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Farewell Dinner Hosted by the University of the South Pacific

June 26, 2018       Lali Room, Holiday Inn, Suva.

The Pro-Chancellor and Chair of the Council of the University of the South Pacific, Ambassador Winston Thompson

 Members of the University Council

 Your Excellencies, the Heads of Missions and members of the Diplomatic Corps 

 The Senior Management Team of the University

 The Staff, including the hardworking Secretariat

 Members of the Pasifika Voices

 Distinguished Guests

 Ladies and Gentlemen

Ni sa bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

Ambassador Thompson, thank you very much for your kind remarks. In fact, I believe that I should be the one to be thankful to you, the Vice Chancellor Professor Rajesh Chandra, and the University Council for affording Fiji the opportunity to reconnect with the University. As Fiji’s current President and Head of State, it has been an honour and personal pleasure to re-establish Fiji’s connections with the University at the highest diplomatic level, especially so that the last time Fiji’s Head of State became Chancellor was in the 1970s. 

I also wish to extend Fiji’s congratulations to the University for reaching a milestone 50 Years. The timing for Fiji’s reconnection with the University could not have been better. Fiji is one of the 12 founding member nations and one where the University’s largest infrastructure is located through the Laucala Campus here in Suva, in addition to the Lautoka and Labasa Campuses. This is also where the largest number of students can be found, as I have witnessed during the graduation ceremonies over this past year. Standing and giving out the graduation certificates for several hours reminded me of my time as a soldier where, depending on the circumstances, one could be on your feet for long durations.  

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, this evening, I wish to acknowledge and commend the University for its efforts to promote and chart a pathway for higher education for the region. In the 50 years of being the flagship university of the Pacific region, USP has developed into a tertiary institution of stature with an overarching vision to achieve excellence and innovation for sustainable development of the Pacific Islands Countries. I note that each of the University’s successive Strategic Plans were aimed at progressively improving the operation of the University to better serve its member countries. I have every confidence that the new Strategic Plan for 2019-2024 will have a robust and clearer pathway to raise the bar of excellence even higher. The one thing we can be grateful to the University is its ability to educate the people in the region and beyond on the ‘how’ to cultivate their minds to contribute to their families, communities, and Nation States, and increasingly, to world affairs.

I have personally had the greatest honour and pleasure to attend and meet many students and regional leaders during the graduation ceremonies in Tonga, Vanuatu, Nauru and here in Suva. I missed the opportunity to do the same in the Solomon Islands and in Samoa on two occasions last year and again this month. It was the call of duty as the Head of State that compelled me to forego the opportunity to personally engage with the staff and students of these campuses. 

I noted a few significant points from the graduating ceremonies that I attended: that there is an increasing number of students reaching tertiary level in the Pacific. This is a very good sign for our region. More educated minds can only mean improved productivity for our Island Nations. It could also mean significant transformations from developing to developed countries where our people are able to improve their socio-economic status and use this as a launchpad for a brighter and promising future. I also noted that female graduates are gradually outnumbering the males. This is also a positive sign for women in the Pacific. 

I also noticed that there are numerous competing demands. For the University, one of the demands is to remain relevant to the region’s needs. And I recall the words of USP’s first Vice-Chancellor from the region, Mr. Esekia Solofa, when he said 25 years ago, and I quote: “the demands of the region and the needs of the communities will grow in complexity and sophistication,” unquote. 

Issues like climate change, and trans-border crimes such as money laundering, drug trafficking, people smuggling, trans-national refugee migration, and illegal fishing, among many others such as Non-Communicable Diseases, will continue to challenge us as a region. I hope that the University can help provide solutions to these issues through advanced curricula in a broad range of fields from science, technology, law, and humanities, to name a few. 

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I have this wonderful opportunity this evening to perform one last function in my capacity as Chancellor of the University and that is to launch the Rotuman Language Programme. I am told that this programme is now relevant for Fijians of Rotuman descent like me! USP has offered programmes in Pacific Vernacular Language since the 1990s but, until recently, these were available only in iTaukei and Hindi. Now, through the Faculty of Arts, Law and Education, USP will also begin offering courses in Rotuman language and culture from this year. This will present a wonderful opportunity for Rotuman tertiary students to study their indigenous language and culture, an opportunity that many will not have had during their years of primary and secondary school. 

This initiative could not have come at a better time as the Rotuman language, among others in the region, is classified ‘vulnerable’ by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. According to UNESCO, a language is categorised ‘vulnerable’ if not spoken by individuals outside the home. There are approximately 10,000 Rotumans in Fiji, but only 2,000 live on Rotuma itself. As more Rotumans are raised off the island, fewer children are growing up with knowledge of their language and culture. The time for action is NOW. Language is identity, its loss tantamounts to the ‘loss’ of a group of people. 

Social classes will begin within the next few weeks, offered to anyone in the Suva area who wishes to experience the classes and from January 2019, the first group of undergraduates will be able to study the language for credit as part of the new minor in Rotuman language and culture.

I am advised that the University had always intended to expand the Pacific Vernacular Language programme to include a greater number of languages of the Pacific region. This eventuated in 2017 as a new major was introduced in Cook Islands M?ori, with the first cohort of 26 students already completing their first three courses. 

At its recent meeting in Nauru, the University Council endorsed further programmes in the Rotumanl anguage in Fiji, Vagahau in Niue, Nuiafo’ou in Tonga, and Vanuatu Language Studies, making a name for USP as the first institution in the world to offer degree programmes in these languages. This is an incredible achievement as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of USP this year, truly demonstrating the University’s commitment to serving the needs of the region. 

As my predecessor as Chancellor, the Honourable Henry Puna, announced the introduction of the Cook Islands M?ori programme during his term; I now have the honour of officially launching the Rotuman programme today; and I am sure we all look forward to seeing what the School of Language, Arts and Media has in store for the future.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my term as Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific. And, as my term ends, I am happy to say that I remain a Chancellor of another Institution, although lesser known compared to USP, but one that I consider equally critical in terms of encouraging greater contribution to nation building: that is of the Fiji College of Honour. And I am equally happy that Dr. Akanisi Kedrayate - one of your senior Management Team members is the Chair of this College. 

As I mentioned in one of my engagements with the University earlier this year, I wish to recognize USP’s contribution to Fiji’s development over the past 50 years. I understand that you will be submitting your nominees to my Office in the next few days. I look forward to investing those who deserve recognition for their contributions to Fiji. 

I thank you once again for affording me this opportunity to reconnect Fiji with the University at the highest diplomatic level. And on behalf of the Fijian Government and people, I wish the University, its entire staff and its students every success now and well into the future.

Vinaka vakalevu and thank you, and May God continue to Bless us all.