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AUT sets sights high for 100 Pasifika PhDs

Director for AUT's Office of Pasifika Advancement (OPA), Pauline Winter. (Photo by Tupouseini Taumoepeau.)

Pacific Scoop:
Report By Tupouseini Taumoepeau.

Having 100 PhD Pacific students by the year 2020, is the prime goal of the Pasifika Advancement Office at AUT University.

The director for the Office of Pasifika Advancement, (OPA) Pauline Winter, says encouraging this number of Pacific students to do their doctorate is about building a critical mass of Pacific academics and changing the system’s policies to suit those it serves.

“If we get the numbers, this not only changes the face of AUT but the organisation itself and how it treats people.”

This may seem a long while away with two PhD Pacific graduates finishing last year and 12 students currently enrolled in the PhD programme.

The programme was put in place by OPA for PhD students with the aim of creating respectful research in communities. It goes alongside a studentship programme which employs postgraduate Pasifika scholars for several hours a week while also involving them in research and mentoring.

Winter says the students’ work will better represent the traditional and urban mixed generation of Pacific people in New Zealand. About 10 per cent of AUT’s 23,715 students are Pasifika and 10 per cent are Maori.

“One of the biggest challenges lies in changing people’s attitudes and in turn how the system will work to cater to this change,” says Winter.

Statistics from the ministry of education counts a growing number of Pasifika students enrolled in post graduate education. In 2008, 31,477 Pasifika students (29,790 domestic) were enrolled in New Zealand universities. 158 of these (122 domestic) were at the doctorate level – up from 145 the previous year.

However, only about 4 percent of domestic Pasifika students study at the postgraduate level – less than half the national average.

Director of Pacific Language Studies at Auckland University, Melenaite Taumoefolau, says the faculty has the same objective of further enhancing and deepening the education of its Pacific students.

“What’s the point of having this PhD goal for students as just an ideal? We need to facilitate the formal steps that are needed to get there.”

Taumoefolau says: “Pacific people cannot afford to wait for the development of Pacific academics, as there are currently some really good non-Pacific academics, whose expertise we can use in our programmes.”

“We need to start from an undergraduate level, develop as many postgraduates as possible and then from this pool we will get the future academics – the people that will replace us.”

Tupouseini Taumoepeau is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at AUT University. She was recently on assignment at the Pacific Islands Forum in Port Vila, Vanuatu.