In an exclusive interview with The Pacific Advocate, vice chancellor of the University of the South Pacific (USP), Professor Pal Ahluwalia has expressed grave concern about the university’s financial state.
USP’s biggest grant donor, the Fijian government continues to hold on to its grant to the regional institution. As of February this year, Fiji’s withheld contribution was around $62 million.
According to the Fijian government, the grant will not be released if Prof Ahluwalia stays at the helm.
The standoff between the academic and Fiji led to his expulsion from the country. The USP Council which is made of 12 Pacific nations have kept Prof Ahluwalia on and even extended his contract.
But the Fijian government will not be moved even if their decision is affecting thousands of Fijian students at the USP.
“Of course they are not good. Fiji is our largest donor. They provide a grant and the grant is based on a formula dependent on the number of students that each country has. So Fiji has the largest number of students so the people who are actually suffering are our students,” said Prof Ahluwalia.
“They are suffering because while we have put all our efforts to the teaching and learning of our students, we are not able to replenish some of our facilities.”
According to Prof Ahluwalia, USP’s aging infrastructure and unattended maintenance is not helping anyone.
“I inherited a mess in the sense that there was over FJ$36 million (AU$24million) of maintenance that had not been carried out for over a decade and there is nothing that I can do about that,” he said.
“In Samoa things were just allowed to slide and are dilapidated and I have got to fix that. What was happening before was that all of the resources were just poured into Laucala without any attention to anywhere else.”
While the grant has been stopped, the Fijian government continues to pay students’ fees through their education loan scheme and scholarship awards.
In March 2022, Fiji’s Minister for Economy and Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the Fijian government believed that there were financial anomalies which needed to be investigated.
He said once this was done the funds would be released, and it was up to the USP Council to do this.
Prof Ahluwalia has hinted that talks between the USP Council and Fiji were happening.
Fiji’s Minister for Education Premila Kumar is yet to respond to questions sent to her regarding the release of grants to USP.