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Designated common spaces at universities ‘critical’ for Māori and Pacific student success, says Tertiary Education Union

3 April, 2024

Interview by Sofia Roger Williams, adapted by Joel Armstrong

National Co-President for the Tertiary Education Union, Dr Julie Douglas says the debate around a Māori and Pasifika study space at the University of Auckland distracts from “real issues” facing the tertiary sector.

Recently, members of the coalition government criticised the University of Auckland for offering a study space for Māori and Pacific students on its city campus, with ACT’s tertiary education spokesperson, Dr Parmjeet Parmar, pledging to shut it down.

This came after an image surfaced online of a sign outside a room at the university’s Business School stating “This is a designated area for Māori and Pasifika students. Thank you”.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the university said there are no plans to close designated rooms for students with “diverse interests and needs”, including Māori and Pacific students.

"We are proud of the community we have created for students and the support we provide for their success."

National Co-President for the Tertiary Education Union, Dr Julie Douglas, told 95bFM’s The Wire that having common areas at universities for Māori and Pacific students to go to is essential for them to thrive.

“These spaces are critical.”

“We know on the ground, it is the very thing that will contribute to the success of Māori and Pasifika students.”

Based on Stats NZ data from 2018, Māori and Pacific students represent just 8.6% and 5.7% of the student population at the University of Auckland respectively.

In a social media post, Parmar accused the university of segregation and Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First Leader, Winston Peters, compared the study space to the Ku Klux Klan and apartheid in South Africa.

Dr Douglas says these comments are a "joke" and show a lack of understanding about history.

She believes the debate around the space is “a divisive tactic” by the government to distract from "real issues" facing the tertiary sector.

“These are distractions. The idea that it is divisive is just crazy.”

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air