USP Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia detained by Police and Immigration officials

The University of the South Pacific Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia and his wife has been taken in by Police and Immigration officials.

FIJI is expected to deport Professor Pal Ahlaluwiya later today. Ahlaluwiya was arrested at midnight with his wife and detained by immigration officers. Fiji attempted unsuccessfully to remove him through the university council last year. The detention comes less than 48 hours before a USP Council meeting.

Professor Pal Ahluwalia moved from Australia to Fiji in October 2018 to take up this position.

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In his VC’s message on USP website, Professor Ahluwalia notes:

“We have great ambitions and have aspirations to grow our brand so that we are globally recognized for our excellence. Our greatest strength is our people, who are dedicated, well qualified and are world class researchers devoted to providing the best education possible. We work to advance our teaching, curriculum, and campus culture to meet the educational needs and aspirations of students in a rapidly changing world. “

Professor Ahluwalia studied for his Bachelors and Master of Arts from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada and later went to get his PhD from Flinders University in Australia. 

Prior his appointment as the VC&P of USP, he served as the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Portsmouth. 

Professor Pal Ahluwalia began his tenure as USP vice-chancellor in January 2019.

Soon, he reported gross irregularities at USP. Professor Ahluwalia’s report sparked an independent investigation ordered by USP’s audit and risk committee.

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June 2020, an Executive Committee of the Council had suspended Professor Ahluwalia from duties with pay so that “an independent investigation”  into allegations against him could be conducted. 

Ahluwalia denies all allegations of misconduct and claims he has been the victim of a witch-hunt. “I have no doubt that it is a by-product of that initial report that I took. I was a whistleblower. Most places … in the world whistleblowers are protected. Here I have been thrown under the bus,” he told RNZ Pacific.

There were wide spread protests and the VC was reinstated and this was seen as a victory for good governance, activism and regional unity.

USP is jointly owned by 12 countries – with campuses in all – and 20,000 students from across the region.

Australia and New Zealand are also significant external funders of the university and are concerned about USP’s governance.

In fact, Australia has committed $84m over the next six years to USP.

In 2019, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced:

“Today I announce a new partnership between Australia and the University of the South Pacific – see, it was worth waiting for – $84 million over the next six years. We do this because it matters and it counts and you get results. USP has a unique role in developing the skills needed to drive the region’s development and economic growth long into the future. Last year, USP – as you noted earlier – celebrated its 50th Anniversary. So did I, by the way. This is a remarkable achievement – not for me, for you … Australia is proud to have been associated with USP over the longer term. This agreement will see Australia support efforts to invest in the young people of our region, passionate people, vibrant people, intelligent people, through the focus on improving the quality of teacher education and through the education of students at the tertiary level in fields such as economics, human resource management and tourism management.”

As per local media reports. Pal and his wife were picked up from their home as Fiji’s Prime Minister participated in a Pacific Islands Forum leaders retreat that went well into the early hours of this morning and saw the election of former Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna to the role of PIF Secretary General ahead of four other candidates, including Fiji’s Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

Fiji will Chair the PIF later this year, but maintaining regional unity, after the deportation of the Vice-Chancellor, particularly after the candidate endorsed by Micronesian Forum members missed out on the SG’s role, will be even more difficult now. Nauru’s President chairs the USP Council.

The University of the South pacific Students Council has published on it’s social media page that,

We will be making a statement by later this afternoon! This news is shocking for the entire #Region! Students are heartbroken! This is a no less than a #Coup at the Pacific’s Premier Institution. The World is WATCHING!