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Tongan academics and community members with Otago University's new vice-chancellor Grant Robertson.

University of Otago/Facebook


Kava ceremony welcome for Otago's vice-chancellor

Former MP Grant Robertson plans to make Otago the ‘University for Pacific students’.

It was a grand display of culture on a chilly Dunedin day.

Members of the Pacific and Māori communities gathered to welcome Grant Robertson as vice-chancellor at the University of Otago.

Senior lecturer Dr Edmund Fehoko says the Tongan community came from across Dunedin and Invercargill to honour their new leader, in true Tongan style.

“For the first time in its history, the University of Otago conducted a formal Tongan kava ceremony to welcome the newly appointed vice-chancellor, Grant Robertson.

“Grant commented on his commitment to making the University of Otago the ‘university for Pacific students across Aotearoa and the Pacific region’.”

The first Tongan kava ceremony at Otago University to welcome the new vice-chancellor, Grant Robertson. Photo/Edmund Fehoko

Members of Labour’s Pacific caucus, including former Minister for Pacific Peoples Barbara Edmonds, were part of the ceremony earlier this week.

The party’s deputy leader, Carmel Sepuloni, said it was a chance to support Robertson and symbolically hand him over to his new role.

“We went to the pōwhiri to support him and symbolically hand him over to his new role. It was quite emotional, very low key, very Grant, and we already miss him.”

Members of the Kiribati community with Otago's new vice-chancellor, Grant Robertson (centre). Photo/Facebook

Robertson retired from politics in March, a career spanning 15 years as a Labour MP, including the roles of finance minister and deputy prime minister.

Sepuloni has known Robertson since joining the Labour Party in 2008 and is confident he will serve the students and staff of Southland.

“He’ll take the same rigour, intelligence, and duty of care to the university that he brought to his role as a politician and to the committees that he serves.”

The role at the country’s oldest university comes with a significant pay bump. The New Zealand Herald reports the remuneration package is $629,000, compared to Robertson’s previous salary of $163,961 as an MP, and finance minister's salary of $296,007.

Robertson was raised in South Dunedin and completed an honours degree in Political Studies at Otago in the 1990s. He was president of the Otago University Students’ Association and served on the University Council for two years, before serving as Vice President and then Co-President of the New Zealand University Students’ Association.