Umanand Prasad School of Medicine Friday, 6th December, 2013
UniFiji Campus 10.00a.m.

• The Chairman of the Council of the University Pundit Bhuwan Dutt and Members of the Council
• Your Excellencies, the Ambassadors and High Commissioners
• Honourable Ministers
• Na Momo na Tui Vuda
• The Acting Vice-Chancellor Associate Professor Chandra Dulare
• The Registrar Pundit Kamlesh Arya
• Members of the Senate
• Members of University Staff
• Representatives of the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji
• Graduands
• Parents
• Invited Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning, ni sa bula vinaka, assalamu alaikum, namaste.
I am indeed honoured to be here this morning at the 2013 graduation ceremony specifically for the students of the Umanand Prasad School of Medicine.

As the President of the Republic of Fiji I bring you the warm greetings of the people of Fiji as well as those from my own family.

I am also greatly honoured at the pleasant duty I humbly shoulder as the Chancellor of the University of Fiji to confer degrees – and on this occasion - to this fine gathering of men and women achievers. We are proud of your achievements. All of you will soon be joining the Fiji labour market where you will make your mark – of that I have no doubt.

And where you will contribute to the economy of the country. Always remember that yours is an honourable profession. The profession of healing the sick and saving lives. A profession in the service of humanity.

Having said this, I wish to pay tribute to the Foundation Dean of the Umanand Prasad School of Medicine:

Dr Umanand Prasad contributed so much energy and financial resources to UniFiji. All his efforts including the pledge of $1million towards the Umanand Prasad School of Medicine will be recorded in the annals of the history of Fiji as a classic example of a true Fijian whose principal aspiration was to see the growth, prosperity and happiness of his fellow countrymen and women.
I mentioned at the last graduation here at Saweni in April, 2013 that if only all sons and daughters of Fiji show similar compassion, Fiji’s vision of creating a knowledge-based society would be effectively realized.

Unfortunately, for his family, for us, for the university and for Fiji, as you are all aware – only three months later, Dr Prasad died in a car crash in Australia in early July. We are left the poorer for his tragic passing. I know that he was looking forward very much, with anticipation and quiet pride to this first graduation ceremony.

I feel, as no doubt you all do as well that he is here with us in spirit. We will always remember him.

Today, our thoughts are with his family and I acknowledge the presence of his wife, Dr Uma Prasad and their two daughters, Ms Namrata Warburton, the young lady who addressed us earlier, and Ms Dheeraji Guterres.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I now ask you all to rise and to observe a moment of silence in honour of the late Dr Umanand Prasad. Thank you. Please be seated.

Ladies and Gentlemen, at this point, I would like to follow on some of the issues I had raised in April this year.

The vast rehabilitation works from Tropical Cyclone Evan in December 2012 is now complete in some areas but are still in progress in other areas in the Western Division.

However, the resilience of the people who bore the brunt of Tropical Cyclone Evan has been repeatedly admired in many circles here at home and overseas.

Our own facilities which had been extensively damaged were repaired swiftly, the focus being to meet the beginning of the university term which was achieved through the determination, and the combined work of the staff and the many volunteers setting a fine example of cooperation all around.

Today we celebrate another successful conclusion where the University of Fiji has entered its eighth graduation ceremony. This graduation ceremony has witnessed the conferment of degrees to 33 graduands from the Umanand Prasad School of Medicine.

I warmly congratulate the graduands for the successful completion of their programme of studies. You are the first Fijian MBBS graduates from outside the establishment of Fiji’s first medical school.

This is a proud historical record for you and the university.

I am glad to report that the Umanand Prasad School of Medicine has in its six years of operation undergone five reviews by panels of professors from other leading medical schools.

The last review panel was conducted under the auspices of the Association for Medical Education in the Western Pacific Region, in late October and early last month.

The executive summary of their report states: “overall, the team was impressed by the remarkable improvements in the MBBS programme of the school and the fulfilment of the basic standards of 2012 World Federation for Medical Education Global Standards.”

For this fine achievement, I pay tribute to the Dean and the staff of the Umanand Prasad School of Medicine.

Our national vision is to make Fiji a knowledge-based society, and I note with appreciation that the University of Fiji is contributing positively to this important vision.

In his address whilst delivering the 2014 budget, the Prime Minister mentioned and I quote:

“The theme of this budget is "building a smarter Fiji". To be smart in the modern world requires investing in our future. ... Education is the greatest investment a nation can make in its future, and we cannot short-change our future.

Everyone benefits when we fully commit to the education of our children. ... And it involves major initiatives in primary, secondary and tertiary education that will radically overhaul the manner in which we educate our people. ... My government believes that no young person should be left behind, even at the tertiary level. ... So today I announce a major tertiary initiative that will provide low-interest government loans to any Fijian student who is accepted at one of the tertiary institutions in Fiji. ... The Tertiary Education Loan Scheme (TELS) will cover up to the full cost of tuition and will not have to be repaid until after a student has graduated and received employment. ... The change in the funding model for budget allocation is designed to encourage a level playing field by ensuring that funding is based on the number of Fijian full time students. ... University of Fiji will receive a grant of $3.5 million.”

Ladies and gentlemen, what this means is that anyone who is offered a place to study at the University of Fiji will be able to take up that offer by getting a loan from government to pay for their tuition, getting a toppers scholarship or paying for their own fees.

Parents are asked to take some responsibility for their children’s tertiary education like paying for textbooks and living expenses. There are also separate funds available as loans for supporting students’ living expenses. The funds for living expenses are means tested and targeted at rural and maritime students, but are eligible to all students.

The focus on education and essentially on our young people is consistent with the provisions of our 2013 constitution. You will recall that while assenting to the Constitution on 6th September, I mentioned: “I am particularly encouraged – excited even – by the way in which the constitution empowers young people.

For the first time, any child born in Fiji gets a much better chance of gaining knowledge and skills, with specific undertakings about access to primary, secondary and tertiary education. So we will be a smarter nation with more people capable of getting satisfying and sustainable jobs.

For the first time, the two principal vernaculars i-Taukei and Fiji Hindi – are to be taught in our primary schools as compulsory subjects.

So we will be a nation better able to communicate with each other and share our stories.

For the first time, anyone over the age of 18 obtains the right to vote. So we will be a nation in which young people are able to participate in the democratic process and provide us all with their energy, idealism and fresh ideas.

We all know that Fiji’s future depends on our young people. And more than anything else, this Constitution is for them and for their children and the generations to come.”

Ladies and gentlemen, in my briefs on the University of Fiji, I am constantly advised of the unwavering focus of the council and the founder and their combined will to construct the facilities for the centre for iTaukei studies (CIS). While that is indeed a laudable focus, and a continuing desire its eventual fruition is being looked forward to with anticipation by all of us.

To recap, early this year, I noted with great appreciation then the $52,135.00 contribution received from the Foundation Trust of Genting Highland, Malaysia, in answer to the council’s fundraising drive. I trust that further contributions have also come in since from other sources.

I also said then that I looked forward to having this centre realized during my term as Chancellor. And I repeat that sentiment again today. I also wish the council and the university administration every success in this regard with the hope that the government would soon come on board with financial assistance for the centre for indigenous studies project.

However, the centre is not just about the bricks and mortar. There is a much deeper meaning to its establishment. I am informed that the Fiji Higher Education Commission had engaged two experts in Fijian studies to review the centre’s program and they have advised that they are pleased with the focus of the centre.

But they indicated that there was a need to make the program more academic including the various oral sources of data like mekes, chants and traditional stories. I urge the leaders concerned to take heed of this advice, and have discussions within the university and make the appropriate changes.

I also said early this year that to have a successful university it was crucial to have a wide ranging network of support and goodwill. It was, therefore, encouraging to note that the University of Fiji had gone regional by recruiting students from other Pacific Island Countries – the Solomon Islands was the most prominent in this expansion. I trust that trend has continued.

So, again, I urge the Resident Ambassadors and High Commissioners to encourage their students to seek university education from UniFiji which offers quality affordable education to students from Forum Island Countries on local fees. This expression of goodwill from the University of Fiji to the communities of the Pacific Island Countries will be mutually beneficial to all.

As Chancellor of the University, I am knowledgeable of, and greatly laud, all the support to the University of Fiji by the business community. I cannot thank them enough for their generosity. And I say this to them. Your financial support makes the work of the council easier. I am hopeful that other business firms will join hands and help the University of Fiji achieve its goal of educating the nation.

Ladies and gentlemen, I urge the graduands to lead by example and be good ambassadors of the University of Fiji. To all you parents gathered here and those listening from outside, I implore you to invest in the education of your children for the future. There is no loss from such an investment.

I wish all the graduands the best for the future as you turn to face the real world. To all you ladies and gentlemen thank you for being here at the graduation. We are honoured, grateful and touched by your presence and support.

Thank you, vinaka vakalevu, sukria, bahoot dhanyavaad.