Archbishop David Vunagi, primate of the Anglican Church of Melanesia. Photo: Ali Symons
Imagine building a university from scratch.
In the Solomon Islands, the Anglican Church of Melanesia has taken on the enormous project of building the John Coleridge Patteson University—the nation’s first. Construction will begin later this year and the $9.5 (CAD) million university, named after Melanesia’s first Anglican bishop—a scholar and martyr— will welcome some 200 theology and education students by 2015.
Approximately one third of people living in the Solomon Islands belong to the Anglican Church of Melanesia, which is doing the fundraising. Students from the church-run St. Nicholas School have already donated CAD $2,700, and the diocese of Malaita has offered to ship large logs for the construction of residences and lecture halls that will feature modern materials with a Melanesian style.
“We would like an institution that recognizes higher education as part of Christian vocation,” said the Right Rev. Dr. Terry Brown, former bishop of Malaita and co-chair of the university task force. “We want to produce graduates who have a sound academic background but who are also good Christians, able to help Solomon Islands society with its many difficult ethical issues—rapid social change, violence, corruption.”
Just a 20-minute drive east of Honiara, the campus spreads out over 182 hectares of rolling hills and rich soil. The residential university will incorporate the church’s Bishop Patteson Theological College, focusing initially on training leaders for schools and churches in the Solomon Islands and neighbouring Vanuatu.
Eventually it may offer degrees in business, development and information technology, working with the national government to help build a much-needed force of qualified professionals. A farm may also be built to teach agriculture and to provide local food.
Lynus Edolo knows how scarce and expensive a university education can be in the Solomons. The 24-year-old moved from the western islands to study science at one of the satellite campuses run by foreign universities in the capital, Honiara. He faces high tuition, rundown laboratories and cramped space. Yet he knows he’s one of a lucky few. “I have a lot of friends who are back home,” says Edolo of contemporaries who, despite good grades, can’t attend overseas universities because they weren’t offered scholarships.
Edolo looks forward to the new university. He hopes for more affordable fees and an opportunity for other serious students like himself to get the education they deserve. “I am 100% sure that there will be positive changes if we have a university here,” he says.
Elsewhere in the worldwide Communion, Anglicans have been pioneers in establishing and administering universities. In the 19th century, Anglicans established several schools in Canada, including the University of King’s College, Halifax, and Huron College in London, Ont.
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Ali Symons is General Synod senior editor.