The contract extension of Pal Ahluwalia as Vice Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific (USP) will be the last nail in the coffin for the regional institution. The University Council members voted in favour of a 13-10 split. A disaster for the region. Under Ahluwalia's watch, enrollment at USP went through a downward spiral at around 30% for the last three years (see graph below). Ahluwalia allegedly created the circumstances for this massive decline by politicising the USP system. If the trend continues, especially under his new two-year term, USP will become untenable and unsustainable and will, unfortunately, have to close down as a university. It's a desperate situation.
He has sacked and sidelined anyone who disagrees with him, including UPA senior managers and team members. He has a bad case of inferiority complex that triggers his alleged bullying personality. He consistently lies and twists facts. He lied about not being involved in the appointment of Dr Mahendra Reddy for the performance of USP and keeps changing his tune and behaviour to suit his interests.
Under his watch, USP has slumped towards incognito and irrelevance. He has the cheek to boast about USP ranking, but the ranking is so low and is a cause for embarrassment. His KPI needs to be stated in his reports, and no one knows what's happening at the management level.
Lack of confidence and trust
One of the main reasons for the dramatic decline is the need for more confidence and trust in the institution. We can no longer blame COVID-19 or the expulsion of Ahluwalia because those are water under the bridge now. Staff and students have lost faith in the VC and want him out. As the team will tell us, the USP system is dysfunctional and close to disintegration. Ahluwalia's leadership and management skills are nearly nonexistent, and word has spread widely among students.
They are voting with their feet. Governments and parents have lost faith and are withdrawing their students from USP in large numbers. Furthermore, under his watch, senior staff members have left, and the university is not in a position to provide quality supervision of MA and PhD, a reason why Fiji is no longer giving post-graduate scholarships for USP but will instead send them to NZ. Other regional governments are doing the same thing.
The students suffer, and as can be seen from the graph below, the competition rate of students is one of the worst in any university in the world, a reflection, not of the quality of students, but of the quality of education and support system at USP under Ahluwalia's reign. The meagre completion rate of 18% is a total disaster (See Table below). This would have led to the closure of universities elsewhere because a 50% completion rate is considered red zone in many countries.
Amidst this USP disaster, Fiji National University was enjoying an increase of 13% between 2021 to 2022 (from 21,226 to 24,282) (see Table below). This is where a lot of students are moving. With the appointment of the new VC in Professor Nabobo-Baba, a local scholar, this will soon see a surge in the future as our regional institution slowly melts away into the ash heap of history.