Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Pacific regionalism and higher education

Greetings from ANU where Professor Rajesh Chandra, Vice-Chancellor, The University of the South Pacific (USP), is speaking on "Pacific regionalism and higher education".

Professor Chandra is here for high level consultations with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT).

Professor Chandra argued that USP was at the center of development in the Pacific region. He pointed out that the new Framework for Pacific Regionalism (FPR) allows for involvement by non-government organizations and the private sector. The professor pointed out the importance of e-leaning and cyber- security.

Professor Chandra pointed out that USP has decades of experience working on regional issues, not just national ones. USP has 14 campuses in 12 countries, with 30,000 students. He listed the seven Strategic Research Themes:
  1. Economic Growth, Regional Cooperation & Integration for Sustainable Pacific Economies
  2. Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change
  3. Government, Public Policy and Social Cohesion
  4. Human Capacity Building & Leadership
  5. ICT & Knowledge Economy
  6. Pacific Cultures and Societies
  7. Pacific Ocean & Natural Resources
Professor Chandra pointed out that half their students are studying using flexible learning. In addition USP offers Skills Based Qualifications through Pacific Technical And Further Education (Pacific TAFE). Professor Chandra emphasized that Pacific TAFE does not depend on government funding.

Pacific TAFE is also interesting as it appears to be based on the Australian vocational system. As an example, the Pacific TAFE program "Certificate IV in Professional Training, Assessment & Evaluation" appears similar to the Australian "Certificate IV in Training and Assessment". The Pacific TAFE program is quality assured by Sydney TAFE, in Australia. The Pacific TAFE certificate articulates to a"Diploma in Non-formal Education" at USP, but I am not sure what "non-formal education" is: perhaps the same as workplace learning (such as for apprentices)?

There is a USP/ANU Memorandum of Understanding. It will be interesting to see if the two institutions collaborate on on-line programs and courses.

There is a Pacific Education Development Framework (PEDF) 2009-2015. This included a SSE 3: TECHNICAL & VOCATIONAL EDUCATION & TRAINING (TVET) Goal "Ensuring that learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes." and SSE 5: TEACHER DEVELOPMENT : IN -SERVICE EDUCATION AND PRE - SERVICE EDUCATION OF TEACHERS, but with no specific agreed targets. Also there is a CROSS - CUTTING THEME 4: INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES (ICT) to "Develop a Global Partnership for Development ... In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communication technologies.". It is not clear if anything was achieved as a result of the framework and there appears to be no replacement plan. Such frameworks, I suggest, are of little practical value and may hinder development. The best way universities can assist with development is to focus on their expertise: research what should be done and then educate people to go out and do it.

One point Professor Chandra did not mention is that USP's Bachelor of Net-centric Computing and Bachelor of Software Engineering were accredited by the Australian Computer Society in December 2015.

An interesting question from the audience was if USP might cooperate with India on education. Professor Chandra was generally positive on the idea. He suggested the most useful action would be more satellite coverage of the Pacific.

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