Budget 2019

Fiji Budget 2019: Advancing Technology

One of the key focus of the 2019-2020 national budget will be advancing Fiji as the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) hub. Fiji already gives incentives for companies wanting to
31 May 2019 17:43
Fiji Budget 2019: Advancing Technology
Fiji National University Vice Chancellor Professor Nigel Healey.

One of the key focus of the 2019-2020 national budget will be advancing Fiji as the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) hub.

Fiji already gives incentives for companies wanting to open call centres in Fiji and MindPearl is one making the most of it, while also providing employment to hundreds of Fijians.

Fiji National University’s Vice Chancellor Professor Nigel Healey discusses ways in which Fiji can lead the charge and become the ICT hub of the Pacific.

What can Fiji do to become the ICT hub of the Pacific?

In my view, Fiji already is the ICT hub of the Pacific.  It is a major interchange for the trans-Pacific submarine cable network, notably the Sothern Cross system (ICN1, SCCN, NEXT), with other Pacific island countries like Tonga and Samoa connecting to the rest of the world through Fiji.

Fiji has a well-developed and highly competitive telecommunications sector and the Government has invested heavily in the DigitalFIJI and Walesi digital television initiatives to bring digital connectivity to all Fijians.

It also has a national university that is committed to ensuring that Fiji’s workforce needs are met by training professionals in areas like cyber security, artificial intelligence, coding and network analysis.

Government is focused on technology advancements and are providing incentives for companies to open ICT based companies here including call centres. How can Government entice more international companies like MindPearl to open shop here?

The Government has already provided the digital infrastructure that makes it possible for ICT-based companies to do business as easily from Suva as they can from Sydney or London.  For example, one of FNU’s partners is Pherrus Pty (Fiji) Ltd, a tax accounting firm that has set up in Toorak.

Operating closely with its headquarters in Sydney, Pherrus Pty (Fiji) staff prepare and manage the tax accounts for hundreds of Australian companies remotely.

Pherrus already employs over 50 accountants in Fiji – planned to double to 100 by the end of the year – and all the business is being done online for customers who are 3000km away.

Now that Fiji is hardwired into the digital economy, it has some strong advantages.  We have a young, increasingly well-educated population and, like Singapore (the most advanced international service hub), English is the common second language.  Investment Fiji is working hard to make ICT-based companies aware of the advantages of relocating to Fiji and liaises closely with FNU to keep us aware of the changing skills and competencies demanded by inward investors.

How would this benefit Fiji?

Digital connectivity levels the global playing field, making it as easy to do online business in Suva as anywhere else.

This allows Fiji to exploit its natural advantages of an English-speaking and well-educated workforce, coupled with lower wage rates and real estate costs.

It is so much cheaper to run a major ICT-based company from Suva than Sydney or Auckland that it is easy to take market share away from rivals in these locations.

At the same time, the jobs created in Fiji are highly-skilled, high value-added jobs like accounting, human resources and payroll and customer relations.

What is FNU doing to ready the workforce whose skills would be needed if Fiji advances further in this field?

The Fiji National University FNU offers bachelor’s degrees in computer science and information systems.

This cover all the key and emerging areas, including C++ programming, object-oriented programming, data structure and algorithms, systems analysis, artificial intelligence, mobile computing, networking, data mining and cyber security.

Increasingly, however, ICT graduates will need to specialise in areas that are evolving very fast.

To meet this growing demand for upskilling, in a joint venture between FNU, the Fijian Government and the Indian government, we have established the Mahatma Gandhi Centre of Excellence in IT at our Derrick Campus.

The Mahatma Gandhi Centre of Excellence in IT works with India’s premier Centre for the Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), the research and development arm of India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, to offer a range of advanced C-DAC qualifications in the following areas:

  • Certificate Course in Business Computing (CCBC)
  • Certificate Course in Advanced Web Technologies (CCAWT)
  • Certificate Course in Java Programming (CCJP)
  • Certificate Course in Android Programming (CCAP)
  • Certificate Course in Linux Administration (CCLA)
  • Certificate Course in Network Security (CCNS)
  • Certificate Course in Cyber Security (CCCS)
  • Certificate Course in Software Testing (CCST)
  • Certificate Course in IT Project Management (CCITPM)

Final comments:

The Fijian Government has a farsighted strategy called DigitalFIJI, to ensure that every Fijian is digitally connected.  As part of the wider national strategy, the University has focused on building a strong digital infrastructure to supports its academic programmes and make them more accessible to the population.  In the 2017/18 budget, the Government provided additional operating grant of $3m to allow the University to connect directly to the Australian Academic Research Network (AARNet), the submarine cable that links the universities of Australasia with North America.  This development enabled broadband speeds within the University’s network to increase tenfold and gave staff and students access to a range of educational software.  In the 2018/19 budget, the Government allocated a further $1m to enable wifi routers to be placed through the University’s 10 major campuses, so that students now have free unlimited wifi through the campuses outdoors.

In addition, in the 2018/19 budget, the Government provided an additional operating grant so that the University could purchase and install the latest version of ‘Banner’, the university management information system used by 2,500 of the world’s leading universities.  This new enterprise system, which will include all student services, accommodation, human resources and finance, will go live in mid-2020 and radically improve the efficiency of the University’s systems and processes.

This major investment in digital infrastructure has allowed the University to transform its libraries from dusty book stacks to vibrant ‘open learning commons’.  The library has shifted its focus to e-collections, investing in a huge range of e-books, e-journals and e-databases, that can be accessed by staff and students anywhere and anytime, freeing up the libraries to be used for collaborative group working and private study, rather than being the place to go to find a reference source.

The new digital infrastructure has also paved the way for a major shift into blended learning, so that courses can be delivered by a mixture of online content, vide-streamed lectures and face-to-face tutorials and workshops.  This is particularly important, because as the national university, the University has a mission to make education accessible to everyone.  Some of the smaller ‘outreach’ campuses cannot sustain minimum enrolment numbers to make face-to-face teaching viable for more than the core courses, but blended learning allows a much wider range of courses to made available nationwide.  Similarly, the University is supporting the Government’s ambition to upgrade school teachers holding diplomas to bachelors of education.  Because many teachers in rural and maritime schools cannot get to a campus for face-to-face classes, offering the ‘top-up’ degree courses in blending mode allows them to study from home with only occasional periods on campus for intensive teaching.

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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