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The region’s top educational institution has hit a stumbling block in its finances after the Fijian Government announced it would cease its remaining grant contribution until a thorough and independent investigation into all the allegations by the Pro-Chancellor and the chair Audit and Risk Committee are carried out.
The decision sent shockwaves across the USP community, with staff and students calling on Government to reconsider its decision, a move they say will place the institution in a critical financial position.
However, USP’s Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson told local media the University was not operating on a good financial footing even before the Fijian Government’s announcement.
According to a statement by USP’s two staff unions – Association of The University of the South Pacific Staff and The University of the South Pacific Staff Union – issued a joint statement saying the decision by Fiji’s Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum would jeopardise the education of Fiji students and staff.
“Staff members firmly believe that the University Council, the USP’s governing body, should be where member states take up their issues for discussion and resolution,” the unions said.
“It is poor governance when a single member state of the USP Council attempts to dictate its course of action.
The staff of the USP stand with the USP students in solidarity in response to the drastic decision by the Fiji Government to cease the grant contribution to the USP with immediate effect.
“By this, Fiji is reneging on its commitment to its people and the region.”The issue, which sent shockwaves across the USP community, came to light in a letter dated 23 September, 2020 from Sayed-Khaiyum to the Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson and Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Pal Ahluwalia.
“The decision is viewed as an assault on the Fiji students and staff, who, to date, in this COVID and pre-COVID environment, of 2019 have been able to continue their education and work with minimum impact under the current VC’s prudent leadership and Council oversight,” the unions said.
“Not only will hundreds of families suffer, the quality of support and education for USP students in Fiji and the region will be seriously affected due to the domino effect of this decision.
“To date, no staff member has lost a job, no student refused admission except for mandated academic reason and increases in student enrolments witnessed.”
The unions said the gravity of the decision and its implications require serious reflection on the basis of the decision and in-depth reconsideration by the Fijian Government.
USP Students Association also called on the Fijian Government to reflect on its decision as its impact would impact their education and future.
USPSA President Joseph Sua said education was a high priority for the Government and any hindrance to this such as the decision to cease grant funding would be detrimental to all concerned.
“Fiji hosts three campuses of the USP with Fijian students making up the largest portion of the student population at the University. Fiji withholding its education grant will affect the Fijian students most,” he said.
“The education grant is vital for the University considering that it supports several aspects of day to day learning, teaching, research and management.
“Withholding the education grant at a time when students, including their parents and families are suffering the impacts of COVID-19, is tarnishing the image and status of the Fijian Government and the way the Fijian Government views education.”
According to Sua, Fiji as the largest contributor was also the largest beneficiary.
He said a recent presentation to the USP Senate revealed that for every dollar spent by the Fijian Government on USP, the country received $8(US$4) in return.
Meanwhile, $27.6 million(US$12.8 million) grant was budgeted by the Fijian Government for the current financial year.
It is understood the grants for the first and second quarter had been paid while funding for the third and fourth quarters are expected to be withheld.
SOURCE: WANSOLWARA NEWS ONLINE/PACNEWS
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