An institute for critical education in the South Pacific

A ʻAtenisi picture

Procession (2008)

guitar players

Students' handbook

Talitali lelei ki he ʻApiako ʻAtenisi. ʻAtenisi Institute consists of three divisions: a university, an online research component called Inquiry Oceania, and a performing arts centre. This handbook guides students of the university.


The Institute was founded in Fasi over a half-century ago as a school for continuing education; the following year it moved to its current 16-acre campus in Tufuenga. From 1964 through 2009, it operated an alternative high school that enrolled students who chose not – or were unable – to conform to the expectations of government or church secondary schools. Over forty years ago – in 1975 – it established a university independent of church or state that has since attracted visiting faculty from Europe, North America, and the Pacific.

ʻAtenisi was founded by a young rebel from Ha’apai, ʻIlaisa Futa Helu (1934-2010), whose study at the University of Sydney focused on classical philosophy; towards the end of his career he received an honorary doctorate from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji.

Futa believed that students should be taught how – not what – to think. And he further held that the pillars of classical education – philosophy, mathematics, history, literature, and music – remain the most effective facilitators of critical analysis. He would have been dismayed by the current drift towards commercial and technical instruction at universities throughout the world. Mere skill, he argued – whether commercial or technical – dooms the expert to focusing on trees whilst the forest burns.

The university no longer requires students to study ancient Greek or Latin, but courses in ancient and modern philosophy, ancient and modern history, mathematics, ancient and modern science, English literature, and music theory continue to be offered … as well as an array of courses in foreign language and contemporary social science. And faculty from around the world continue to visit each semester, joining Tongan scholars as lecturers on campus.


The institute’s URL is www.atenisi.edu.to. Among other items, its website contains a greeting from the institute director; current news; historic and current photographs of the campus, students, and performers; and the institute’s quality management system. The section on the university includes academic calendars (from 2013); a course catalogue (from 2008); a faculty catalogue (from 2013); requirements for undergraduate degrees; and a list of tuition costs and fees. Via password protection, students retain private and real-time access to their transcript.

The institute’s database is maintained by Tauʻolunga Computer in the Fasi district of Nukuʻalofa; it includes digital files on faculty achievement and student performance since 1995.


The ʻAtenisi campus is located just north of the village of Tufuenga in northwestern Nuku’alofa. The institute is some 2 km from downtown, which can be reached by walking some 400 m. south on Hala ʻo Vave, then 1½ km. down Hala Hihifo and Hala Mateialona.


The university currently deploys three buildings: Lolo Masi, containing the dean's office, a lecture hall, and research laboratory; Latu Selu, containing the institute office and Futa Helu Memorial Library; and a future science laboratory – Firitia Velt – presently used as a seminar room. A fourth building, Fale Maka (The Rock House), belongs to the performing arts division, but is currently being leased to ACTS high school adjacent to campus.

At 3000 volumes, the library boasts the most academic collection in Western Polynesia, and is currently managed by a part-time librarian. Two computer terminals with Internet access of 1.2 megabytes/second are reserved for students, who are also permitted to use the laser printer and photocopier in the institute office.


ʻAtenisi courses convene in two semesters: autumn (mid-February through mid-June) and spring (mid-July through early November). There is a three-week winter break between semesters and the academy is closed during summer (from late November through early February). Every September the calendar for the coming year is posted.


No student shall be admitted to the academy who has not satisfactorily completed Form 6 or 12th grade in a competent secondary school in Tonga or overseas. Satisfactory completion connotes a grade-point-average of 2.5 or higher.


ʻAtenisi currently offers Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees. Associate Arts degrees are granted to undergraduates who successfully complete two years of course work but for various reasons choose to interrupt their study or complete it elsewhere. Supplementary awards of “distinction”, “high distinction”, and “dux” are awarded to A.A., B.A. and M.A. graduands who attain academic excellence.


Degrees are conferred biannually each November at a ceremony on campus. After diplomas are distributed, the families of graduands typically gift vala to the institute in a colourful parade.


The university is managed by the dean and supervised by the institute director. The dean is advised on academic matters by the faculty, which convenes as the Faculty Senate. Administrative authority is vested in a Board of Directors, in which the dean and a representative of the Senate sit ex officio. Typically, the Senate advises the dean, the dean reports to the director, and the director reports to the Board.

Students of the university as well play a role in institute governance. Associated Students conducts an annual evaluation of courses and lecturers, and sends a non-voting representative to the Faculty Senate.


The institute periodically hosts traveling scholars in its research laboratory and library. Should a student’s interests coincide with a visitor’s field of expertise, the student is encouraged to consult with the scholar outside of class.




The academy’s undergraduate curriculum has remained stable since its inception. Courses are offered at three levels – introductory, intermediate, and advanced – in four Schools teaching some 4-7 subjects:

HumanitiesSocial scienceNatural scienceCreative arts
English composition, language and literatureAnthropologyAstronomyArt
Foreign language and literatureArchaeologyBiologyDance
PhilosophyGeographyEnvironmental scienceMedia
HistoryEconomicsChemistryMusic: instrumental, vocal, theory
 PoliticsMathematics, logicWriting
 SociologyScientific thought 


Because overseas faculty typically contract with the university on short notice, it’s often not possible to announce course offerings until January; once decided, however, the list is promptly posted.


Each completed semester course awards six credits. Students must complete 32 such courses with a grade point average of 2.5 or higher (see marking table below for letter-grade and percentage equivalents) in order to obtain a Bachelor's degree. For the Bachelor of Arts, at least 8 semester courses must be completed in the social sciences, humanities, or creative arts; for the Bachelor of Science degree, at least 2 courses must be completed in Mathematics and 6 courses in the natural sciences.

And in order to demonstrate academic breadth, all candidates for the Bachelor's degree must complete 8 semester courses in the following subjects:

English composition, writing, or literature4 courses
Philosophy2 courses
Mathematics1 course
Foreign language or literature (language other than Tongan or English)1 course

Finally, in order to insure research proficiency, at least 14 courses must be completed at the intermediate level or higher, of which 10 must be at the advanced level.


M.A. programmes are individually tailored, and are conferred in one of the 25 subjects listed in the undergraduate curriculum above. They typically require 16 courses at the postgraduate level, or 8 courses at the postgraduate level plus a concise thesis of some 20000 words demonstrating original research in the chosen subject. To enable tertiary teaching experience, postgraduates are often deployed as teaching assistants in selected undergraduate courses.


Academic transcripts consist of letter grades that correspond to percentages and grade-point-per-credit as follows:



  1. Faculty shall distribute a course outline at the outset of each course.
  2. In the event a student receives a grade of D+ or lower in any final examination and/or research paper, he/she may sit another examination and/or attempt another research assignment, providing the remedy is completed within one year of receiving the initial grade.
  3. Incomplete courses must be completed before the end of the following semester or before the student graduates, whichever is earlier.
  4. Students may postpone the deadlines for examinations and research papers, providing they offer a valid excuse;
  5. The dean or his/her associate inspects and approves each student's course of study each semester.
  6. With the approval of the dean or his/her associate, courses of study may be changed within the initial three weeks of the semester.


Undergraduate courses demand tuition of T$ 300 per course per semester (Tongan citizens); briefer courses are scaled proportionately. Foreign students are charged T$ 500 per course per semester (citizens of South Pacific island nation/territories) or T$ 1000 per course per semester otherwise.

Postgraduate Annual Tuition
DegreeTongan citizensSouth Pacific citizensOthers
M.A.T$ 5000T$ 12500T$ 35000
Ph.D.T$ 10000T$ 25000US$ 18700

In addition, the following fees are assessed each student:

Registration fee (undergraduate)T$100.00 per annum
Registration fee (Master's candidacy)T$250.00 per annum
Registration fee (doctoral candidacy)T$500.00 per annum

Transcript fee (undergraduate)T$30.00

Transcript fee (postgraduate)T$40.00
Library deposit (refundable) for book damage, loss, etc.T$30.00

Registration and tuition payments are required within one month of the start of the term, otherwise a late fee of 10% shall be assessed. For undergraduates, a discount may be applied if fees for an entire year are paid at the outset. For postgraduates, billed tuition for any given semester cannot be withdrawn without four months notice.

Students not qualifying for any external scholarship may apply for assistance under the Futa Helu Scholarship Programme.



The academy is eager to expose students to different viewpoints from different nations. Accordingly, it periodically invites traveling scholars to deliver an evening lecture in their academic specialty. Students are encouraged to support, challenge, or query these lecturers during the question period following each talk.


Academic courses in Pacific studies – including anthropology, archaeology, history, sociology, and politics – have been periodically offered since the academy's inception; in addition, undergraduate students may enrol in Tongan literature and dance classes as part of their degree programme.

Students are also encouraged to participate in Tongan culture outside of class. ʻAtenisi pioneered faikava for both men and women in the 1970s, and its kava circle continues to convene weekly.

The institute's performing arts troupe is one of the leading interpreters of traditional dance in the kingdom, and often recruits students as dancers and vocalists. Over the years, several students – at institute expense – have followed the troupe overseas and gained valuable experience in traveling performance and cultural diversity; in the event, the dean has scheduled remedial classes for these students upon their return to campus.