29 Sep 2020

USP jobs secure as NZ, Australia funding intact

2:56 pm on 29 September 2020

The University of the South Pacific says New Zealand and Australia have reaffirmed their financial support to the regional institution.

USP Theatre

USP Theatre Photo: USP

Last week, Fiji suspended its grants to the USP.

New Zealand and Australia are also part of the university's governing council.

Earlier this year, Australia announced it was withholding its funding over allegations of mismanagement reported by Vice Chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia.

In June, Professor Ahluwalia was suspended by the USP executive committee over alleged malpractice.

But he was reinstated after weeks of protest by students and staff when the council found due process had not been followed.

"After my suspension, Australia wanted some guarantees. We've met all those triggers that they wanted.

"They met with us last week in our regular partnership meeting and they have assured us that they will release $FJ7m - and the $FJ3.5m that's outstanding from them will be released in October. The uplift from New Zealand will be $FJ1.5m is what they told us."

The Vice Chancellor said following last week's move by the Fiji government, the university was "managing the payment of grants very carefully".

Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum had criticised the handling of the investigations against Ahluwalia.

The accusations against the Canadian academic were made by the USP executive committee led by Pro Chancellor Winston Thompson and chair of the Audit and Risk Committee Mahmood Khan, both from Fiji.

Khan's appointment to the committee had been criticised with claims of bias because he was appointed by Sayed-Khaiyum, who is related to him.

Khan denied his connection with one of Fiji's senior politicians got him the job.

Both Thompson and Khan had been critical of Ahluwalia's restructure plans for the USP.

However, both men were expected to front the USP Council this week over alleged breach of authority.

USP Chancellor, Nauru President Lionel Aingimea had called the special council meeting.

President Aingimea accused both men of a campaign against the Vice Chancellor since the professor's appointment last year.

Lionel Aingimea

Lionel Aingimea Photo: Nauru Government

Member states commit, jobs secure for now: Boila

The Vice Chancellor said there were no job losses at the institution and the restructure would allow the USP to retain jobs amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ahluwalia said there were other factors that had led to the reorganisation of the university.

"This reorganisation has been necessitated by some factors principally around the timing of grants but also that's to our operating grants and the Covid-19.

"And so while we can survive for a while, what we do need is to think about the sustainability of this great regional institution we want to make sure this becomes one of the greatest university in the world."

Ahluwalia assured there would be no job losses or pay cuts for staff - only the executive management - who were on a five percent pay cut.

Meanwhile, the university's head of Finance said other member countries have "pledged their commitment to financially supporting the USP for this year - at least".

But Kolinio Boila said the impact of the grant ceased by Fiji had not yet been felt by the university.

"The impact from the Fijian government is basically currently absorbed so we have not yet moved into a position where we cut wages or salaries that is for down the line if the situation worsens.

"But for the time being, we have absorbed that from our current contingencies.

"For this financial year, Fiji had allocated almost $US13 million to the USP.

Since January, Fiji had given $US10m to the university, Boila said.

Bolia said he was targeting $US7m in savings to sustain the institution going forward.

"Finally the university is basically absorbing this through other forms of savings internally but we were not able to sustain this annually for every year going forward that's why the reorganization is necessary at this point in time."

The Vice Chancellor is expected to put a proposal of the USP's restructure to the council in November.

Flags representing the nations of the USP

Flags representing the nations of the USP Photo: USP