A final word
Your Highness; Ministers; Pro Chancellor; Your Excellencies; ladies and gentlemen. A final word to the graduates – congratulations to you all, and I wish you well. Today is the end of one journey of your student life, but more importantly it is the beginning of another more important journey into the world of work and community development. The future is what you make of it and much is expected of you; Make USP proud by your contributions.