Ahluwalia reappointed as USP’s VC in spite of protests, strike threat

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USP's Professor Pal Ahluwalia
USP's Professor Pal Ahluwalia . . . reappointed but facing mounting opposition from the university's staff with unions planning strike action. Image: Fijivillage News

By Vijay Narayan in Suva

The University of the South Pacific Council has reappointed Professor Pal Ahluwalia as vice-chancellor and president amid two days of staff protests.

The council says it has also heard from staff representatives and urged the unions and management to work collaboratively in the interest of the university.

The meeting was chaired by the acting pro-chancellor and chair of council and the New Zealand government representative, emeritus Professor Pat Walsh, in place of the pro-chancellor and chair of council Dr Hilda Heine, who is away from university business.

In a statement released by USP, Professor Walsh welcomed the reappointment of the vice-chancellor and expressed his and the council’s endorsement of Professor Ahluwalia’s performance.

Professor Ahluwalia thanked the vouncil for its continued support, saying he looked forward to serving the university and the region.

The council noted reports from the pro-chancellor and the vice-chancellor and president on activities undertaken since their last report to council.

Professor Pal Ahluwalia said the university was delivering its priorities successfully against the backdrop of declining enrolment numbers and financial constraints.

Updated on finances
The council was updated on the finances of the university and noted the ongoing challenges USP continues to face.

The council adopted the proposed annual plan for 2024 and noted the financial strategies for the coming year.

It also approved the financial plan for 2024 and adopted the audited financial statements for the half-year ended 30 June 2023.

The council further noted the impact and risks associated with the financial challenges being faced by the university largely due to the decline in student numbers.

The management outlined its strategies for mitigating the challenges ahead.

The council also approved a report by the University Senate and instituted new programmes in Pacific TAFE.

In addition, the council endorsed a proposed scoping study to establish a Pacific Centre of Excellence for Deep Ocean Science and a report will be presented at the next council meeting to be held in Vanuatu in 2024.

Unions want VC out
Meanwhile, The Fiji Times reported yesterday in a front page report that staff unions said they wanted Professor Pal Ahluwalia out.

During a protest on Monday and yesterday, more than 130 members turned up dressed in black with placards listing their grievances against the USP management.

Staff also questioned why a paper outlining their grievances was not included in the council’s meeting agenda.

Association of the University of the South Pacific Staff (AUSPS) president Elizabeth Fong said staff had supported the university in its greatest time of need.

Now, they are asking for recompense and recognition in terms of a “fairer and just” salary adjustment.

A statement from USP management said they were still negotiating some terms with staff unions.

However, news reports yesterday said the unions were now planning strike action.

Vijay Narayan is news director of Fijivillage News. Republished with permission.

University of the South Pacific protesting in black
University of the South Pacific staff protesting in black with placards calling for “fair pay” and for vice-chancellor Professor Ahluwalia to resign. Image: Association of USP Staff (AUSPS)
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