India puts emphasis on education by doubling scholarships for Fiji

With such a young population, capturing the hearts and minds of Fiji's future leaders could pay dividends well into the future.

By Shailendra Bahadur Singh

New Delhi is putting extra emphasis on educational exchanges between India and Fiji as part of a major soft power strategy to further strengthen its close ties with Suva, amid Beijing’s growing influence in the Pacific region.

Last month the Indian High Commission in Fiji hosted some 60 Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) alumni in the capital city, Suva, in the first such event for the country.

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The Indian Government has provided educational scholarships for Bachelor’s and Masters-level programs to thousands of Fijian students for decades.

ICCR Alumni Meet in Suva (Image source: Supplied)

Today, the graduates hold influential positions in Fiji’s public and private sectors in a diverse range of fields, including engineering, telecommunications, journalism, law, linguistics and others. 

Cultural exchanges through the ‘Know India’ and other programs supplement the scholarship scheme, creating much-needed growth and training opportunities for Fijian youth of all backgrounds.

Delhi’s emphasis on education is evident in the doubling of scholarships to Fiji through the ICCR, following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2014 visit to Fiji.  

As only the second Indian PM to visit to Fiji since Indira Gandhi in 1981, Modi’s trip was followed by increased support to the island nation, packaged with a $75 million loan for the sugar industry, as Delhi seeks a larger presence in the Pacific region.

India is considered a major stakeholder in the US-led Indo-Pacific strategy designed to counter China’s growing influence across Asia and the Pacific.  

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India’s High Commissioner P.S. Karthigeyan (Image source: supplied)

The mission in Suva, under High Commissioner P.S. Karthigeyan, has moved in recent months to revitalize the ICCR alumni network in Fiji through several public and educational events.

At last month’s alumni gathering in Suva, Mr Karthigeyan spoke about the doctrine of vasudhaiva kutumbhakam – meaning ‘the world is one family’ – as the central premise for India’s engagement with the Pacific and the world.

Mr Karthiegeyan cited India’s achievements in science, aviation, business, and arts, and its recent assumption of the G20 presidency, as evidence of a country on the ascent and ready to support the development of fellow Global South nations like Fiji.  

“A fantastic evening with the ICCR alumni family in Fiji. Great music. Great food. And some foot-tapping dance. Big thanks to ICCR scholars who shared their enriching experience in India,” Mr Karthiegeyan added.

This was the first gathering of its kind since India’s scholarship program with Fiji began, and the High Commissioner assured the alumni network of continued support.

The High Commissioner’s enthusiasm is understandable: the strong turnout of alumni was evident and offering the ‘Indian experience’ through academic and professional training to Fijian youths was bearing fruit. As the region’s second-largest economy and development hub, Fiji is an important geopolitical player in the Pacific and is courted by both China and USA.   

Young people are a strong feature of Fiji’s demographics, with the 2017 census indicating that 69% of the population were below the age of 40, with 27.5 as the median age. With such a young population, capturing the hearts and minds of Fiji’s future leaders could pay dividends well into the future.

Youths not only represent a key segment of the population, but they are also a major voting bloc in the 2022 general elections, due on December 14.

Many youths come from the Indo-Fijian community, whose ancestors first came to the country as Indentured laborers in the 1800s, and settled in the country after completing their contracts.

The community still maintains strong links with India through language, religion, food, Bollywood and customary practices.

Sheldon Chanel, Indian-trained Fiji journalist and distinguished alumni (Image source: supplied)

Indian-trained Fiji journalist, Sheldon Chanel, who has written for The Guardian, Al Jazeera, AFP News, and the Australian National University’s Development Policy Centre, said that studying in a country with strong democratic traditions like India helped him better understand the principles of open, accountable, and transparent governance.

“Fijian youth identify well with India’s rich cultural heritage, strong democratic traditions, and development trajectory given our own experiences of living in a multi-ethnic country from the global south,” Mr Chanel said.

“The training opportunities India is providing in Fiji is helping create a more professional and skilled workforce and is earning India a good amount of goodwill among Fijian youths.”  

Contributing Author: Dr Shailendra B. Singh is an associate professor in Pacific journalism, the head of the University of the South Pacific (USP) journalism program and the 2022 Pacific Research Fellow with the Department of Pacific Affairs.

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