The Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, Dr. Mahendra Reddy;
The members of Sanatan Dharam Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji, members;
The Head of Campus, staff and students of Lautoka Sanatan Campus;
Other invited guests and parents.
Bula vinaka and a good afternoon to you all.
Just yesterday I was in Nadroga-Navosa to open a new technical college campus, and I’m delighted to be here today with all of you to do the same at the opening of the Lautoka Sanatan Technical College Campus.
As I told the staff and students in Nadroga-Navosa, the work my Government has done to spur Fiji’s education revolution is my most proud achievement as Prime Minister. And these technical college campuses are a part of that revolution. Together, they stand as a nationwide system and represent a nationwide priority.
This is one of eight new technical college campuses being opened in the coming weeks all over Fiji. These new campuses will teach our young people the trade skills they need to find meaningful careers and enjoy productive lives. These skills give our young people a strong foundation to build on. And the rest depends on what they bring to the table – their resourcefulness, their drive and their vision. These are the skills that we need to take our dynamic economy to even greater levels of success.
The Lautoka Sanatan Campus being opened today will service villages, and nearby settlements and urban centres. It is the result of collaboration and partnership between Government and the Sanatan Dharan Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji, and we are very pleased to work with an organisation that has time and time again demonstrated a commitment to increasing educational access in Fiji and assisting my Government in making us a more knowledge-based society.
With the opening of this campus, another modern, inclusive, comprehensive and quality educational option is at your disposal here in Lautoka. The young people of Lautoka can now join the 2,777 other students enrolled in Technical Colleges throughout the nation. Young people who are learning valuable skills that translate into rewarding jobs. Jobs in sectors that have a high demand for local talent.
In May this year, we graduated our first classes from the three pioneer FNU technical college campuses. Of the 350 graduates, 70 per cent are already in the workforce, while the rest have opted to continue their education at FNU. There is real demand for the talent this university will help you develop. There is real opportunity that awaits you. Opportunity this campus will help you grab hold of.
In Fiji we are blessed with a young and energetic population. That is a great advantage if we provide our young people with the tools to realise their hopes and dreams. Every time I speak with young people throughout the country, they always share a sense of optimism and excitement for the future. They see their lives ahead of them and a world of possibilities unfolding before them. We need to create pathways that allow them to make those dreams a reality. That is what I want for them — that is what I want for you.
We can achieve that by creating employment opportunities, by creating environments that allow our young people to be productive, to have a future, and to contribute to the development of our growing economy.
This new campus is the embodiment of that opportunity. The opportunity to develop skills in the areas of mechanical engineering, carpentry, woodworking and many other fields. Skills that are as important to the development of our economy as any other field of study. We have a diverse economy that needs varied skill sets to grow effectively, that includes the skills that his college will impart to its students.
Getting our young people into the workforce is one of my Government’s major priorities. If that is to happen, they need valuable experience and knowledge to prepare them for the challenges and demands of the working world. Education is the most effective way to do that, and the establishment of this campus is an important step in making that happen. But that is only one of the many strategies my Government is implementing to empower our young people and assist them with the transition into the workplace.
My Government, as announced in the 2016-2017 Budget, has put in place a series of incentives to encourage employers to engage with our youth. Employers will now receive a 200 per cent tax deduction on wages paid to students in work placements and students working over the holidays. That includes students of this Lautoka Sanatan Campus who are looking for work in an area related to their studies. And, of course, the Tertiary Loans Scheme is available for all students looking to enrol.
On top of that, we also are working to relieve the financial burden on disadvantaged families through TELS and Bus-fare assistance programs, so that no student is denied access to education because of their socio-economic status. My Government is all about creating an equal playing field where anyone who works hard will be rewarded with a coveted skill-set and gainful employment.
Ladies and gentlemen,
No one gains when we restrict learning only to the classroom. Work experience is a practical way to test what you have learned in real-world situations. Anyone with experience can tell you, not every lesson can be found in a textbook. In fact, work experience accelerates your classroom learning. We want you to build up the know-how and gain work experience, because we know that that is what employers want to see. That is what will separate you from the competition when you make the transition from the classroom into the workplace.
But this campus does not only represent an opportunity for young people. Fijians at every stage of their life can and do benefit from a continued education. Age is no obstacle to understanding. It is never too late to pursue new knowledge, explore a curiosity or find other ways to expand your horizons. You may be currently employed and looking to advance your career, or keen on an entirely new career path. Either way, you can take advantage of the course offerings at this new campus. The opportunity to better yourselves through education remains open to any and every one.
We recognise that full-time course loads do not suit everyone’s schedules. And for some of you, the short courses offered in the evening may be more attractive. You can spend your nights learning skills such as cooking, carpentry, welding, engineering and other skills that you can develop in your free time. I urge you all to see how a few hours in the evening can add up and, over time improve your standard of living by opening up new career paths and increasing your incomes.
Never in our history have there been more options to pursue quality education in Fiji. And each year, my Government plans to offer even more. Each student is different, and the more options we have available, the more tailored and effective our teaching can be. That diversity is good for Fiji and will help us grow. So I encourage everyone to make the most of this opportunity. It is my pleasure to declare open the Lautoka Sanatan Campus.
Vinaka vakalevu, Thank you.