REMARKS: Forum SG Puna at PIURN Plenary 10th Anniversary Session

A vision on Higher Education in the Pacific
H.E. Henry Puna, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum
‘Empowering Pacific Islands Universities- PIURN, an asset for the region.’

• Professor Pal Ahluwalia, Vice-Chancellor and President of The University of the South Pacific

• Professor Catherine Ris, President, the University of New Caledonia

• Dr Ora Renagi, Vice Chancellor, PNG University of Technology

• Professor Jito Vanualailai, Deputy VC Education, USP

• Dr George Carter, Director, ANU Pacific Institute

• Dr Hugo Bugoro, Director Research and Postgrad studies, Solomon Islands National University

• Ms. Salanieta Kitolelei, PhD Student, USP

• Friends

1. In my opening remarks, I quoted the wise words of Epeli Hau’ofa – that our region is a “…sea of islands, and that the world of our ancestors was a large ocean full of places to explore, to build their homes in, to breed generations of seafarers and ocean dwellers like themselves”.

2. Epeli Hau’ofa encourages the world, and us, to change our perception of our Pacific Island homes. That we are Oceania – we are resource and culture rich sovereign States – at the helm of navigating our own future where our Pacific Ocean is a pathway rather than a barrier.

3. Quality Education that is affordable, accessible, resilient and inclusive is a critical pre-requisite for achieving our aspirations.

Basic Education
4. If we are to formulate a vision for higher education, we must first ensure basic education needs in the region are met, setting the foundation for vocational and higher education, and lifelong learning.

5. The 2022 Quadrennial Report on Sustainable Development in the Pacific brings home many key highlights. I will cover two. The first — there has been significant progress in expanding opportunities in basic education in the Pacific, and that adolescents and youth are increasing their levels of education. However, concerns remain regarding the quality of education at all levels and the preparation it provides for adult life. Higher education is central to changing this narrative.

6. A second feature — COVID-19. The global pandemic changed everything, including the way we do things, and the way we see education. Apart from disrupting schooling at all levels, the crisis exposed inadequacies and inequities in our education systems from access to online education to misalignment between resources and needs. It highlighted the urgent need for us to consider new ways of teaching and learning.

7. The pandemic has also shown that innovative and homegrown solutions and increased investments are needed to address social vulnerabilities and inequalities in key areas including education which require an increase in the resilience of our education system to withstand shocks.

Higher Education
8. The agenda for education in the Pacific is changing. The Pacific Regional Education Framework (PacREF) 2018 – 2030, adopted by Education Ministers in 2018, sets out a vision for transformative and sustainable regional education. It aims to improve inclusiveness, student wellbeing and the maintenance of Pacific languages, values, cultures and traditions.

9. And this extends to higher education, ensuring we will be placed to deliver the region’s sustainable development priorities to 2050.

10. In the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, education, research and technology is a strategic pathway cutting across all the seven thematic areas. It is designed to encourage scientifically based research, innovation and creativity while reflecting our traditions and cultural practices.

11. This conference is well aware that Higher education matters. That’s why we are all here. We know a sense of curiosity and a supportive, resourced environment can equip young people with skills and knowledge to meet the demands of the labor market. This sets them on a pathway to economic prosperity and a stable future.

(Shared insights on labour market missing from this text)

12. Higher education ensures that demands for scientific based research are met by providing opportunities for young Pacific scholars to explore and research what matters to them most. These are inevitably issues of importance for our Blue Pacific Continent. Curious young Pacific scientists are the bedrock of our Pacific future. They understand the context of our changing times, and they seek solutions layered with an essential, Pacific lens.

TVET & Vocational Training
13. However, it is important to recognize that not all learners are suited for an academic pathway. Across our Pacific and developing nations, we need to open up opportunities in our education institutions, including in secondary education, for more vocational and trade-oriented pathways.

14. A key issue raised by Pacific Education Ministers in their March 2023 meeting is the importance of developing technical vocational education and training to create opportunities that meet learner aspirations and abilities.

15. This, in my view, highlights the need for higher education institutions to continue to offer technical vocational education and training (TVET) in your program of work; and I congratulate our Pacific universities for recognizing this.

16. TVET has the potential to influence the labour market and transform the economy. It provides the opportunity for our young people to develop skills that are not drawn from traditional disciplines and to learn to be adaptable, creative, and innovative.

Need for Inclusivity
17. It’s important to remember the added benefits we all gain as communities when higher education institutions are delivering. We see a more equal, inclusive and equitable Blue Pacific region. A Blue Pacific where our young women have opportunities and access them, pursuing education in non-traditional fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). A Blue Pacific region ensuring an enabling and safe environment for our young people particularly those from marginalized groups so they can pursue an education without discrimination. A Blue Pacific where our Pacific cultures, traditions and languages are a thriving, living part of our practice and identity.

18. It is important for higher education institutions in our region to recognize the key role they play towards regional sustainable development, and the pursuit for a resilient Pacific region that ensures all Pacific people can lead, free, and productive lives.

19. It is important to acknowledge that education is lifelong, involving continuous learning, and training. It is more than “schooling” or “learning”. It is a thirst for knowledge, a curiosity that is grounded in addressing the practical needs of the present but focused on a vision that serves the future.

20. One such educator whose own lifelong curiosity has impacted generations of scholars to this day, bears special mention and I will end my reflections in special tribute and respect here to Professor Jon Jonassen. A future-facing, master educator and creative genius who was, in a word, remarkable.

21. My friend, you are here with us and across our Blue Pacific world, today and always. I join the countless many people whose lives you impacted and say meitaki ma’ata, thank you so much as your research family today honors your legacy of empowered indigenous scholars, for our Pacific world.

22. Aera ra, te Atua te Aroa.–ENDS



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