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Rare kind of entrepreneur

Professor Wadan Narsey
Thursday, October 12, 2017

MOST entrepreneurs try to make money. They usually own their business, put up their own capital or borrow; they make the decisions to employ, promote, demote or fire staff members; they decide what to produce and how; who to sell to; and they are also entitled to any profits and liable for all debts.

However, an academic entrepreneur starting a university is not out to make money and he has none of the advantages typical entrepreneurs have.

With a university, some country or organisation owns the land and capital assets; some board or other has a role in hiring and firing; choosing the outputs of the university; which market to sell to or not; and probably most important of all, can be totally vulnerable to the government of the day.

Dr Ganesh Chand has been centrally involved in the establishment of two universities; Fiji National University (FNU) and University of Fiji (UniFiji) as well as given advice on the establishment of at least two other universities in the region (in the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste).

Dr Chand has also been the driving force behind the establishment of two academic journals; the extremely successful (Fijian Studies) and the recently published (Pacific Journal of Education) whose success is yet to be seen.

Dr Chand also started a printing press in Lautoka to expedite the publication of his journals which would have otherwise been too costly.

Like the typical entrepreneur, he keeps thinking of new academic ventures all the time, some reasonable and some apparently difficult, until some entrepreneur makes it work. Of course, he has to deal with the usual problems entrepreneurs face; start-up capital, skilled human resources, market demand, quality of product and even political problems. This article focuses on his being a very successful academic entrepreneur.

For whatever problems he may have faced and even generated, there is little doubt that Dr Chand has improved the provision of tertiary education to the poorest communities in Fiji regardless of their ethnicity, religion and region, a great achievement in itself.

His poor origins

and commitment

Dr Chand was born of poor canefarming parents in Labasa like several other academic achievers we all know; Professor Brij Lal, Prof Biman Prasad and Prof Subramani. But what distinguishes Dr Chand from most other USP graduates is his passionate commitment to Fiji.

As a good economics graduate with Bachelors and Masters from USP, and a PhD from a very good American university (New York Free University) Dr Ganesh Chand could have easily emigrated to Australia, New Zealand or Canada and worked for twice the salary he has received in Fiji. He could have worked for five times his Fiji salary with an international organisation such as Asian Development Bank or World Bank

.Not only was Dr Chand one of my better undergraduate students at USP he also did an excellent Master's thesis, supervised by myself and John Samy (then Central Planning Office director), on a cost-benefits revaluation of the Suva-Nadi highway.

This thesis, available at the USP Library, ought be compulsory reading for all economics students in Fiji wanting to do evaluation of the many multi-million dollar projects implemented in the past 20 years.

Dr Chand's love of academia no doubt started at USP which he joined as a lecturer in economics soon after graduating. He taught, published actively and edited USP's flagship Journal of Pacific Studies. He also joined our hardfought battles for regionalisation at USP, alongside Dr Yadhu Nand Singh, the late Dr Ropate Qalo, Professor Rajesh Chandra and yours truly.

Like many USP academics before him, Dr Chand also tried to serve the people of Fiji in Parliament as a Fiji Labour Party candidate but his contribution as a minister was cut short by the 2000 coup and 56 traumatic days as a hostage.

Poor students

denied university

Few young people today will remember the battles of poor students to get to USP two decades ago. Even if they were qualified; they could not get scholarships and they were too poor to pay USP's "full economic fee".

Dr Chand and a small group of USP academics (Prof Biman Prasad, Dr Surendra Prasad, Dr Sunil Kumar, Dr Som Prakash and a few others) formed the Fiji Youth and Students' League (FYSL) to raise funds (personal contributions and "goat and gallon" parties) and provide financial assistance for poor students to enter USP.

Such charity was not a long-term solution to the tertiary education needs of the poor and it was clear a cost-effective alternative was needed. Dr Chand took up the challenge to create an alternative Fiji university.

There was little support from governments for whom the education of poor Fijians of Indian descent was not a priority, while a few racist individuals in power, even tried to put spanners into the works.

Hindu religious organisations such as Sanatan Dharam and Sangam had ambivalent attitudes to Dr Chand's proposal for a new university in the West, some having their own plans for other tertiary institutes and some simply opposed out of inertia or sheer cussedness.

* Continued on page 28

Powerful businessmen, Fijians of Indian descent, (including some sitting on university councils) were reluctant to or would not help at all.

Dr Chand ploughed on regardless and eventually received support from the Arya Samaj.

UniFiji was born and struggled to get established, with minimal government support and limited revenue streams because of paucity of student numbers.

Fortuitous for their future was the UniFiji's appointment of Filipe Bole, a former education minister and diplomat under the Mara Governments. He would later return the favour as minister for education in a Voreqe Bainimarama Government.

UniFiji has always struggled to provide quality education for many reasons; mounting costly programs such as law; difficulty in appointing quality staff with uncompetitive salaries; difficulty in attracting the best students; and even strategically poor decisions to locate a second campus in Suva rather than the densely populated Nasinu and Nadera areas.

For reasons that probably deserve some other researchers' attention, Dr Chand moved from UniFiji and was replaced by Prof Rajesh Chandra who was then unfairly pushed out from USP (another story).

Fiji National University

Dr Chand will probably be remembered most for his establishment of the FNU, now larger in numbers than the USP.

It could be argued FNU's creation owed its origins to Mr Bainimarama's 2006 coup who no doubt was happy to see an alternative to USP, then home to several aggressive critics of his coup and government.

On the surface it may have seemed easy to form FNU by combining all the government-owned tertiary institutions such as Fiji Institute of Technology (FIT), Fiji School of Medicine (FSM), Fiji School of Nursing (FSN), Fiji College of Agriculture (FCA), Lautoka Teachers' College (LTC), Fiji National Training Council (FNTC) and others.

But there was much opposition from the institutions themselves. FSM was the oldest tertiary institution in the Pacific with a well-deserved reputation; all the different managements worried about the dilution of their control ("turf issues"), likely impact on quality and strategic directions.

Several resented having a Fijian of Indian descent as a vice chancellor which cut no ice with Messrs Bainimarama or Bole with both of whom Ganesh Chand already had an inside track as backstage policy adviser (with Mahendra Reddy).

The Bainimarama Government fully supported whatever appointments and redeployments Dr Chand required.

No doubt, FNU was able to consolidate many programs common to all the institutions, such English language and literatures, mathematics, sciences, and social sciences. Economies of scale and scope became possible and unit costs were pushed downwards.

The Bainimarama Government increased its grants and appointed active university council members.

FNU also began to increase its offerings in the "academic" areas, aggressively competing with USP. To students and most members of the public, a BA is a BA, a BCom is a BCom regardless of where it is derived and probably regardless of quality.

There is enormous scope for the Fiji Higher Education Commission to do thorough research on the impact of FNU on a number of key areas: access for poor students; student intake quality; quality of staff and salary scales; quality of programs both academic and technical; employment outcomes of graduates; impact on research and development in Fiji; impact of increased competition from USP's TAFE courses; employers' assessment of FNU graduates program by program; and funding from donors, government and students themselves; and many others.

What is unchallengeable, however, is that with the establishment of FNU there has been a remarkable increase in the number of tertiary graduates entering the labour market in Fiji and abroad.

Without FNU's output, Fiji would have been facing severe shortages of skilled human resources because of the continuing high rates of emigration.

Other universities

It might seem odd that aid-flooded countries like Solomon Islands and Timor Leste have consulted Dr Chand for establishing their own universities.

But I suspect that the politicians and Ministry of Education officials in the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste are mindful of having cost-effective universities of the kind that Fiji has produced, with unit costs much lower than those prevailing in Australian and NZ universities.

These countries probably also know that relying totally on donor-funded projects will probably lead to relative more expensive universities with costly staff mostly hired from the donor countries.

Academic journals

One of Dr Chand's quite remarkable achievements has been the establishment of two academic journals.

A few years ago, Dr Chand who by that time had left USP, began the academic journal, Fijian Studies. There was a predictable outcry from those who felt that the word "Fijian" should only be used for things "indigenous Fijians". Why not The Journal of Fiji Studies? But a political point was being made by Dr Chand and his collaborators.

Since then, the Bainimarama Government's insistence on using the word "Fijian" to describe all Fiji citizens had shelved that debate for the indefinite future.

A more credible criticism was made that there already existed the Journal of Pacific Studies at USP, to which all Fiji academics "theoretically" had access to.

I say "theoretically", because this journal (of which I also have been an editor in previous decades), did not always allow full exposure of Fiji articles, depending on the editor at the time, the authors and the content of the articles.

Fijian Studies was therefore able to publish many articles which otherwise could not have got into print. It received the support of many established academics from USP and abroad and is still active.

One unfortunate side effect if the success of Fijian Studies and USP staff involvement in it was that the Journal of Pacific Studies went into hibernation (somewhat ironical given that these same USP academics' salaries were paid by USP. The JPS was re-energised with a bit of a push from me, after I rejoined USP in 2008.

Another great story is Dr Chand recently initiating and publishing the first volume of the Journal of Pacific Education, an attempt to fill a vacuum left by the failure of USP's School of Education to maintain the frequency and quality of their education journal.

The bottom line however is that competition among journals is great for budding academics and researchers and anyone wishing to publish scholarly articles.

For all these journals, Dr Chand has had to overcome major hurdles of getting established academics in Fiji and internationally to agree to go on the boards, as well as contribute articles which are then refereed by reviewers and published with some acceptable levels of print quality.

These are difficult tasks for large university journals drawing on large academic departments; they are herculean for an isolated under-resourced academic in a small country like Fiji.

Their coming into print is surely a great testament to the ability of Dr Chand to evince the participation of many collaborators.

While there can always be improvements in overall quality, a beginning has been made and it is surely up to the academics and researchers in Fiji and the Pacific to build on Dr Chand's efforts and take collective responsibility.

Few Fijians, if any, can match the record Dr Chand has as an academic entrepreneur: starting two universities, advising on two other Pacific Island ones and starting two academic journals.

Dr Chand's achievements demonstrate to our youth seeking employment that entrepreneurship is not necessarily about making money.

Powerful businessmen, Fijians of Indian descent, (including some sitting on university councils) were reluctant to or would not help at all.

Dr Chand ploughed on regardless and eventually received support from the Arya Samaj.

UniFiji was born and struggled to get established, with minimal government support and limited revenue streams because of paucity of student numbers.

Fortuitous for their future was the UniFiji's appointment of Filipe Bole, a former education minister and diplomat under the Mara Governments. He would later return the favour as minister for education in a Voreqe Bainimarama Government.

UniFiji has always struggled to provide quality education for many reasons; mounting costly programs such as law; difficulty in appointing quality staff with uncompetitive salaries; difficulty in attracting the best students; and even strategically poor decisions to locate a second campus in Suva rather than the densely populated Nasinu and Nadera areas.

For reasons that probably deserve some other researchers' attention, Dr Chand moved from UniFiji and was replaced by Prof Rajesh Chandra who was then unfairly pushed out from USP (another story).

Fiji National University

Dr Chand will probably be remembered most for his establishment of the FNU, now larger in numbers than the USP.

It could be argued FNU's creation owed its origins to Mr Bainimarama's 2006 coup who no doubt was happy to see an alternative to USP, then home to several aggressive critics of his coup and government.

On the surface it may have seemed easy to form FNU by combining all the government-owned tertiary institutions such as Fiji Institute of Technology (FIT), Fiji School of Medicine (FSM), Fiji School of Nursing (FSN), Fiji College of Agriculture (FCA), Lautoka Teachers' College (LTC), Fiji National Training Council (FNTC) and others.

But there was much opposition from the institutions themselves. FSM was the oldest tertiary institution in the Pacific with a well-deserved reputation; all the different managements worried about the dilution of their control ("turf issues"), likely impact on quality and strategic directions.

Several resented having a Fijian of Indian descent as a vice chancellor which cut no ice with Messrs Bainimarama or Bole with both of whom Ganesh Chand already had an inside track as backstage policy adviser (with Mahendra Reddy).

The Bainimarama Government fully supported whatever appointments and redeployments Dr Chand required.

No doubt, FNU was able to consolidate many programs common to all the institutions, such English language and literatures, mathematics, sciences, and social sciences. Economies of scale and scope became possible and unit costs were pushed downwards.

The Bainimarama Government increased its grants and appointed active university council members.

FNU also began to increase its offerings in the "academic" areas, aggressively competing with USP. To students and most members of the public, a BA is a BA, a BCom is a BCom regardless of where it is derived and probably regardless of quality.

There is enormous scope for the Fiji Higher Education Commission to do thorough research on the impact of FNU on a number of key areas: access for poor students; student intake quality; quality of staff and salary scales; quality of programs both academic and technical; employment outcomes of graduates; impact on research and development in Fiji; impact of increased competition from USP's TAFE courses; employers' assessment of FNU graduates program by program; and funding from donors, government and students themselves; and many others.

What is unchallengeable, however, is that with the establishment of FNU there has been a remarkable increase in the number of tertiary graduates entering the labour market in Fiji and abroad.

Without FNU's output, Fiji would have been facing severe shortages of skilled human resources because of the continuing high rates of emigration.

Other universities

It might seem odd that aid-flooded countries like Solomon Islands and Timor Leste have consulted Dr Chand for establishing their own universities.

But I suspect that the politicians and Ministry of Education officials in the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste are mindful of having cost-effective universities of the kind that Fiji has produced, with unit costs much lower than those prevailing in Australian and NZ universities.

These countries probably also know that relying totally on donor-funded projects will probably lead to relative more expensive universities with costly staff mostly hired from the donor countries.

Academic journals

One of Dr Chand's quite remarkable achievements has been the establishment of two academic journals.

A few years ago, Dr Chand who by that time had left USP, began the academic journal, Fijian Studies. There was a predictable outcry from those who felt that the word "Fijian" should only be used for things "indigenous Fijians". Why not The Journal of Fiji Studies? But a political point was being made by Dr Chand and his collaborators.

Since then, the Bainimarama Government's insistence on using the word "Fijian" to describe all Fiji citizens had shelved that debate for the indefinite future.

A more credible criticism was made that there already existed the Journal of Pacific Studies at USP, to which all Fiji academics "theoretically" had access to.

I say "theoretically", because this journal (of which I also have been an editor in previous decades), did not always allow full exposure of Fiji articles, depending on the editor at the time, the authors and the content of the articles.

Fijian Studies was therefore able to publish many articles which otherwise could not have got into print. It received the support of many established academics from USP and abroad and is still active.

One unfortunate side effect if the success of Fijian Studies and USP staff involvement in it was that the Journal of Pacific Studies went into hibernation (somewhat ironical given that these same USP academics' salaries were paid by USP. The JPS was re-energised with a bit of a push from me, after I rejoined USP in 2008.

Another great story is Dr Chand recently initiating and publishing the first volume of the Journal of Pacific Education, an attempt to fill a vacuum left by the failure of USP's School of Education to maintain the frequency and quality of their education journal.

The bottom line however is that competition among journals is great for budding academics and researchers and anyone wishing to publish scholarly articles.

For all these journals, Dr Chand has had to overcome major hurdles of getting established academics in Fiji and internationally to agree to go on the boards, as well as contribute articles which are then refereed by reviewers and published with some acceptable levels of print quality.

These are difficult tasks for large university journals drawing on large academic departments; they are herculean for an isolated under-resourced academic in a small country like Fiji.

Their coming into print is surely a great testament to the ability of Dr Chand to evince the participation of many collaborators.

While there can always be improvements in overall quality, a beginning has been made and it is surely up to the academics and researchers in Fiji and the Pacific to build on Dr Chand's efforts and take collective responsibility.

Few Fijians, if any, can match the record Dr Chand has as an academic entrepreneur: starting two universities, advising on two other Pacific Island ones and starting two academic journals.

Dr Chand's achievements demonstrate to our youth seeking employment that entrepreneurship is not necessarily about making money.

* The views expressed are the author's and not of this newspaper.








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