Australia-Pacific Connections for a Digital Future
Inaugural Pacific Connect—USP Academic Network Dialogue
19 June 2018, Suva, Fiji
- We, the participants of the inaugural Pacific Connect —USP Academic Network Dialogue, met in Suva, Fiji on Tuesday, 19 June 2018 at the invitation of the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships (ICDP). The Dialogue was co-hosted by The University of the South Pacific (USP) and supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
- We thank Simone Pensko, ICDP and the Australian High Commission in Fiji for organising the Dialogue and Professor Rajesh Chandra and Scott Hook for their thought-provoking presentations. We thank Professor Chandra, Professor Ian Young AO and Peter Fritz AM for facilitating the discussion and USP for offering the venue and in-kind support for post-Dialogue activities.
- We congratulate the Dialogue organisers on assembling a diverse group of participants with expertise in online education delivery, student management systems, economic and social development and entrepreneurship in the region. We thank all the participants for their thoughtful contributions to the Dialogue and their willingness to continue and deepen their engagement.
- We welcome Australia’s interest in forging stronger and more enduring strategic relationships with Pacific Island nations and see the planned Pacific Connect Dialogues as an opportunity for current and emerging regional leaders to extend their networks, work on solutions to common challenges and, ultimately, develop long-term relationships through shared experiences.
- The Dialogue’s focus on education and digital transformation aligns with goals set out in several Pacific forums, and we believe the announcement of new undersea cables in the region, supported by the Australian Government, and rapid development of online education around Australia and the rest of the world, makes this an ideal time to pursue online education in the Pacific.
- We welcome the impressive strides made by USP and other tertiary institutions in the region to modernise their student management systems and offer an increasing number and variety of courses online. We believe that new projects pursued by Dialogue participants and others can further enrich the variety and quality of distance learning available to Pacific citizens, particularly those in rural locations.
- While we appreciate the potential of advanced techniques, such as artificial intelligence and big data analytics, to reduce university costs and improve services, we remain acutely aware that many citizens in the Pacific struggle to meet their basic needs. We are therefore determined to create and support new educational avenues which help Pacific citizens to extend their horizons, enter tertiary education, or maintain traditional lifestyles.
- We are confident that education is the key to economic and social progress in the Pacific, as it expands the capacity of the region’s greatest resource – its people. While we acknowledge that a lack of income, energy and connectivity can hamper access to education, we are confident that increased infrastructure provision and market competition will allow an ever-greater percentage of Pacific communities to embrace new online educational opportunities.
- We acknowledge that mobile phones are the dominant communications platform in the Pacific and that online courses must be tailored to their use, as well as the cultural, linguistic and social characteristics of different Pacific countries. Merely replicating generic material online will not produce effective learning experiences, and academics in Australia as well as the Pacific need support in creating appropriate digital content.
- We recognise that creating new entities to offer novel and innovative educational services in the regional could circumvent current institutional barriers to change. We are confident that cooperation with existing institutions, many of which are expanding their own online offerings, would leverage current resources and encourage their support, rather than opposition.
- We hope that pooling our expertise, experience and passion for change will help drive transformative change in Pacific education. We will call on our shared contacts to investigate the creation, adoption or adaption of courses which support basic literacy and numeracy, encourage business creation, prepare students for university, and allow them to study remotely.
- We look forward to continuing our collaboration through further meetings and a dedicated Slack forum. We will consider a range of practical projects, including support for the establishment of ‘teach the teacher’ digital courses in online education and an advisory network for university administrators. We see the inaugural meeting of the Pacific Connect Academic Network Dialogue as the first step to achieving tangible outcomes for the benefit of Pacific citizens and communities, as well as creating personal bonds, deepening trust and creating enduring relationships in the future.
- We appreciate an opportunity to participate in the inaugural Pacific Connect Forum, to be held in Sydney on 6 September 2018, and thank the organisers for extending the invitation to all Dialogue participants.