Te Papa Ako o Tai Tonga: a kāinga for all of us
25 February 2020
A dawn blessing last Thursday marked the start of a new era for the University of Auckland with the opening of its own South Auckland campus in central Manukau.
When Te Papa Ako o Tai Tonga (known as Te Tai Tonga) opens its doors today, there will be 140 students, either doing their Bachelor of Education (Primary) through the University’s Faculty of Education and Social Work or participating in two bridging programmes: the Tertiary Foundation Certificate and the New Start programme.
However it’s also available as a student hub, offering a research and study space to all nearby University of Auckland students, who will have access to library resources, learning, IT and pastoral support as well as application and enrolment advice.
Campus director Rennie Atfield-Douglas sees the purpose-built space at 6 Osterley Way as being “a place of refuge and help where students can be supported and feel cared about, where there is manaakitanga”.
Having grown up and gone to school in South Auckland himself, Rennie, who is of Niuean descent, has a strong personal connection to the area and affection for its community.
“I’m a child of the south, and I know the place has a special magic that can’t be replicated. It’s so much more than the rhetoric would have you believe.”
Rennie says removing as many barriers as possible for students from this area is a key reason for creating a permanent home in South Auckland, where the University has had a 20-year partnership with the Manukau Institute of Technology.
“Our students tell us that some of the main issues they face are the distance to the University’s city campuses, a lack of quiet study space at home and a need for a ‘home not far from home’ which they can easily get to on public transport, and from which they can go back to their many other obligations; be they family, sports, church or community.”
He is also keen to invite the wider community into the space.
“I see a big part of my role as engaging with other groups who might need a place to be, at the weekends for example. I want people to feel comfortable and welcomed, and for them to become familiar with who we are and what we’re offering here.”
I would like to see it as a place that acknowledges that knowledge comes from different areas, indigenous knowledge for example, and that we value and respect that.
To enhance the Pacific feel of the campus, a special Niuean vaka, presented to the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Pacific) Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa, will be displayed in a central area, and the decor inside the two-storey building, which is very close to the library and council buildings, will be warm and colourful.
Education has always been highly valued in the Atfield-Douglas family, as both Rennie’s parents are teachers, his grandfather was Niue’s High Commissioner to New Zealand and he and his siblings have all gone on to tertiary study.
“There were very high expectations of academic achievement on all of us six children, and that was positive but also came with some pressure,” he admits. He attended Auckland himself, completing a Bachelor of Health Science, but later decided a career in health wasn’t for him.
“I ended up going into banking but in the end the work didn’t spark my soul, and I knew I wanted to come back to university and use my skills to make a positive impact in students’ lives in the way I was helped on my own path.”
His work doing high school outreach through the Schools Partnership Office and as the manager of UniBound, a free academic enrichment programme to prepare Māori and Pacific school leavers for university studies, has given him an even greater appreciation of the value of a helping hand.
“Just as I have had people batting for me during my life so far, those programmes are saying, ‘we care about you and want you to succeed, so we’re offering you a hand’, and that’s what I want to achieve in South Auckland.”
He’s concerned about the mounting pressures on students who are having to weigh up what to do after finishing high school and who might not be getting a holistic view of the value of a university education.
“I loved my time at university because aside from the obvious benefits of a qualification at the end of it, it offered me so much more: critical thinking skills, learning how to work with others, the self discipline of having to turn up to lectures, organise myself, meet deadlines, make mistakes without terrible consequences. There were so many life lessons, and it was fun, let’s not forget that!”
Leading a small team, which includes client services team leader Riki-Lee Saua, Rennie says he would “personally love the campus to grow” and has a five-year plan which includes offering a wider range of courses across disciplines and professional development for teachers.
“Most importantly, I would like to see it as a place that acknowledges that knowledge comes from different areas, indigenous knowledge for example, and that we value and respect that. And as a place all students and staff feel comfortable to be in; a kāinga for all of us.”
Julianne Evans | Media adviser
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