The University of the South Pacific, owned and operated by 12 Pacific island countries over an area of ocean four times the size of Europe, has long faced the problems of operating with two different dates, a multiplicity of times and cultures and, most of all, communicating at a distance.
But from next year, following an agreement late last month between Fiji and Japan, the university's 10,000 students - half of whom are studying via distance education - will have improved means of contacting their lecturers, librarians and each other.
The agreement involves establishing hub and mini-hub earth stations to tap into the Intelsat satellite. The stations will provide an integrated and reliable communication network for voice, data and image transmissions.
The Pounds 3.13 million upgrade project is being jointly backed by Japan, Australia and New Zealand, with Japan providing most of the funding to cover installations in Samoa, the Marshall and Solomon islands, Tonga and Tuvalu. Australia will meet the cost of installations on Kiribati and Vanuatu while New Zealand is funding those in the Cook Islands, Nauru, Niue, and Tokelau.
Esekia Solofa, USP vice-chancellor, said that USP-Net was an ideal solution to the unique challenges facing the people of the Pacific. The project would help bring education to an increasing number of students on islands in the vast area covered by the university. Mr Solofa said USP had been a pioneer in distance education and had first began using satellite communications to teach and run tutorials in the 1970s. The latest developments would ensure the university regained its leadership in the use of telecommunications for education.
The university consists of three campuses with five interdisciplinary schools in Western Samoa, Vanuatu, and Fiji. There are also extension centres in 11 of the 12 member countries which have libraries, laboratories, communication facilities and support staff.
The new satellite network will facilitate multi-modal teaching throughout the university region, Mr Solofa said.