By Lagi Keresoma
APIA: MONDAY 26 NOVEMBER 2012: “If there is a drop in student numbers or stakeholders pulling out, I am not aware of it.” Dr. Muhammed Umar, Acting Head of the USP School of Agriculture and Director of IRETA, Alafua Campus.
The Acting Head of the University of the South Pacific School of Agriculture, Alafua Campus, Samoa, and Director of IRETA, Dr. Muhammed Umar has denied allegations that the USP stakeholders are pulling out from backing the school financially.
He also denied that this has resulted in a drop in student numbers and a move by some Melanesia groups to move the school of agriculture from Samoa to Fiji.
“I am not aware of any situation with stakeholders but I can say that we have an increase of students coming in to the school every year,” Dr. Umar told Talamua in an exclusive interview.
He said that since he took over from the last Director, “we have organized ourselves and have worked better.”
The Alafua Campus is the School of Agriculture of the regional University of the South Pacific and also houses the Institute of Research, Extension and Training in Agriculture – IRETA.
“For the School, the most important focus in on teaching and research and most of the students attending are from overseas. Fiji has the highest numbers of students followed by Vanuatu,” explained Dr. Umar.
Dr. Umar’s comments were verified by Senior Lecturer Dr. Sonny Lameta. He said a drop in the number of students was noted in 2009. However, last year saw an increase in the number of overseas students in the school. He too denied the idea that stakeholders are pulling out.
“It’s impossible because this is a regional organization and that will never happen,” said Dr. Lameta.
While he speaks highly of the number of overseas interest, he is disappointment by the interest of local students. Lameta said that Government offers 20 scholarships for Samoan students every year. “But they don’t take it.”
He believes if the school was in Fiji or elsewhere in the world, “our Samoan students will compete for a chance to be there.”
He did however propose for the school of agriculture which is divided into two sectors, the Agro Business and the Applied Science, for one of these to move to Fiji. Agro Business which is mainly to do with commercial farming and monies and the other with research, Dr. Lameta believes that Samoa does not have enough resources to host both.
Dr. Umar does not support the idea. He said that the USP Vice Chancellor in Fiji recently denied rumours that the school was in the brink of closure. He also notes that there are some people in the region who are pushing for the School’s relocation.
Dr. Lameta agrees with Dr. Umar that the university does have problems but it does not warrant stakeholders pulling out. He also believes that Samoa’s Prime Minister will never allow that to happen.