Rye teacher’s bid to set up free university in remote island nation of Vanuatu

Dr Leeman with some Talua students
Dr Leeman with some Talua students

A teacher from Rye is in the process of setting up a free university in a remote country in the South Pacific.

Dr Bernard Leeman, who now lives in Australia, has taught at universities in all continents around the world but has always tried to set up a rural low-cost or free university.

He said: “I have, at last, had some success in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. There is a Presbyterian seminary named Talua, which has decided it must give its pastors a wider education to deal with social change and village development. Most people are self-sufficient farmers using local materials for building and clothing.”

He said school teachers were in ‘desperately short supply’ in the country.

Dr Leeman said five years ago the staff at Talua, who have Master’s degrees from institutions in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, joined forces with students to propose a broadening of the curriculum.

He added this move was partly out of a desire to compete with the local branch of the University of the South Pacific but also to increase the proportion of higher education students in Vanuatu.

Last year, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu appointed Dr Leeman as English teacher at Talua.

He said: “I have the support of several academics from EU and South Korean universities.

“The first step, taken in June, was to introduce a free of charge three-year in-service program to train five lecturers with Master’s degrees, to research and write PhD theses.

“The five lecturers, who are already well-known in their fields, have already made significant progress interviewing and collecting data for local subjects, namely, socio-linguistics and language planning (Vanuatu has three official languages and 113 local languages), history, land disputes and resolution, and the role of the church in society.

“This is first time Vanuatu has had a postgraduate degree program. It ranks 180 out of 181 in the world for percentage for degree level students.”

Dr Leeman has worked with a number of groups and institutions in the past to set up low-cost residential and distance tertiary education. These include various groups in Ethiopia, exiled Burmese groups, exiled Afghans and poor populations in Guyana, Jamaica, East Timor, Gabon and Laos.

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