“The conflicts of interest in the TELS Board” (Fiji Sun, 1 Jan 2014)
Letter to the Editor (Fiji Times, Fiji Sun) (29 December 2013) (NOT PUBLISHED)
The conflicts of interest in the TELS Board.
The public will be pleased to note that the primary objective of the Board of the newly established Tertiary Education Scholarship and Loans Scheme (TELS) is to ensure that the scholarships and student loans are given in areas required by current and future labour market facing our tertiary graduates.
Some might even be pleased to note that the Board comprises the vice chancellors of the three universities in Fiji, as well as the Permanent Secretary of Education, and is chaired by a well-known tourism industry advocate.
The public should note however, that all these Board members appear to have fundamental conflicts of interest in the decisions of this Board, even if they personally behave with total neutrality.
First, decisions by this Board on the mix of areas of study for the scholarships or loans recipients, will inevitably affect the numbers of students received by these universities and their revenues, and also the numbers of graduates available for the tourism industry. Might horse-trading, rather than the real needs of the Fiji economy, have any influence?
Second, it would be quite difficult for this Board to proclaim that the Fiji primary and secondary education system is just not producing the kinds of students need by our tertiary institutions and the labour markets.
Third, it will be quite difficult for this Board to proclaim that our tertiary institutions are not mounting the courses that are needed by the Fiji and external labour markets to which our graduates aspire to.
Fourth, the public needs to ask why this TELS Board does not include any representatives of the Ministries of Labour and Planning, the PSC and the Fiji Higher Education Commission, four entities which ought to be the foremost “neutral” experts on the needs of the local labour markets for our Fiji graduates?
Fifth, the Fiji public should remember that gainful employment, while an important objective, is not the only end-goal of human endeavour. Sadly, in the universities’ quest to be “labour market” oriented and driven by the allocation of scholarships and private students’ demands, all our tertiary institutions have either neglected or decimated some courses and disciplines urgently needed by every civilized society: in history, politics, sociology, anthropology, religion, our vernacular languages and cultures, to name just a few. Will this TELS Board do anything at all to rectify this ongoing tertiary educational disaster, which all three vice chancellors and the Ministry of Education, are party to?
Professor Wadan Narsey