The island nation of Fiji lies approximately 2,000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand’s north island in the South Pacific. A cluster of more than 300 islands, just 110 are permanently occupied, with a majority (85 per cent) of its 868,000 population (Source: UN) inhabiting the two major islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.
A former British colony – it gained independence in 1970 – Fiji has in more recent times faced internal political conflict, with democratic rule interrupted by no less than four military coups since 1987. Despite political tensions tourism has emerged as a major export industry for the country. According to the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, the country welcomed a total of 675,050 visitors in 2011. Looking at total number of visitor arrivals by purpose of visit, education and training accounted for 6,731 of all visitors in 2011, a 16 percentage point increase over 2010 and a whopping 94 percentage point increase over 2000 figures (Source: Department of Immigration, embarkation and disembarkation cards).
So what makes Fiji such an attractive destination for prospective students? “Who wouldn’t want to study in a tropical island where you can enjoy the sun, beaches and vast majority of natural and untouched habitats?” offers John Tora at Free Bird Institute in Nadi, located on the western side of Viti Levu. As well as a tropical climate, Fiji also offers lower tuition rates in comparison to ELT rivals the USA, UK, New Zealand and Australia, he expounds.
Glynne Hilton at Tadra Institute, an English language school also based in Nadi, concurs, adding, “Course fees and cost of living are approximately 50 per cent cheaper than those charged in Australia and New Zealand.”
Relatively straightforward visa processes are another added bonus, she adds. In fact there are more than 100 nationalities that are visa exempt including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, South Korea, China, Ghana and Nigeria. Holders of passports from visa exempt countries are granted Tourist/Visitor visas that are valid for four months upon arrival. For a small fee, extensions can be made up to six months on condition that they hold a valid passport beyond the intended period of stay in Fiji, outbound ticket and sufficient funds to facilitate the extended duration of stay, says the government website.
Students should declare their intention to study on their arrival documentation, notes Hilton. “While a student who enters Fiji on a tourist/visitor visa must commence a course within two weeks and depart Fiji directly once the course is completed, a permit to study is currently F$190 (US$106) for 12 weeks of study. A further fee is required to continue the student visa after 12 weeks,” notes Hilton. For students that wish to stay longer a full application is required costing F$330 (US$184) which must be submitted along with a health report, a police (security) report issued by the country in which they have resided for the past 12 months and their return ticket. “Catch 22 is that immigration nominates a student’s departure date as the same day as the end of their course so they should be aware of this,” notes Hilton.
While it is always advisable that students exercise caution when in a new country, Tora notes that international students should feel safe and secure during their study stay in Fiji. “The well-being of our students is our priority and in Fiji students can enjoy life outside of school. All students are safe when they go about and enjoy the relaxation Fiji has to offer,” he says.
Of course, the provision, services and facilities an institution offers have a bearing on initial school selection. “We have relatively small classes, excellent facilities, comfortable tropical surroundings, and internationally recognised curricular programmes,” relates Salote Narayan at the International School Suva (ISS) in the country capital. As an independent, co-educational day school offering pre-school, primary and secondary education, she notes that 52 per cent of current students are non-Fijian passport holders, a number that continues to grow. A majority tend to be the children of non-natives currently working in the country at the UN or an embassy, she adds.
The fact that teaching staff are licensed by the Government of Fiji is appreciated by prospective students at Free Bird Institute, notes Tora. Not only are faculty staff kind and patient with students, they can identify with the students that they are instructing, given they have first-hand experience of learning a second language themselves. “They understand how students feel while trying to learn a foreign language,” he says.
Good staff infrastructure is also cited by Shirley Sangita Prasad at the University of Fiji in Lautoka, the second largest city in Fiji. Located on higher ground, students will be wooed by the sea views, enthuses Prasad. “The environment provides a perfect study atmosphere and the campus includes comfortable recreation areas.” The Vuda Marina Complex, with bars, restaurants, fashion outlets and even a regular Saturday night open air market, is approximately two kilometres away.
The university, which was established in 2005 to provide high quality, affordable higher education, comprises a number of schools and centres and has internationally recognised academic staff, notes Prasad. Offering certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in disciplines such as accounting, economics, mathematics, English language and literature, the university currently enjoys a small number of international students (24 in total in 2013). She adds that medicine is the most popular elective undertaken by students – delivered at partner centre Umanand Prasad School of Medicine which opened its doors in 2008.
ISS, meanwhile, is an IB World School and offers the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme – which forms the framework for the school’s primary curriculum – and the IB Diploma programme (IBDP). The IB is particularly popular with international students, says Narayan, as is the Australian Capital Territory Year 12 certificate and the International General Certificate of Secondary Education. Not all students have a firm grasp of the English language so intensive lessons are available. “If they are coming for the IBDP we prefer that students are proficient as it is an intensive course that is completed in two years. This means there is not a lot of leeway to learn English as well as cope with the demands of the programme,” explains Narayan.
Adopting an English only policy on site, students at Free Bird Institute can choose from seven levels of English, from basic beginner through to business class. The school also delivers Toeic preparation and is the only Toeic licensed institution in Fiji. Tora says, “Studying English as a foreign language seems to be the most popular course for foreign students coming to Fiji,” and he adds that numbers are certainly on the rise.
Hilton notes that they too insist that students converse in English only during school hours. “This,” she adds, “is supported by teachers and students.” The school has also established a reputation for good achievement levels in Ielts examinations which are held locally. Ielts exam preparation is the second most requested course type behind general English, notes Hilton.
Flying to Fiji
While domestic students dominate the campus demographic at the University of Fiji, Shirley Sangita Prasad relates that they are interested in recruiting more students from neighbouring Pacific Islands. At present, the institution does not utilise education agents but there is potential to do so in the future, “given the right ground rules”, she adds.
Tadra Institute which is registered with the Ministry of Education initially welcomed good numbers from Korea and Japan, but today there is much more diversity on campus with students from France, China, Northern India, Sri Lanka and more recently the Netherlands, affirms the school’s Glynne Hilton. Since the school’s inception in 2011 it has had open discussions with study abroad agents, she adds. “From when we were first established we have been approached by education consultants for recruitment purposes.” The school also advertises in industry related publications, such as Study Travel Magazine, and utilises local press outlets.
“The main countries we recruit students from are Japan and Korea but we have recently recruited from countries such as Mongolia, Russia, Taiwan and China, and we also have students from Sweden, Belgium, Spain and other EU countries that use English as their second language,” details John Tora at Free Bird Institute. As well as delivering English language instruction to students over the age of 16 years at one of its two campuses, the school also caters for ESL students between the ages of three and 15 years. Young learners receive tuition at its two partner schools.