It was fitting, twelve years ago, that Professor the Hon. Rex Nettleford of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and Marjorie Tuainekore Crocombe of the University of the South Pacific (USP) were members of Lord Briggs’ group for planning the Commonwealth of Learning. The developing ‘small states’ of the Commonwealth were and remain central to the agency’s mandate, and the regions served by UWI and USP include twenty-four of the smallest. In 1986, the higher education issues concerning ‘small states’ needed to have a voice. The voice still has much to say, but for reasons quite different from those of the 1980s.
The region under review is that served by USP, a Commonwealth university for all twelve of its proprietors: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Viewed from the outside, in simple land-mass terms, these are indeed ‘small states’. Among their thousands of islands, islets and atolls, the largest land-mass of 10,429 km2 is Fiji’s Viti Levu. Tokelau’s three atolls aggregate to only 12 km2, the fifteen islands of the Cooks to 240 and Vanuatu’s eighty-two to 12,189. National land-masses number from one (Niue) to 400 (Solomon Islands) and approximately 1,000 (Marshall Islands). Distances between the remotest community and its national urban centre range from 5 km (Nauru) to 3,500 (Kiribati).
However, viewed from the inside, these are not ‘small states’ at all. Lagoons and vast sea areas lie within their myriad national lands, just as prairies, deserts or tundra stretch between other countries’ settlements. In these terms, Tokelau (the smallest) spans 290,000 km2, Cook Islands 1.8 million and Kiribati (the biggest) 3.5 million. This largest of all oceanic and educational regions covers 33 million km2, extending approximately W 155-E 150 longitude, S 25-N 17 latitude.
Communities variously inhabit four time zones (the dateline intersecting)