Uplifting education standard of Fijians

The offi cial opening of the relocated Fulton College in Sabeto, Nadi on February 12, 2014. Picture: SUPPLIED

Fulton Adventist University College is located at Sabeto, Nadi and is administered by the Trans Pacific Union Mission.

It offers courses of study to degree level in business, education and theology.

The principal, Dr Malcolm Coulson, shared the chronicles about the origins and development of the Seventh-day Adventist tertiary education in the country, that led to what is now known as Fulton College; which was documented by Dr Stephen J. Currow, a former principal of the college.

According to the history by Dr Currow, the first Seventh-day Adventists to Fiji arrived on August 3, 1891, on the maiden voyage of the Pitcairn.

John I, Tay and his wife remained in Fiji; however he contracted influenza and passed away six months later.

He was buried in Suva cemetery.

Adventist Mission restarted in the country in July 1895 when John and Fanny Cole came from Norfolk Island.

The following year John and Susie Fulton arrived from New Zealand. After two years, the Coles were replaced by Calvin and Myrtle Parker.

John Fulton believed that the education of indigenous workers was an important part of the mission and the greatest contribution expatriates could make to the mission of the church.

The initial plan was to have them attend Avondale College in Australia but this was shelved because of the challenges Fijians encountered, especially the level of English competency required by Australia for student visas.

Consequently, the first Fijian Church Council in November 1903 decided to develop the Fiji Training Institute.

It was an ambitious development for a newly established organisation comprising just 150 members in four churches.

Fulton College has its roots in the Fiji Training Institute, which was commissioned by John Fulton in 1903. He was the superintendent of the Fiji Mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The documentary by Dr Currow further reveals that there were a number of changes of name which reflect the various aspects of development.

The search to relocate from Suvavou where the church was established led to a 276-acre property at Buresala in Ovalau.

The plan also included transferring the church headquarters. Consequently, in 1905, Fulton’s house from Suvavou was dismantled and shipped to the new site, where it was reassembled and converted into a duplex, one for Fulton — the superintendent of the mission and one for Septimus Carr, the first principal of the new Fiji Training Institute.

In addition, eight native houses were provided, with one for the printing press, one for supplies and six for students.

The Fiji Training Institute opened later in 1905 as an industrial school with 10 students and the following year, work began on a larger, more permanent school building.

The restructure on the church’s organisation saw the establishment of the Central Polynesian Field which resulted in a name change to the Central Polynesian Training Institute from 1918 until 1921.

With the growth of the church in the Wainibuka Valley, there were too many young people to relocate to Buresala, hence a school was built in Navuso, Wainibuka, in 1922.

The teacher-training component of the Fiji Training Institute was relocated from Buresala to Navuso which subsequently saw a name change to Buresala Training School to distinguish it from Navuso, under the leadership of Gordon Branster.

In 1928, George Masters began a class for teachers and also one for Bible workers because of a shortage of trained Adventist teachers.

Another teacher training program commenced at Vatuvonu, Buca Bay, Vanua Levu in 1939.

The relocation of Fulton College from Buresala to Korovou, Tailevu, 30 miles to Suva, was because of the crown’s regulation regarding education because of the developments in rising education  standards, hence the decision to consolidate all the teacher training programs to a new institution.

Dr Currow quips in his documentary that Buresala ceased to operate at the end  of 1939 and the following
year, a group of students and staff, under the direction of Arthur Dyason, developed the new property.

Buresala relocated from Ovalau to Tailevu and merged with Navuso School.

The budget for the relocation was 2000 pounds plus the sale of a launch and the  land from the existing institutions.

The project took place under the financial constraints of a world at war.

The new institution, named after John Fulton provided accommodation to 200 students.

The courses offered included pastoral training, teacher training and technical instruction.

The church intended that this new institution would be the Avondale of the Pacific, enabling Pacific Island students to be trained in the Pacific Islands.

The official opening of Fulton Missionary School was held on April 28, 1941.

The first principal was AG. Stewart.

The change of name to Fulton Missionary College was done in 1949, commissioning it as the  senior educational entity of the Central Pacific Union, which was a new regional administrative  structure that was created because of the church’s growth.

Dr Currow divulges in his documentary that in order to mark that change of status to a college,  Fulton reorganised itself into departments and also held its first graduation in 1949.

A rebuilding program commenced with a kitchen and dining room in 1959.

To mark the 21st anniversary, plans for the new administration building, library, chapel and  classroom block were unveiled; this was completed in 1964 and opened by the governor of Fiji.

In the 1960s, under the direction of Max Ferguson, Fulton developed a dairy industry.

At one time, Fulton was the largest shareholder in Rewa Dairy because of the vast land under its
lease agreements.

However, recruitment of experts to manage such an investment and ensuring that  the focus of the institution remained firmly on education resulted in the farms sold one by one.

In 1971, Fulton Missionary College was renamed as Fulton College.

Dr Currow comments in his documentary that Fulton benefited from the many volunteer trips to renovate the infrastructure.

John Morris from Sydney, Australia, oversaw these projects for more than a decade, including the repairs after the destruction caused by Cyclone Kina in 1992.

Mr Nemani Tausere became the first Fijian principal in the 1990s.

He went on to be the longest serving principal in one appointment. A number of building  projects included an expansion of staff and student housing, the building of transit units and  the expansion of the library.

In early 2000 a memorandum of understanding was developed with the Ministry of Education
to include opportunities for Fulton’s students to be sponsored by the Public Service Commission
scholarships, as well as the possibility of paying salaries for lecturers, however this was derailed
because of the 2006 coup; but some Fulton education students received the PSC scholarships.

The establishment of the Fiji Higher Education Commission resulted in Fulton College being recognised in December 2010 and registered Fulton as a university college in November 2012 for a five-year period.

The relocation to Sabeto in 2014 was because of dissatisfaction with the lease arrangements  from the landowners of Nakalawaca Village.

Dr Currow enthuses in his documentary that in 2010, after almost a decade of legal challenges  between the landowners and Fulton College, a 99-year lease on a 123-acre site at Sabeto was signed.

Construction commenced in 2011 and the new institution opened for classes in 2014.

After the renewal of Fulton’s institutional registration by the Fiji Higher Education  Commission in 2018, Fulton was rebranded Fulton Adventist University College.

Dr Currow added in his documentary that the school served a significant  function in the development
of educational standards, especially the evolving entry levels for the training programs; which has evolved to an internationally recognised higher education qualification.

Since the first official graduation from Fulton Missionary College in 1949, more than 3700 students, of
which about half have been teachers, graduated to serve the church and communities throughout the
South Pacific region.

Some have assumed significant responsibilities in both the church and the  government.

Many have also progressed  to postgraduate qualifications at a range of institutions.

Based on an illustrious history in support of education across the Pacific, Fulton Adventist University
College continues to make a valuable contribution within Fiji and the wider Pacific region.

“While we work through the challenges of a global pandemic, we are not losing sight of the  reason our students have always chosen Fulton — faith, service, learning and hope. These four  words express the aspirations of our current students and would be equally true for the students  and staff who commenced this institution many years ago,” stated Dr Coulson, the current principal at Fulton Adventist University

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