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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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University Official Blames Parents For Samoa Exam Issues
Vice chancellor says multiple warnings given to students

By Unumoe Esera

APIA, Samoa (Talamua, Nov. 8, 2012) – The Vice Chancellor of the National University of Samoa (NUS), Leapai Ilaoa Lau Asofou So’o, today placed the blame well and square on the parents of the students that the university has disallowed from sitting the end of year exams. Why? They have not paid their fees.

"I have a long list of students attending the University right now who enrolled in 2007 and 2008 and it is now 2012 and they still haven’t paid their fees," said Leapai.

According to Leapai, they have kept reminding parents and students throughout the year of their overdue and unpaid fees.

"When students enroll right at the beginning of the year we include in their enrollment package a sheet of paper which lists details of when school fees are due to be paid and when they pay after the due date then they will be charged 20 percent extra for the late payment and 30 percent at the latest possible date given. After that, there [are] no more opportunities for them to pay their overdue fees," he explained.

The list of those with outstanding fees was posted up around the campus on Wednesday and Thursday last week and the final day for payment of late fees was Friday last week. He said a notice was also screened on television reminding students to pay their school fees by Friday last week otherwise they would not be allowed to sit exams.

He said that complaints from parents of the students that the decision made by the University was harsh is unjust as there are so many students who have not paid their fees and yet they continue to attend the University after being given several opportunities to pay their debt.

"These students have exceeded the date that they were supposed to pay their fees and have been given so many chances to do so," said the Vice Chancellor.

"It’s now five years later of unpaid fees and yet they continue to ask for a chance? "The work we do at the University is not getting any easier. We are just like any other family. We have to pay bills for electricity, water, internet, library resources, lecturers and tutors salaries and when you add those things up, it’s very expensive," said Leapai.

The Government’s generous assistance enables the University to keep running. "We feel for the students and their families but we can’t keep giving them chances when it’s affects the operation of NUS. I am also a parent who has children to take care of and there are many family obligations to deal with daily and I support the right of the student to have that education but it is the responsibility of the parents to pay their fees. Children should be the parent’s first priority and not a second choice. NUS does not have enough funding and it is this love for the students by giving them chances which is affecting our daily operations," he further explained.

Supporting figures

There were 327 students who have not been allowed to sit exams. The total cost of the debt owed to the University from students who have not paid this year and from the previous years comes to a total of WST$134,503 [US$].

"56 percent of students this year have not paid their fees, 21 percent did not pay their fees last year and 7 percent did not pay in 2010," explained Leapai.

38 percent of those who have not paid are enrolled in the Foundation Certificate program, 24 percent are in the Diploma programs and 19 percent are studying towards Bachelor degrees. In analysis from 2007 to 2012, 93.7 percent of the students with unpaid fees are current students attending for academic year 2012.

Leapai says that the parents are at fault as the students are well aware of the due date for fees but the parents fail to pay on time or not pay at all.

"There were those who requested for another chance to pay off their children’s school fees but they were not struggling financially and were quite sad with the decision made not to allow their children to sit exams. Those from rural villages and Savaii who struggle to make ends meet paid their children’s fees upfront way before the due date," he said.

He also added that the University is trying to seek other ways to get funding for the school such as the annual fund which will be launched on the 7th December this year and he encouraged all supporters and ex-students of NUS to donate money to the fund. As for the 327 students they will get an opportunity to sit exams next year after they have finished paying off their fees for this year.

"The budget for the University is in a good state. The expenses [are] balanced with the money allocated to us from the Government. In previous years, NUS racked up a debt of over $3 million tala [US$1.3 million] about six or seven years ago now that is all cleared up and we hope to have a surplus instead," he said.

He confirmed that parents showed up on Monday with money to pay their children’s fees but they were turned away. "We did not accept their money and told them we were sorry but there is no more chance for their children to sit the exams," he said.

Leapai said that the fees depend on the program the student is enrolled in and some programs are competency-based especially courses involving trades. Decisions to also raise the fees year by year at a percentage were ordered by the NUS council. A 100% increase was suggested for every year.

"But this was not suitable as that was a decision made three or four year ago based on the standard of living then, but the cost of living has become quite expensive since. So now a percentage of 10 percent each year to gradually raise the fees by $100-$200 tala [US$42 to $84] a year has been implemented instead.

"We also met with the Prime Minister and he was pleased to know [what] the situation NUS is at right now financially," he said.

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