Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, No. 25. October 8, 1968
University Of The South Pacific
University Of The South Pacific
NZUSA President, John McGrath, was recently sent by the National Youth Council to a South Pacific Commision Regional Seminar on Youth, where he was the New Zealand Government's official observer.
The Seminar was held at Suva, Fiji, on the campus of the new University of the South Pacific.
Mr McGrath took the opportunity to make contact with the University authorities and Student Council and records here his impressions for Salient.
The University of the South Pacific situated at Laucala Bay in Suva, Fiji could well be the catalyst for sweeping social and economic development throughout the South Pacific.
The University which this year teaching preliminary classes, will commence full degree courses in 1969. It occupies the very attractive 140 acre site of the RNZAF's former Laucala Bay airbase. The New Zealand Government donated the £l( million improvements on the site to the University.
From the New Zealand Universities have come the first Vice-Chancellor, Dr C. C. Aikman, its Registrar Mr S. F. Perrott and members of its present academic staff.
A Programme Planning Seminar for the university was convened by Dr Aikman during May this year. It saw as the prime purpose of the university the provision of courses reflecting the social and economic needs of the South Pacific Region and in particular of its natural resources. At the same time it saw the university providing students with an understanding of their own societies and the impact that international trends would have on them. This regional emphasis was seen as the best way to combine the best value for the investment of the individual Pacific Territories with a broad liberal education for the students.
It is reflected in the degree and other courses the university will introduce next year. Already however in its preliminary classes one third of the 154 students come from outside Fiji-from America and Western Samoa, the Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands, Gilbert and Ellis Islands, New Hebrides, Niue, Tokelau Islands, Tonga and Marshall Islands.
Accepting the general views of the Seminar the Interim Council will probably on 25 & 26 September proceed to set up the university's three initial Schools in Natural Resources. Social Development and Education orientating them towards the Seminar's recommendations. The School of Natural Resources will initially concentrate on biological sciences with third year specialisation planned in particular for such areas as ecology, oceanography, soil science and microbiology. It is envisaged that this will eventually lead to an institute or centre of Tropical Ecology (the study of living organisms in their environment) at the university.
The School of Social Development will concentrate on the leaching of the economic and social characteristics of the South Pacific, and in particular Political Science. Economics, Sociology, History (of the region), and South Pacific Studies. The school will have the further aim of stimulating the general cultural development of the individual students.
The School of Education will combine within the university several levels of secondary teacher training which are separated in New Zealand. The first is a diploma course with entry at School Certificate level for Junior forms. There will also be a four year degree course in education for secondary school teachers, and a post-graduate diploma course, as well as "in service" courses for teachers, of both primary and secondary schools.
Dr Aikman feels that the university has something to contribute to all tertiary training in the South Pacific encouraging high standards and ensuring that equivalent qualifications are mutually recognised. Close liaison will accordingly be maintained with the Derrick Technical Institute, the Fiji Schools of Medicine and of Agriculture, the Regional College of Tropical Agriculture at Alafua in Western Samoa and teachers training colleges throughout the region.
Such coordination would appear to avoid the illogical formal distinctions often made in New Zealand between universities and other forms of tertiary education.
The entrance standard for degree courses will be higher than that required for the New Zealand Universities but the university will continue to provide its Preliminary courses to bridge the wide gap between the standard of secondary schools in the Pacific and this university's requirements. Either a pass in the Preliminary Stage II course or the New Zealand Higher School Certificate will be the Entrance qualification for its degree courses.
The current university buildings are of course those of the former RNZAF base. They include provision for up to 250 students living on the campus. There is also very extensive library space for what will probably eventually be the most comprehensive library in the South Pacific providing facilities for specialised research in the area. At this early stage however it is building from scratch and clearly requires books, periodicals, and other publications of Pacific relevance.
The University site has also a large amount of stall accommodation and buildings which have been adapted for use as a student canteen, recreation room and common rooms. The great asset of the university however lies in its very beautiful grassed site sloping gently down towards Laucala Bay. Here there is all the scope for every imaginable development in the future. The current buildings are seen as adequate for the university's needs until the end of 1969 and their further development is being discussed now by the university.
Apart from the site and the buildings the largest part of the financing of the university has come from the British Government which has made a contribution of £1,250,000 (approximately 60% being for capital development and 40% for recurring expenses). The Government of Fiji is also making a substantial contribution as are the region's various territorial governments' through a contribution based on the number of students sent.
Obviously however the South Pacific region will look towards the New Zealand and Australian governments and other sources in these two countries for further necessary support. Indeed the governments concerned which have for so long been at a loss as to how they can best contribute to the development of the South Pacific will probably find long-term continued support of the new university as their best means of doing so.
Provided this type of support comes there would seem to be little difficulty in the recruitment of top level staff for the university (something that is now under way). New universities have a knack for picking up excellent stall and the prospects of building up this region's university will be a lure for many. Salaries also are competitive being well above the current New Zealand rates but not above the Australian rates.
A Students' Association has been formed and is gaining strength. The Student Council President. Lionel Brown is from the Cook Islands studying education and his Vice-President Francis Sae is a Political Science student from the Solomon Islands. The student body is working on redrafting its interim Constitution, building up its finances and is taking a full part in Fiji's Hibiscus Festival. As part of the festival the Student Council organised the first University Rag Day "kidnapping" and "holding to ransom" their Vice-Chancellor, the Fiji Peace Corps Director and a cabinet minister's son (provided as an alternate).
It is clear that the widely representative Student Council is assisting excellent racial harmony in the university at a time when outside tension is high. There are 56 Indian students, 33 Fijian and 47 from other Territories in the region.
It is clear that the university authorities intend to make the University of the South Pacific a relaxed informal place for students to live and work. Indeed the new freedom it is giving to students has not gone uncriticised in the strict society of Fiji. However it is very much appreciated by the students who already feel that they have wide access to the administration and constructive consideration tor their views on university matters. By this early recognition of the value of student participation in the running of the university the authorities have helped develop an enthusiasm amongst students for the university's future. The first degree students among them will graduate at the end of 1971 and although all will see this as the first great milestone in the university's contribution to the region its impact is already being felt.