Pacific academics step closer to increasing Pacific success

Award-winning Pacific academics say a US$75,000 Spencer Foundation Vision grant could increase the success of Pacific peoples in higher education.

Photo of Dr Sereana Naepi and Dr Marcia Leenen-Young by William Chea
From left, Dr Sereana Naepi and Dr Marcia Leenen-Young. Photo: William Chea.

University of Auckland sociologist Dr Sereana Naepi (Fiji, Aotearoa) and historian Dr Marcia Leenen-Young (Sāmoa, Aotearoa) are among the 15 new Vision Grant winners from 400 international submissions. 

The US-based Spencer Foundation, who offer the awards, focuses on transforming educational systems toward greater equity.

Euphoric about their success, the pair say being awarded a Vision Grant provides the opportunity to redress decades of the Aotearoa tertiary sector under serving Pacific peoples.

Over the next 12 months, the scholars will build their team of Pacific researchers, public policy workers and the community to collaborate and design their research project – Strengthening the Vaka: Achieving Equity in Higher Education for Pacific Peoples.

A Rutherford Discovery Fellow, Dr Naepi is a Research Impact Award recipient for her work that addresses the inequity and racism experienced by Pacific people.

Dr Leenen-Young has been recognised nationally for teaching in tertiary education, receiving a Te Whatu Kairangi – Aotearoa Tertiary Educator Award with a Pacific endorsement for work with Pacific tertiary students in 2022.

With their latest award, the pair are also eligible to apply for the much-touted Spencer Foundation $US3.5M Transformative Research Grant, with a win having the potential to enact real and impactful change.

“This grant allows us to build our vision of what we think is possible,” Dr Naepi says, referring to research demonstrating Pacific peoples as underserved, underpaid and under-represented.

She says that despite significant government investment into policies to redress sector inequity, the implementation and delivery of policy across the country’s eight universities continues to be problematic.

This grant allows us to build our vision of what we think is possible.

Dr Sereana Naepi Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland

“To bring us together to design a dream…  not just with policymakers, the community or researchers, but all [of us] in the same space, having a conversation and trying to make it make something that lets us fulfil those aspirations,” says Dr Naepi. 

The duo believes the solution lies in bringing together key stakeholders from the sector to build a research project for rapid change and delivery, taking aim at key government policy directives that address inequity for Pacific peoples. 

“This project seizes a moment where both the sector and our Pacific researchers have the willingness, capacity and capability to take on a national transformation project towards Pacific equity,” says Dr Leenen-Young.

The long-time collaborators (and good friends) are also excited that part of the award includes traveling to Chicago together.

“We get to go to Chicago to meet other international academics who are interested in changing the education system in big ways ... I'm excited to meet other equity education academics,” says Dr Naepi. 

Media contact

Kim Meredith | Pacific media adviser 
: 0274 357 591