24 Feb 2024

Fiji government revokes travel ban on former head of University of Fiji

1:54 pm on 24 February 2024
Shushila Chang

Sushila Chang Photo: © Clarissa Lo

A former Fiji university head who was banned from returning to the country by the previous Bainimarama government has had her ban revoked.

Shushila Chang, a former vice-chancellor of University of Fiji (UoF) in a daring move had departed during the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, breaching the border restriction order at the time, to be with her sick husband in Australia.

The Immigration Department subsequently declared her a prohibited immigrant and UoF sacked her for unauthorised departure.

She applied for a judicial review later that year but it was turned down by the High Court, which ruled the government's decision could not be challenged through judicial review, as Fiji's immigration law does not allow anyone to challenge the decision of a minister in any court.

However, Professor Chang said that she received a letter via email from the coalition government's Immigration Minister Pio Tikoduaudua on 22 January informing her that she can now return to Fiji.

"The travel ban on Professor Chang has been revoked after a thorough review of her case," Tikoduadua confirmed to RNZ Pacific on Friday.

"This decision aligns with our commitment to justice, transparency, and fairness."

The Minister said Professor Chang is a respected academic and former vice-chancellor of the UoF who can can now return to Fiji.

"This step reflects our government's dedication to reassessing past actions to ensure they align with our values and principles of natural justice," he said.

"We recognise the importance of academic freedom and the contributions individuals like Professor Chang can make to Fiji's education and society."

He said the Fiji government aims to foster an environment that encourages open dialogue and values the exchange of ideas, adding "lifting this ban demonstrates our commitment to these ideals."

Pio Tikoduadua

Pio Tikoduadua said the coalition government recognises the importance of academic freedom and the contributions individuals like Professor Chang. Photo: Facebook / Fiji Government

Chang, who was in the United States when she received the news, is now looking forward to visiting Fiji and reconnecting with friends.

She said her partner and children, who were "very concerned and supportive", were also "happy and relieved" that her travel ban has been lifted.

"[My husband] was having severe mobility problems in Fiji such as losing his balance and headaches. Upon our return to Australia, the oncologist discovered he was suffering from lung cancer which had spread to the brain.

"It is fortunate we returned immediately and sought treatment. We are thankful he was able to receive treatment and is well."

Invited back

Professor Chang said apart from prioritising her husband's wellbeing to aid in his recovery, she has also been meeting and consulting with universities such as The University of Bordeaux (France) and Coventry (United Kingdom), and delivering training programs.

She confirmed she was appointed as an academic advisor to Pacific Polytech - a private technical and vocational education and training (TVET) provider in Fiji.

She said it was "an exciting role as Pacific Polytech has a visionary mandate".

"I have been invited to present a public lecture by Pacific Polytech on a globally accredited National Inspection and Testing Laboratory in Fiji.

"The intent is to improve the safety, quality and sustainability of all products from Fiji including water, food, soil, air, furniture, cement, food, wood and others."