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By Kālino Latu in Auckland

The challenges experienced by Tongan students having to study overseas will soon be over after the government has announced plans for the establishment of the kingdom’s first national university.

The news has been hailed as a solution to the financial, social and mental stresses Tonga’s international students have faced.

The kingdom’s Parliament is expected to process a bill which set out the details of the university later this week. The public had until yesterday to make submissions on the Tonga University Bill 2021.

The university is expected to unite various institutions, including the Tonga Institute of Education, Tonga Institute of Higher Education, Tonga Institute of Science and Technology, Tonga Maritime Polytech Institute, Queen Salote Institute of Nursing and Allied Health, as well as the Tonga Police College.

It will offer academic, technical and vocational programmes and qualifications from certificate to post-doctorate level.

Former Tongan MP and government teacher Lepolo Taunisila said the proposal had been in the pipeline for a while and involved previous governments and education ministers such as the late Dr Hu’akavameiliku and Dr ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki.

It had been “absolutely long overdue”, Taunisila said.

‘Frustrating challenges’
A former student at the University of the South Pacific (USP), Fīnau Leone, said the move could help resolve the problems he and other Tongan students had encountered in the past.

Leone said he faced “frustrating challenges” studying in Fiji.

He said his family struggled to pay for his studies because he did not have a scholarship.

His parents could sometimes only afford to pay for his school fees and not for his shopping and living costs.

“I have no choice but to use all that money to pay for my school fees and begged for food from other Tongan students at USP and also asked them for a space to sleep in their apartment.

“Leaving home for the first time to stay with different people from various ethnicities were challenging, especially as I was just finishing from high school,” he said.

Leone said he still remembers an incident in which one of his best Tongan friends at USP was killed in Fiji while they were on a night out.

Tonga is one of 12 Pacific Island countries which fund USP.

Two private universities currently operate in the kingdom – ‘Atenisi University and Christ’s University in Pacific.

This article by Kaniva Tonga editor Kalino Lātū was first published by Te Waha Nui and is republished here as part of our collaboration with Kaniva Tonga.

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