Strengthening USP’s Regional Engagement: Quality, Relevance, Leadership and Sustainability
Opening Address for the Regional Campus Directors Forum
Professor Rajesh Chandra
1. Greetings and Welcome
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Esther Williams, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning and Teaching, Dr. Eci Nabalarua, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation, Professor Patrick Nunn, The Registrar, Mr. Walter Fraser, Director of Finance, Mr. Munish Malik, the Dean of Faculty of Business and Economics, Professor Biman Chand Prasad, the Acting Dean of Faculty of Arts and Law, Dr. Akanisi Kedrayate, the Acting Dean of Faculty of Science and Technology, Dr. Anjeela Jokhan, the University Librarian, Ms. Sin Joan Yee, the Director of ITS, Mr. Kisione Finau, Heads of Schools, all the Directors, Members of Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I would like to extend a very warm welcome to all of you Campus Director to the Regional Directors Forum 2009. What we call the Regional Centres Conference is in reality a forum for Regional Directors. Let us change the name from 2009 to Regional Campus Directors’ Forum (RCDF).
2. Outline of Address
This RCDF comes at a very opportune time for us as we are finalizing the draft Strategic Plan, the UGC submission, and consolidate the many changes that we have made recently at the University to make it higher quality, more relevant, proactive and valuable institution for our stakeholders. What I would like to do in the address are the following:
- Outline the University’s current position and the turnaround we have made
- Challenges for Campus Directors and the University in making our campuses more proactive and responsive to the needs of our member countries
- Review of the operations, management and leadership of campuses
- Provide an opportunity for Campus Directors to seek clarification on any aspect of their work
3. Situation at the University of the South Pacific
Last year the situation of the University of the South Pacific looked grim in terms of the of its deficit and indeed in terms of the loss of trust that seemed widespread between the Senior Management and Member of Staff, between the Management and the Council and indeed the loss of respect for the University in the community. Through the hard work of a lot of people the situation of the University has shown a significant turn-around although much more work remains to be done as the situation ahead of us is still volatile and very unpredictable. I think we can celebrate to some extend the quite dramatic turn-around that we have seen in the finances of the University from deficits of the last two years to a surplus in 2008. There are many reasons for the turn-around but the key reasons are the extensive reforms and cost cutting measures that have been put in place.
After declines for two years, we will have a modest increase in enrolment for 2009. We are very pleased that Australia has announced a 32 percent increase in its funding to the University.
We have begun rebuilding our staffing capacity by advertising professorships and other senior staff positions in key areas that had been weakened through vacancies, such as Agriculture, Climate Change and Teacher Training and Computing Science and Information Systems.
Despite these improvements, the situation of the governments is very bleak as many of our member countries will have negative growth this year. So the University cannot expect to receive additional resources and it is important for us to continue to examine every facet of our operation to see how we can derive better economies in what we do.
The two main operational priorities of the University are to prepare the University Grants Committee Submission which is to be ready in draft form to go to the Finance and Investment Committee and the Governance Taskforce meeting on 27 April and also at the same time to have the Strategic Plan ready to go the same committees and onwards to Council in the first week of June. These are extremely tight deadlines that we need to meet. One of the more difficult issue this year is the treatment of potential salary changes at the University because the UGC is now saying that all expenditure at the University including salaries must be part of the submission to the University Grants Committee whereas in the past we were able to go back to government and they had accepted requests for additional funding for salary the changes in addition to the increases that we might have got from government contributions.
4. Challenges and Priorities for Regional Campuses
Now I want to look at what we see as the main priorities so regional engagement and the delivery of distance and flexible learning:
- In the area of improvement of regional campuses, this will involve the development of a new campus in Solomon Islands and Marshall Islands and expansion of the campuses in Kiribati and Cook Islands. These are the priorities that had been agreed by the Council before hand.
- In all of the campuses, will have to look at ensuring proper standards and maintenance, expansion of physical facilities where these are lacking in particular library and computer services
- Significant improvement in our USPNet bandwidth so that the delivery at the campuses can be improved. I would like to note that we have already approved the improvement of the bandwidth by 60%, costing us $300,000 per year and that we are fully committed to having that improved even further.
- The Deputy Vice-Chancellor will be putting together all the funds that we have for the regional campus development under various heading so that we can plan in an integrated way what we are doing in the various campuses.
The second major priority for us to ensure that as many viable programmes rather than simply a large number of courses can be delivered at our regional campuses. Now we are talking of flexible delivery rather than simply print-based distance learning so what I am interested in compiling is a listing of all programmes that are currently available, or will be development in a very short period of time that will delivered at the campuses. I think it is one of the significant criticisms of the University that despite all these years of experience of distance learning and large funding that is allocated to it, we are still behind major providers of distance learning in terms of the number of programmes being offered. So I would like to see is a plan that indicates the particular programmes that we commit ourselves to developing with very clear timelines and resourcing. We need to take account of demand in selecting the programmes that we will develop as priorities. So I expect in the first instance for these programmes to centre around teacher training, accounting, finance, economics, management, tourism, IT, and English language.
One of the important shifts we are making at the University is to hold the Deans accountable for the progress in this area because it is primarily the Deans who are responsible for the delivery of these courses, as these are courses and programmes of the faculties. We will need to have the Deans drive this process; it is not something that is a responsibility of the CFDL. It will certainly facilitate it, they will provide assistance, they will provide the leadership in the design of these courses, they will provide leadership in the platforms such as Moodle, but they are not the people who will write courses, these are the responsibilities of the Faculties. I would like the Regional Directors Forum 2009 to mark in a very significant way the new shift where the Deans are to be responsible for the degree of progress for the distance and flexible learning with the facilitation and assistance of the CFDL.
The third area of significant future activity will be review and strengthening of the leadership of our regional campuses. Some of you will remember previous attempts to improve in this area and there are many campus directors who were doing an excellent job. On the whole, however, we need to ask the following questions:
a. Does the University have the best people at its regional campuses as directors and as the face of the University to the particular countries concerned?
b. Are our Campus Directors dynamic, agile, proactive, responsive, ethical and a good model for our countries to look up to the University?
c. Are our Campus Directors good team leaders who are building a culture of excellence, of quality, of productivity at our campuses?
d. Is the University providing sufficient resources to the Directors for them to function effectively?
These are the questions that we should ponder over and we should remind ourselves that we are the servants of member countries (including the Vice-Chancellor). We should not make the mistake of thinking that out titles are high sounding, that out salaries are often above people in the governments, that our positions are exalted—all of us are the servants of our stakeholders. We need to be humble in our approach, we need to show that we understand the value of every dollar that our governments give, we need to show that we are models of integrity, we need to show that we are better than the other providers of tertiary and higher education and above all we need to show that we are fired by a deep passion for the University as a regional institution, an institution that is deeply anchored in the Pacific countries and societies.
This is the challenge that we need to talk about at this meeting and I would like to see a discernible improvement in everything from the understanding that the campus directors have of our strategic plan and strategic directions that needs to be followed; the support we provide to them; the performance of directors, all the staff concerned and the campus itself.
Campus Annual reports should be done within a template that emphasizes outputs and achievements, innovations, planning, quality and financial sustainability. There should be KPIs for Director and all staff and for the campus as a whole.
5. Final Comments
Finally, colleagues let me say that the University is made up of the most qualified people in our region—per square meter we probably have the highest qualifications in the Pacific Region. We have forty years of experience of serving our region. We have many people who are deeply committed to the University and its regional mission. We have people who know what needs to be done. I am confident that we have a bright future ahead of us. Indeed, one may say that in times like this we show our real ability to stand above the rest, to rise to the occasion and to come through as an institution that has reflected upon itself more, has reformed its operations, has recommitted itself to the Pacific and has been empowered to proceed to a new level of service to our region, cost effectiveness, agility in decision making and becoming more immersed into the lives of the people we are here to serve. We should not be seen as elites, we should not behave like elites. Instead, we should be seen as people who are here because they care about our region, because they believe they can serve the region and because we care about the fragile nature of our region. We cannot therefore make demands of our stakeholders when the stakeholders themselves are worse off than the University.
Let me end by saying that I excited by what we are able to do, what we are capable of doing and I am confident that we have enough people to constitute a dedicated core who care deeply about the University and the region that it serves. We have the ability to be a magnet for good people who want to come to the university. We can look to the next three or four years with a great deal of quiet optimism and confidence.
6 April 2009