The Minister for Education, Hon. Premila Kumar;

The Board Chairman, Mr Rakesh Ram and Board Directors;
The Permanent Secretaries, Heads of Institutions from Public ​and Private Sectors;
The Owners of Garden City Complex, Mr & Mrs Sing;
The CEO and Staff of Tertiary Scholarships and Loan ​Services;

Invited Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
I am very pleased this evening to open the new Headquarters for the Tertiary Scholarships and Loan Services (TSLS) and see for myself the steps you’ve taken to modernize your services –– including a revamped website, online application and complaint system, and a new TSLS mobile app.

When we first introduced the Tertiary Education Loans and Scholarships Scheme, TELS wasn’t just a programme, it was a promise to every Fijian that higher education was open to everyone. It was an assurance to every student that their merit mattered above all else. And it was a message to every Fijian that they could travel as far in life as their talents could carry them –– free from any restrictions based on their ethnicity, religion, background, or province.

Here we are, more than nine years on and more than 1.4 Billion Dollars in investment and more than 56,000 recipients later. The generation that was first empowered by TELS is now leading in our workforce. It is no accident that in the years following its introduction, Fiji established the longest streak of economic growth in history.

Those economic gains were powered by a more educated Fiji. This week, our growth rate for this year was updated to 15.6% –– the highest rate in Fijian history. That was no accident either. The strength of our recovery is only possible because our workforce is most educated and capable than it has ever been. That is what TSLS has done for Fiji –– it has made us more resilient. It has made us more capable of navigating the challenges of this century. It has created a sustainable and fiscally disciplined pathway to a knowledge-based society. Not for a single year or election cycle, but for decades to come.

But I believe the greatest triumph of TSLS is the way it has bulldozed a level playing field in Fijian society. In less than a decade, we have broken the bias against women in higher education –– with more women qualifying for TSLS study schemes than men since 2014. We are accommodating and empowering students with special needs. We are making strides to make diploma offerings more innovative to keep students apace with a changing society.

In the current financial year, we have funded 20 new scholarships for Masters studies, 10 for Ph. Ds and 400 new allocations for study loans to upgrade to degree and post-graduate studies. And in recognition of our need for skilled workers, we have made 200 new allocations for skill qualifications, such as Carpentry, Fabrication and Welding, Joinery and Cabinet Making, Plumbing and Sheet Metal, Construction, and Tile Laying; 100 new allocations for skills qualification for other providers, such as CATD Nadave and Monfort Boys; and 200 new allocations for study grants for construction-related skill sets. In addition, scholarships for National Toppers Local Scheme have increased from 547 to 770 and National Toppers Overseas Scheme has been reinstated and doubled to 40 awards.

My friends, the talents of our people are in high demand. Many Fijians are taking up high-paying opportunities overseas. That is their right and we would be fools to stop them. But their departures can leave gaps that must be filled, and the employers of this country should be able to look to our educational institutions to provide well-trained staff they can rely on.
Our economy needs chefs as much as we need scientists. We need plumbers as much as we need professors. These blue-collar industries build Fiji. And we’ve given funding to more skills qualifications and we ask your organization to give them your highest priority.

This year’s historic allocation of 9,400 loans and scholarships are funded as part of a total TSLS allocation of 162.5 Million Dollars. Of course, this amount also covers the over 9,000 students who are funded to continue their studies in the year ahead.

I want to speak with you about those students and the responsibility each of them is owed. The name change from “Board” to “Service” wasn’t just for show. It was to put a rightful focus on this Institution’s most profound priority: You are a service and you are here to serve, just as I am as Prime Minister.

One of the strategic focus areas of your Board and leadership has been Customer Service Excellence. This Headquarters is built around that very objective –– it has a bigger customer service area, a self-service kiosk, learning support and post-graduation care facility, enough space for staff, office space, and even a child-minder room.

I think it is a wonderful thing that you have a young workforce serving a young nation –– 95% of your team members are under the age of 40. Many are parents of young children. This Headquarter’s child-minder room can allow a working mum or dad to accommodate their child after school hours end, placing TSLS among the most progressive places to work in Fiji.

And from today it will also be among the most technologically-advanced. The new TSLS website is easier to use than ever and contains nearly everything a soon-to-be-student needs to know about how to be funded through the programme.

The new online application and processing system is easier and more reliable and secure way to apply for TSLS send and receive offer letters, agreements and confirmations –– all of which can be downloaded from the internet. Complaints can also now be filed online and tracked through to resolution. And the new TSLS mobile app makes all this information and these services easier than ever to access. When a student downloads this app on their phones, information like bank statements and allowance updates are a few taps away. We know being a student is a busy, full-time job. They expect and deserve this level of convenience.

Tonight, I ask that we all commit to make these investments in your Organisation count. Our students are counting on it. Our employers are counting on it. And so is our recovering economy.

Vinaka Vakalevu – Thank you.

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