As you know, my first day in office as Vice-Chancellor was Tuesday 15th of July.
I am very pleased to be back at USP, and among so many friends and colleagues. Both Dharma and I have been overwhelmed with the warmth and enthusiasm with which we have been received by the University community, and we both look forward to being with all of you.
I look forward to working closely with the Management, the Unions, and all the staff and students of the University. At the same time, of course, I will work very closely with the Pro Chancellor, the Council, the Chair of the Finance and Investment Committee, and the Chair of the Audit Committee.
I take this opportunity to thank the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for steering the University after the departure of the previous Vice-Chancellor. I also thank the Senior Management Group likewise for putting their shoulders to the additional responsibilities that fell on them with the vacancies in senior management.
Dharma and I have moved into the Vice-Chancellorís residence on the campus, and we hope that over time, we will see many of you there as I intend to ensure that we create a cohesive university community with a common vision of our future collectively.
I join the university at a critical time when USP is facing major financial difficulties. These difficulties relate not only to the need to deal with the budget deficits in existence from 2006 and to produce a balanced budget for next year, but also to significantly increase expenditure on capital works and equipment. We have been given firm and clear parameters to work within by the Council and the Finance and Investment Committee.
In addition to these difficulties, there has been a serious loss of trust in the University Management by the Council; there has been a serious loss of trust between the Senate and the Management; and there has been loss of trust between members of staff and Management.
All of these are exacerbated by the fact that there is widespread perception in the community that staff at USP are enjoying terms and conditions beyond what is appropriate for the region and what Governments and others can sustain; that USP has a bloated cost structure; that members of staff are not working hard enough.
This perception we need to deal with, as it will determine what support we enjoy in the future.
We have also been warned by the Ministers of Finance that we need to take decisive action to contain our costs and to produce a report to them in 12 months so they can assess their level of contribution for the next triennium.
The public and governments of the Pacific are now keeping a close watch on the University to ensure that money given is used in a cost effective and efficient manner.
There are key areas that will need immediate action. These include Ė the restructure of management, the reduction of faculties from 4 to 3, a moratorium on all new courses and programmes except where commitments have been made. In addition, until the 2009 budget details are finalized, and we know the budgets of the various sections, there is now a freeze on all appointments. The University used to have a policy that all vacant positions would revert to the level of Assistant lecturer to enable a more normal staffing profile and to allow more staff to be promoted. This policy has now been revived and in operation as of yesterday.
In tandem with these measures, we will also be reviewing and streamlining all our course and programme offerings to ensure that we operate more cost-effectively and within our means. Over the years we have accrued courses and programmes which will now need to be measured against much stricter measures to ensure their on-going viability.
I will also be spearheading a review of our internal governance structures as outlined by the recent Academic Audit and in collaboration with Councilís Governance Taskforce.
It is in our interest to demonstrate to our funders that we are an efficient and effective organization; that we watch our performance; and that we constantly seek to improve our productivity and quality.
Many of the actions we will take will result in improvements in our quality. We cannot allow our quality to suffer.
We will work closely with the Unions and students in charting our future and in making the decisive changes that we need to make to secure a good future for USP.
USP has made a huge contribution to the development of the Region, and we cannot imagine the region without a strong, vibrant, efficient, effective, and high quality USP that is firmly anchored in the region, and which is regarded by the Governments and people as indispensable to their future. We have good, committed and passionate people at USP, and together we can redefine USP to be what it needs and ought to be.
We have already received indications of strong support from our governments and major donors provided we undertake the necessary restructuring and cost-cutting exercises.
Australia and New Zealand have both re-affirmed their faith in USP and indicated their desire to engage more strongly with us. The Japanese Ambassador has likewise expressed the view that USP is indispensable to the future of the Pacific Islands and has assured us of continued strong support.
Notwithstanding these immediate challenges, I am confident that collectively we will be able to co-operate and contribute to ensuring a more cost-effective operation. Many universities in the Australia and New Zealand have faced similar financial challenges and all have come through better placed to face environments that are more demanding of outcomes and accountability. Similarly, I have no doubt that once we have made the difficult decisions, the University will serve the Governments and the people of the Pacific Islands even better in the next 40 years than it has done in the last 40 years.
Professor Rajesh Chandra