Pasifika graduate numbers rising

25 April 2014
Helen Iopu celebrates her graduation with her parents Olaileipu and Taleni Iopu at their home. Photo / Dean Purcell

More and more Pasifika students are graduating from the country's top university, with one of the highest number of graduands walking down Queen St next month. Thousands of students from the University of Auckland will march during graduation ceremonies in the week of May 6.

Among those will be 410 Pacific Island students - one of the highest numbers to graduate with a bachelor's or postgraduate degree from the university in recent years.

In the graduation ceremonies in May last year, 391 Pasifika students completed their studies - a significant jump from 328 graduands the previous year. Director of Pacific Studies Walter Fraser, who also oversees all Pacific students, said there were more support programmes to help Pasifika students achieve.

"We get a lot of students enrolling in university and then not coming out the other end," he said. "There have been a number of things at the university that have helped change this, such as support and recruitment programmes."

One of those is the Tuakana tutoring and mentoring programme, which aims to support Pacific and Maori students throughout their academic career. Special workshops, tutorials and study groups are organised throughout the week to help students from all faculties achieve their best.

Such strategies help to make sure students complete their studies, according to Mr Fraser.

Figures from the Tertiary Education Commission show the university has the highest completion rates, in each qualification, for Pacific students in the country. The number of Pasifika students who enrolled at the University of Auckland last year was 3153. In 2011 it was 3151. Despite the success, Mr Fraser said there were still some areas the university was working on in regards to its Pasifika students.

"For a lot of our students, they are the first in their family to go to university. We had a situation where students were asking lecturers for notes for their parents to say that they had a test at seven o'clock. University is an unfamiliar place for some families and we're working on helping to change that. For other students, they are forced to put off study to help their families put food on the table."

The number of Pasifika students graduating has also risen in most other universities.

Of the 1798 students to graduate from the University of Waikato this month, 73 were Pasifika students - a jump from 65 graduands lastyear. Auckland University of Technology reported a 30 per cent increase in the number of Pacific graduates from 2011 to 2012, while at Otago, 139 Pasifika students completed their studies last year - two down from 141 in 2011. A total of 106 Pacific students will graduate from Massey University this year, an increase from 102 last year.

Graduating for the whole family

For Helen Iopu, her success is not hers alone but one shared by her entire family. The 23-year-old from Lynfield will be among thousands of students from the University of Auckland to graduate in two weeks.

After four years of study - including a year off to help mum and dad pay the bills - she graduates with a Bachelor of Arts, double majoring in Political Studies and Sociology. She acknowledged that it was "pretty cool" to be the first in her family to get a degree, but admitted it had been a hard ride.

"I had to put my studies on hold for about a year so I could get a job to help my parents and siblings. It was a decision I made in order to help my family and it's something I don't regret."

Miss Iopu said one of the key reasons she wanted to get into politics was to help others.

"I wanted to be the first Pacific Island Prime Minister in New Zealand. I wanted to do something for people and be a voice for people. I had a care for people."

She is already applying for policy analyst jobs, including in Australia and as far as Dubai.

Her family is organising a celebratory party for her.

"For a lot of Pacific Island kids the degree is not your degree - it's your grandma's, your dad and mum's, your brother's, your family's degree. My mum's already calling it her degree," she laughed "Just knowing that they helped you in some way - just by raising you - makes it their success as well, not just yours."

Moving up

  • 328 Pacific students graduated with an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in 2011
  • 391 graduated in 2012
  • 410 will graduate this year


This article is reproduced (with permission) from the New Zealand Herald's Pasifika graduate numbers rising