I wish to welcome all of you warmly back to the University for yet another crucial year. To all those who have joined us for the first time, a very warm welcome to our unique and wonderful university. I hope that you are, as I am, starting the new year refreshed and determined to carry out your work with increased vigour and in particular to complete Strategic Plan implementation on schedule.
In 2016, we achieved many things, but much remains to be done and we have two years remaining in the SP to accomplish that. It is worth reflecting on the fact that a decade ago USP was in a dire financial situation; no one would have imagined then that, just ten years later, we would have had operating surpluses every year; secured a US$ 19 million soft loan from ADB to develop the Regional Campuses (with Kiribati Campus already done and Solomon Islands campus on track); attained accreditation for 18 programmes and have the accreditation process underway with WSCUS; offer dozens of highly-regarded professional and technical education programmes in addition to Higher Education, introduced new programmes; exercise a clear regional ICT leadership role, to name just a few of our many accomplishments.
The reputation of the University nationally, regionally and internationally has gone up beyond our expectations—and your contributions have been crucial in this. We have worked as a team to bring USP from a precarious financial situation with low staff morale ten years ago to being on the cusp of attaining excellence. We have proven that, with determination and diligence, and working together cohesively, we are capable of great things and I am confident that we will be outstanding in many, if not all, areas of our operations by our 50th anniversary in 2018. Let me thank you for all your hard work during 2016. We have a lot to be proud of, and today we have an institution that is markedly more flexible, resilient, and innovative than ever before. We started 2016 with tropical cyclones that devastated Fiji and Samoa. USP staff and students responded by coming together with an outpouring of charity. USP staff worked to keep all of the University’s own students on track as well as provided support to affected secondary school students. We ended last year with very large and joyful graduation ceremonies that celebrated larger number and more diverse graduates than ever before.
We are on track to again increase enrolments this year, and are ready to provide them with high quality education in all our Campuses. Markedly improved student support services, particularly for students with disabilities, will ensure that those enrolments are successful and complete their programmes on time at USP. Our student experience, characterized by talented academics, inspiring research, plentiful opportunities for debate and enrichment, access to multicultural activities and friendly sporting and cultural events, is one of USP’s best points, and that student experience is shaped by you, the USP staff. I am so grateful that USP staff members are committed to offering students the very best educational experience and value for money. Our Member Countries and their citizens and our development partners count on this commitment that we will always strive to do better.
The Year Ahead Continuous improvement is one of USP’s core values, so let us all start 2017 thinking about how we can be more effective, efficient and sustainable. We will measure our results at the end of the year based on how much progress we record against our goal of achieving excellence by 2018. In some areas, this will be challenging, which is why I am asking Priority Area Leaders to assist one another and to give special attention to functional areas such as Human Resources, which began our Strategic Plan 2013- 2018 period with larger challenges to overcome. The overhaul of Properties and Facilities started in 2016 to deliver better results in a more efficient manner. We need to ensure that this is fully accomplished. All service areas need to improve their service delivery to students, staff and to other stakeholders. All staff have been provided with the resources that they need to deliver on Strategic Plan objectives.
I look forward to each member of the Senior Management Team to exercising full leadership in their respective priority areas. Delegating is highly important, and I expect all staff to share their workloads wisely so that we can all achieve more while maintaining our commitment to providing the best possible student experience. I am counting on staff to support their managers, those staff that report to them, and to their colleagues in other sections. We are a team, and must work as such. We are engaged in a fundamental re-engineering of our systems in finance, human resources, IT and Student Services to make them more effective, efficient, less bureaucratic, more intelligent, and comparable to best universities in the world. There is digital disruption everywhere globally on an unprecedented scale. We at USP need to harness the power of digitization and artificial intelligence as an intelligent, knowledge institution. As we make progress in these areas—and we need to speed up this work—we will see a smarter, more friendly, user-centred USP.
Last year’s workshop on risk management felt overwhelmingly that we need to strengthen our culture of prompt, honest and constructive feedback and hold people accountable for their actions and inactions. I wish to ask and require each supervisor/manager/director and SMT to strengthen the culture of accountability. This will be taken into account in their performance management given the centrality of a results and accountability driven culture that is so vital to our achievement of excellence.
There are numerous events slated for 2017 that will bring international attention to the University and, again, our teamwork will be called in to play. We expect to assist Fiji, our CROP partners and our member governments in the “2017: Year of the Pacific Ocean” which will be launched at the UN in June. We will continue to provide leadership in the areas of ICT, Climate Change, and Pacific Studies. We must take care to extract maximum leverage from all of our interactions with external parties, and to be highly proactive and professional at all times. Opportunities to advance our own work or the work of the University for its Region should be promptly identified and raised with managers; if we are always thinking creatively and ambitiously, we will achieve greater things at a much faster rate.
For example, we must record more meaningful improvements in the area of Human Resources this year. Systems will be strengthened and HR service delivery, especially in terms of recruitment and responsiveness, should improve. It is important to me that USP staff are happy and feel valued and incentivised to perform at their best. Our journey toward WSCUC accreditation continues; whilst this is a long process, it is helpful, and in some areas essential, for our reputation, quality control, linkages with international institutions, and international student and staff recruitment. Accreditation is a major focus for 2017.
I will ask more frequently for evidence that progress is being made on accreditation, and I hope to receive regular updates on how the quality of teaching and of research is being improved. Quality will continue to be
one of USP’s points of distinction; we must have objective evidence of both our quality and our impact in and for the region.
I thank you sincerely for all that you are doing to make USP the region’s best university. I hope that I can soon thank you for shaping USP into one of the world’s best universities. I believe in thinking big and striving, rather than setting easily achievable goals and accomplishing them easily just to “look good”. Our region deserves and needs the best education and research to adapt to Climate Change and literally stay afloat in our highly-competitive globalized world. We are facing formidable challenges as we near the end of the current Strategic Plan. As we take inspiration from USP’s mission statement, we must look at our own work and ask whether it is the best, or all, that we can do. If, as individual staff members, we can do more or better, I hope that we will resolve to deliver.
I also hope that cooperation will be the order of the day, as by working together, we will meet our objectives much faster and uncover greater efficiencies. Please share your ideas as to how we can all do better with your supervisors, and if you feel that you need greater support to meet your goals, also share that. We can think creatively to solve any challenges and in particular celebrating our success in 2018-year of our 50th Anniversary and working towards development of a dynamic and forward looking Strategic Plan beyond for the period 2019-2024.
I am anticipating another very successful year for USP, and look forward to your role in helping to achieve our Strategic Plan goals. We have a lot to be proud of already but we have to deliver more. Let us ensure that we deliver outstanding results for our stakeholders again in 2017 and beyond.
Best wishes to you and your families in 2017.
Professor Rajesh Chandra Vice-Chancellor and President The University of the South Pacific
Headquarters and Laucala Campus
Suva REPUBLIC OF FIJI