It was January of 1999. I was all excited about traveling overseas for the first time on scholarship. I had been shortlisted the previous year to do my first year of studies at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. I was properly excited.
Then I got the call to go to the scholarships office for a meeting. There was bad news for me. Although I had been shortlisted, my Year 13 New Zealand Bursary results had been mailed to Samoa by mistake, therefore I would not be able to go to Fiji. That is what I was told.
As ignorant as I was back then regarding the corruptions that beset the scholarships office, I accepted their excuse. They had a way to redeem their consciences regarding this little incident though. They promised to make sure I got a scholarship the next year, 2000. They had my shortlist on file so I did not need to apply.
In 2000, I was redirected to the PNG University of Technology instead of the USP in Fiji.
In hindsight, I realize that their excuse was not plausible and that giving me a scholarship the next year was unfair for those applying in 1999 to get a scholarship in 2000. I never really found out who took my place in 1999, as a political favor, or maybe even an exercise in nepotism. I have never been convinced that the people in New Zealand would make a mistake in sending my examinations results to Samoa.
As I look back though, I am glad that they sent me to PNG instead of Fiji. I’ll tell you why.
The social scene in PNG is not as open and free like it is in Vanuatu and Fiji. Papua New Guinea is notorious for its gangs and street violence. While this might appear negative to some, it is the perfect environment in which a student from Vanuatu could find themselves in. In a school like the PNG Unitech where student security is guaranteed (at least back in the early 2000s), the student generally lives his/her life within the school’s campus. Life outside the campus consists mainly of shopping trips to town or the occasional raunraun to the compound road markets for finger food.
Now, when you are surrounded by school mates in the dorms, in the classrooms, on the streets and sports grounds, you tend to gravitate towards studying more and socializing less. Such is the case in PNG universities. You don’t spend the week planning your weekend out in clubs because it is just too dangerous. Instead you study. When you do go to clubs, it is more like an excursion where the university bus drops you off at one club, students go in, have their time and then get back on the bus and head back to campus.
In my four years of study at PNG we constantly talked about how the pass rate of students studying in PNG was higher than those studying in Fiji. It was a topic we liked to talk about a lot, because at that time it made us feel special. Again, in hindsight, it didn’t mean we were special. It just meant that the environment we lived in was more accommodating of study which led to more of us passing our examinations and eventually graduating at the end of our programs.
Of course I cannot speak in judgment of or in behalf of those who have been on scholarships in Fiji universities. But if the rate at which students fail to graduate is any indication then the scholarships office should do a major overhaul of their application vetting processes.
Having said that, it should be pointed out that cases like mine are still existent. I do not have facts, but many are the complaints of parents who know their children should have been awarded a scholarship but got nothing for their hard work. And not only parents. Even students have complained about how someone who was a total failure in high school had been awarded a scholarship. And even though they know they deserve a placement in a university, they cannot do anything about it!
A new government is forming soon. One bloc is promising to fight corruption. One can only hope that, in envisioning a better tomorrow for this nation, our leaders direct the war on corruption into the scholarship office.