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I READ with a great deal of interest Clement Kengava’s letter to the Star dated 6 September under the title referenced “University Education for Solomon Islands”.
I write to express my strong support for the views expressed by Clement.
The ideas and views he expressed should have been considered at the time.
Indeed, there is no harm save to our national pride to integrate SINU with the 4th Campus of USP, and turn SINU into a University of Technology.
It is not too late to consider the proposal and offer the Panatina Campus as the 4th USP Campus.
Indeed, I had raised the proposal with Professor Rajesh Chandra in April about the possibilities of such an integration because of the concerns I had about the economics of having two Universities both of which will be supported in part by the Solomon Islands Government.
Tertiary education is not cheap and given the demands on our limited resources, we cannot afford to stretch our limited resources that way, by having two tertiary institutions both drawing on those limited resources.
Integrating SINU into the 4th Campus as suggested by Clement and then converting the Kukum Campus and its various satellite institutes into a Technical University makes sense.
USP can collaborate with the Technical University.
Their Staff can work together, collaborate in the development of research, co-operate in the development of capacity for analytical research and publications, and achieve gains and efficiencies that would not otherwise be possible if we tried to do it on our own and maintain two separate institutions.
It is nice to have a bit of national pride but that should not come at the expense of a quality product, and the delivery of a University qualification that commands respect and demand for the quality of its graduates.
Clement has raised an issue that deserves close attention and consideration.
I have always felt during the formation of SINU that its degrees should have been developed in collaboration with established Universities as suggested by Clement; that it partners with overseas Universities to produce graduates with qualifications that are equivalent to those Universities overseas.
Afterall, we want to produce graduates whose qualifications would command international recognition and demand.
The collaboration with KOICA in the development of the fisheries programme and institute is a good example of this partnership where applied fisheries skills in fishing gear technology, sea safety, stock assessment methodologies, etc could be developed.
There is a huge dearth of skills and knowledge in applied fisheries management overall in the region, that such an Institute even if it were to be part of Technical University could be developed to provide educational opportunities for all the region.
But we would not be able to develop quality fisheries programmes on our own and would need to develop partnership in the way they are doing right now.
The same can be said for the other programmes.
There is another reason why Clement’s proposal makes logical sense and that is; SINU has not been able to decouple itself from its technical trade programmes that it offers.
As the highest tertiary provider of technical trade programmes such as carpentry, motor vehicles etc, it must find itself in a dilemma as to what role it should actually be playing; whether it is a provider of academic programmes in the Arts/Sciences/Humanities or train people to become carpenters and vehicle mechanics.
I assume that this must be a dilemma that plays out in the minds of the Vice Chancellor’s Office!
Integrating SINU with the 4th Campus by having the Panatina Campus as the USP Campus, and then converting the technical components of SINU into a University of Technology makes economic sense.
That does not mean that the investments that have already been made for SINU would have been wasted.
It only means that they can be consolidated and then strategically built upon.
While USP can build on the existing facilities at the Panatina Campus and use its extensive international network to consolidate the programmes that have already been developed by SINU.
Some of the funds saved by USP by not having to build a new Campus could be used to build its satellite campus which can be jointly shared with the Technical University.
For instance the Gizo Campus can work closely with the Poitete Campus on research into land use management, tourism etc while Fote could be combined with research around biodiversity, even possibly housing a regional centre for biodiversity research, and the Lata USP Campus can be used by both the Technical University to undertake applied fisheries research and research into the impacts of climate change.
The Government can draw on the extensive academic research capacity that will be available to provide it with policy research, analytical studies etc that can help it take informed decisions across a range of sectors.
I believe that the greater good in achieving some economic efficiencies by rationalising University Education along the lines suggested by Clement outweighs the costs that we cannot afford.
I don’t think that Clement would have made those comments lightly as he was after all former Chair of SICHE, former Member of Parliament, former Premier, School Principal and an educationist by qualification and training.
By DR TRANSFORM AQORAU
Technical and Legal Support – Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) Office
Adjunct Visiting Fellow (School of Government, Development and International Affairs, USP, Fiji)
Senior Visiting Fellow (Australian National Centre for Oceans, Resources and Security, University of Wollongong, Australia)