HON PM BAINIMARAMA SPEECH AT THE OPENING OF THE NADROGA-NAVOSA PROVINCIAL TECHNICAL COLLEGE CAMPUS

The Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, Dr. Mahendra Reddy;
The Nadroga-Navosa Provincial Council members;
The Head of Campus, staff and students of Nadroga-Navosa Provincial Campus;
Students and parents;
Cola vina and a good morning to you all.

Let me begin by repeating what I’ve said many times before, that the work my Government has done to increase access to education – our education revolution in Fiji – is our crowning achievement. So I’m delighted to take another step in advancing education in Fiji by opening the new Nadroga-Navosa Provincial Technical College campus.

This campus is part of a nationwide system and a nationwide priority. In fact, the Ministry of Education is opening eight new technical college campuses all over Fiji in the coming weeks. Eight new campuses that 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 is up to them—their ingenuity, their drive, their vision. These are the skills that we need to continue to develop in our dynamic and robust economy.

This campus stands as one of the largest technical college campuses in Fiji, and will draw students from villages, urban centres, suburbs and settlements. It is also the only campus to include hostel facilities, which will ease the burden of those students who need to travel from deep rural and maritime areas.

Let me tell all the people of Nadroga-Navosa: A modern, inclusive, comprehensive and quality educational option has arrived at your doorstep. Your young people 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 that are currently in very high demand due to a lack of local capacity. Many companies have been forced to look abroad, but, as this campus graduates students, they will no longer have to. The talent will be right here in Nadroga.

In Fiji, we have a young, energetic population. And that is a great advantage if we are able to harness that energy and give our young people the means to realize their hopes. Young people are inherently optimistic. They see their lives ahead of them and a world of possibilities unfolding before them. We need to nurture that optimism and reinforce that optimism. Years from now, when the young people of today look back on these years, they need to know that their optimism was real and justified—not just the folly of starry-eyed youth. That is what I want for them—for you.

We will do this by creating employment opportunities, by creating pathways that allow our young people to be productive, to have a future, and to contribute to the development of our growing economy.

And that is what this new campus represents – opportunity. The opportunity to develop skills in the areas of mechanical engineering, carpentry, cooking, woodworking and many other fields. Skills that are as important to the development of our economy as any other field of study. Because measures that make the Fijian workforce more competitive is one that my Government is keen to pursue.
Putting our young people to work is one of my Government’s major priorities. That means giving them valuable experience and knowledge to prepare them for the challenges and demands of the working world. Education and training 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 ways my Government is working to empower and elevate the status of our young people.

In the 2016-2017 Budget announcement, my Government 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 Nadroga-Navosa 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.

We know that not all learning takes place in the classroom or the laboratory. Work experience is a way to see how the skills you are learning are applied to real-world situations. It accelerates your classroom learning. So we want you to learn in the classroom and on the job. We want you to build up the know-how and gain invaluable work experience, because we also know that that is what employers want to see. That is what will set you up to make the transition from the classroom into the workplace.

Also in the National Budget, are several strategies and allocations designed to boost our sugar cane industry. As we all know, Cuvu – apart from its nice beaches – is also known as a sugar cane growing district. As we announced yesterday, we are lucky to have Mr Vishnu Mohan serving as our new FSC Chairman. With him coming on board, and with the number of new initiatives given the budgetary allocations to the industry, we will be announcing more reforms in the sugar cane industry specifically targeted at improving services to sugar cane farmers and at helping them deal with rehabilitation in the wake of Cyclone Winston.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I would also like to say that this campus does not only represent an opportunity for our young people. No matter what stage you are at in life, we all stand to benefit from continued education. In fact, I believe we should never stop learning, never stop pursuing new knowledge, never stop being curious, and never stop growing. This is one very basic way to live a fulfilling life. I encourage everyone, whether you are already employed and looking to polish your skillset or interested in taking an entirely new career path, to take advantage of the course offerings at this new campus. I challenge you all to explore your curiosities, deepen your knowledge and better yourselves through education. The opportunity is right here in front of you, and its doors are wide open.

We recognise that full-time course loads do not suit everyone’s schedules. So I would urge many of you to consider the short courses offered in the evenings – in areas such as cooking, carpentry, welding, engineering and other skills that you can develop in your free time. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how a few hours of your day can add up, and, over time, show you the way to advance your careers, begin a new adventure, increase your income and raise your standard of living.

Ladies and gentlemen,
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. So the demand is there. The opportunity is there. And, with the opening of this campus, that opportunity is yours to seize.

I would like to thank the members of the Nadroga and Navosa Provincial Council for their support in making this technical campus a reality. My Government believes that the Fijian people, their ability, their ambition and their passions are our greatest resource. This campus represents an investment in our people. And those investments always pay back worthwhile dividends.

Never in our history have there been more options to pursue quality education in Fiji. Every Fijian is unique, with his or her own interests, talents and ambitions. 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 Nadroga-Navosa Provincial Technical College campus.

Vinaka vakalevu, Thank you.