On 25 May, the new Convention for The University of the South Pacific (USP) opened for signing in the Marshall Islands.
TWO IMPORTANT AREAS OF NEW CONVENTION
||One of the first Pacific members to sign was Tokelau represented by Hon. Fanolele Mativa, Minister of Education. A firm commitment that hopefully will see other Pacific members follow suit, and bring the convention into force in anticipation of celebrating USP’s 50th Anniversary in 2018.
To the many people witnessing the historical occasion they applauded Tokelau’s commitment. However, many of them would have had no idea as to what that commitment by Tokelau and Hon Mativa entailed just to be there. In truth, it took nearly a week of travel for Hon Mativa to arrive at the Marshall Islands.
His journey started on Tuesday, 17 May.
At a Tokelau Council (cabinet) meeting on Nukunonu, they needed to endorse a last minute change to the boat schedule so Hon. Mativa could make the Saturday flight leaving Apia, Samoa. If he missed that flight, he would not make the 84th USP Council Meeting and opening of the new Convention for signing.
He made the Apia flight, the first in a series of planes, transits and hotels that finally landed him on 23rd May in Majuro. A journey of nearly a week on sea, land and air to get there. But for Tokelau, as a founding member of the university back in 1968, it was important Hon. Mativa was also there to witness the expansion of the USP family to the Marshall Islands who officially opened their new USP campus on 24th May.
However, Tokelau’s priority was always about signing the new USP Convention.
Before departing Nukunonu, Hon. Mativa emphasized two important areas the new convention addresses.
“For Tokelau and the region the new convention addresses our aspirations: how to better navigate the digital revolution we are currently in, and what other challenges or opportunities of the next 50 years.”
The second area addressed is the legal status of the university.
“Currently there is no formal legal recognition of USP in any country other than Fiji and Samoa. Although that status has not been a problem over the past years as every member country financially supports the University and through engagement of their respective Ministry of Education actively involved in its governance,” he said.
“But the ratification and incorporation of the Convention into national law should resolve ambiguities that have arisen from time to time regarding the legal status and operation of the University in each of the member countries.
“And of course, incorporation of the Convention into domestic law by the majority, if not all of our member countries by the end of 2017, would allow us to celebrate USP’s 50th anniversary in 2018 with a legislative framework that will provide a firm foundation for its operations and further expansion into member countries in the future.”
USP TESTIMONY: SEIULI ALETA
||For Tokelau’s Director of Education, Seiuli Aleta, USP is central to Tokelau’s developmental aspirations in the future, as it has in the past.
“As we look to celebrate 50 years next year, we will actually get to see that USP has been there beside the major developments in different institutions in different countries, in terms of governance, economic development. And that is to be expected as USP was set-up to provide support to those areas by training people so they can go back and serve their countries in those critical capacity and capability areas.”
Seiuli himself is a product of Tokelau’s education system. Through the scholarship scheme to USP and returning to serve Tokelau. He vouches for the Pacific-familiarity and context of USP that is intimately connected with the learning nuances of Pacific islanders.
“USP at the time was a place where people/lecturers doing the training understood the local knowledge, context of the Pacific, and we had our students and graduates actually return to Tokelau.
“So the leaders at the time actually made the initial connection that USP is the way to go.”
The connection and affinity between Tokelau and USP are also that much greater because of the country’s extreme isolation and smallness.
“That is where USP’s distant flexible learning fits our situation perfectly. It encourages those in isolated communities to be educated by bringing the classroom right into their backyard. Especially for groups like our women who are involved with homecare and village commitments, USP’s distant learning services provide them with the opportunity for education.”
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
On the need to improve side, there are two areas Tokelau would like to see USP take up as priorities: Language; and Technical/vocational training.
Focus on Pacific languages has been raised in the past according to Seiuli. He would like to see more attention and progress on the issue by USP management.
“USP’s mandate is maintenance of Pacific languages and cultures. It is appropriate that USP is the tertiary institute to look after growing and maintenance of our languages. So that’s one area we would like to see prioritized and developed.”
He would also like to see an increased focus on technical and vocation training.
“As we look to the next 50 years, USP needs to evolve in order to stay relevant with the growing diversity of its members needs.
“When you look at new developments, it is obvious that IT and technology are big ticket items. Tokelau has just enabled a 4G mobile and broadband network. That infrastructure is an enabler of digital services such as telemedicine, e-education, e-commerce and whole lot of other government services. We will need our own people to support and sustain the developments and progress in our countries in those areas.”