Tongan university eyes govt support after recruitment ban lifted

A Tongan university that recently won a court battle against moves to ban it from recruiting students wants the government to help with its assessment issues.

The Tongan Supreme Court last month lifted a recruitment ban imposed on Atenisi Institute by the Tonga National Qualifications and Accreditation Board.

The court ruled the Board had no right to cite non-compliance as grounds for banning the recruitment of students.

It said the legislation did not allow the board to sanction tertiary providers.

The dean at 'Atenisi University, Michael Horowitz, said they now wanted to work closely with the government of Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa.

"We have a new government in Tonga and that new government has replaced the Minister of Education.

"So we want to give him a chance now that there is no longer a punitive aspect to the accreditation board's attitude toward us.

"We want to give him a chance to see if we can work out this assessment problem. If they could possibly use an assessment metric the 'Atenisi Foundation for the Arts Academy could satisfy."

Dr Horowitz said the academy had served Tonga since 1975.

The Board refused to register Atenisi in 2010, he said, but they fought the decision in court and had been registered since 2011.

"This current situation appeared which involved an assessment metric that's being used by this crown entity to determine whether tertiary academy should be accredited, and it is a reductionist assessment metric that exploratory liberal arts universities such as ours, cannot honestly and incredibly satisfy.

"As a result, they initially denied accreditation and then stiffened that evaluation by ordering that new students not be recruited to our university, which of course was an existential threat."

In February 2018, the Board forbade Atenisi from recruiting students on the basis that 'Atenisi's degree programme had not been accredited.

Mr Horowitz, who also represented 'Atenisi in court, said the High Court declined to review the board's assessment of the school's application because the agency had not yet completed the process.

He said during the ban, the university did not carry out any advertising and did not visit any high schools.

"The ban had a chilling effect on our student population," he said.

"So now starting in February [when the new academic year starts], we'll be free to resume our newspaper advertising or television advertising and visiting high schools.

"It should be a shot in the arm for the school."