In the current digital era tertiary education students need to have devices such as laptops to have easy access to digital resources available online.

Fiji National University (FNU) Vice Chancellor Professor Nigel Healey while speaking at the National Training and Productivity Centre (NTPC) National Conference on Information Technology said given the huge strides made in the digital sector, universities are investing heavily in their virtual learning environment.

Professor Healey said with high number of students entering universities, it was placed a challenge on tertiary institutions to provide desktop computer for every student.

“We are reaching the point that to be a university student in the third decade of the 21st Century and to take full advantage of the fantastic digital knowledge at our finger tips, every student really needs to come to university with a laptop,” said VC Healey.

“No university can provide a desktop computer for every student and, by definition, desktops are on campus and the labs have limited opening hours.”

“Richer students with their own laptops have a huge advantage in that they can access the increasing range of digital resources from anywhere in Fiji – or the world – 24/7.  As we invest more and more in the virtual learning environment, the risk is that the digital divide between rich and poor students grows bigger,” said Professor Healey.

VC Healey said the university is exploring possibilities for students to be able to purchase laptops at affordable prices to assist them with their studies.

“We are currently beginning a conversation with our student body and with our suppliers to see if we can envision a situation where, with a subsidy from the university and the provision of free software for students, we can make laptops affordable for all students to buy with their TELS and NTS book allowances,” Professor Healey commented.

Professor Healey shared with participants the sequenced projects the university is undertaking to build its virtual learning environment.

“As Fiji’s national university, we have been laying the foundations for a radical change in the way we provide education, to ensure that we support the Fiji Government’s vision for DigitalFIJI,” he said.

“Step one was to connect the University, with generous financial support from the Government in the 2017 budget, to AARNet (Australian Academic and Research Network), which operates the submarine cable that connects Australasian universities with North America,” stated VC Healey.

“Under the Government’s Walesi initiative, was to provide students with unlimited, free wifi through DigitalFIJI anywhere on our campuses, so that students could access the University’s network from bures and outdoor recreational areas, as well as in the libraries and classrooms.”

“We have created a digital library, in which students access eBooks, eJournals and databases online.  We now have access to a very impressive range of databases, with all the major publishers – Springer, Elsevier, Palgrave Macmillan, etc – so that students and staff can search, download and read the latest textbooks and research papers.”

“Step four is the purchase and installation of a comprehensive university management information system called Banner.  This will integrate all our systems – from student application to enrolment to graduation, to HR and finance.  The system will be paperless and self-service, stripping out the need for transactions to be carried out by staff and transforming our efficiency.” 

“Step five is the most exciting, which is the transition of our courses from face-to-face to blended learning. FNU is a vocational provider and all our programmes are designed to lead to real jobs and all require hands-on experiential learning.”

Meanwhile Professor Healey said the aim of NTPC’s National Conference on Information Technology is to increase collaboration between policymakers, information and communications technology (ICT) professionals and academic institutions.

The inaugural meeting which is underway at the Pearl Resort in Pacific Harbour, was the result of consultations with key stakeholders who supported the idea of establishing an annual ICT conference.

“The presence of about 150 participants in this room today confirms that this conference meets a real need, and that there is great interest in the theme of this year’s conference, “Digital Transformation Towards a Smarter Fiji”,” Professor Healey said.

“We are in a new era of digital technology, the so-called Industrial Revolution 4.0, where the internet of things, big data analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics are rapidly transforming economies and working practices.  What is certain is that the speed of change will accelerate and Fiji needs to be ready for Industrial Revolution 4.0, or we will be swept aside.”

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