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University of Auckland Pro Vice-Chancellor professor Jemaima Tiatia-Siau.

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New initiative to get more Pacific students uni-ready

There are concerns Pacific students aren’t doing the right subjects to line them up for university entrance, but secondary schools are teaming up with Auckland University to change this.

Khalia Strong
Khalia Strong
15 April 2024, 11:51am
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The University of Auckland is partnering with 12 high schools to reverse declining entrance qualification rates for Pacific students.

“This could be a game changer for our communities”, says Jemaima Tiatia-Siau, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Pacific) at University of Auckland.

“Working closely with high schools ensures we can increase the number of young people eligible for university and help them attain success, and that positively impacts this generation and future generations.”

Figures show only 34 per cent of Pacific students finish school with sufficient grades to meet University Entrance criteria, compared to 50 per cent of the rest of the country.

Speaking to Levi Matautia-Morgan on Pacific Mornings, Tiatia-Siau says in most cases, Pacific students are not doing enough of the right subjects to gain UE.

“Not being prepared for a career where they have aspirations; where they have aspirations for law or engineering or med for example, and not opting for the right subjects and preparing and considering that something like maths or physics or chemistry are not required, but they are.”

University Entrance or UE is the minimum requirement to go from school to university. It can be used in New Zealand or overseas, and students need at least 14 credits at Level Three in approved subjects, plus a minimum of ten credits in literacy and numeracy.

The approved subjects are wide-ranging, including accounting, biology, dance, Cook Islands Māori, Tongan, drama, economics and media studies.

How can you get NCEA but not UE?

Figures from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority show despite 60 per cent of Pacific students achieving NCEA Level 3 in 2019, only 30 per cent gained University Entrance.

The figures show almost six out of ten Pacific students didn’t take enough subjects from the approved list. Literacy criteria seems to be no issue, with only two percent who didn’t meet the requirements.

New Zealand Qualifications Authority

Credits gained by sitting exams can also help prepare a student for tertiary-level study.

“An increasing number of learners come to university underprepared,” says Liletina Vaka, associate director of the University of Auckland’s Schools and Community Engagement.

“And many don’t have the pre-requisites to enter programmes such as Engineering and Medicine.”

Vaka says the under-preparedness isn’t due to student ability, but poor pathways and a lack of understanding of what’s needed.

Students who have more than 20 external credits have a 95 per cent chance of passing their first year of university, but that rate almost halves if the student has no external credits.

Tiatia-Siau says the messaging around UE and what's involved needs to be reconfigured.

“When we get consistent messaging that it is important to engage in externals, then our students will have a better chance.”

Tiatia-Siau says over the next six years, they aim to work with the selected high schools to bring achievement rates of Pacific students on par with non-Pacific students.

“We’re moving the goalposts, essentially. We’re moving them to the side and just reimagining what this could look like and how we can raise our UE levels and really combat the disparities that we’ve seen for so long."

Watch the full interview with Auckland University's professor Jemaima Tiatia-Siau on Pacific Mornings: