Address at University of Auckland
Rt Hon Helen Clark
University of Auckland
Pacific Island Graduation Dinner
University Graduation Marquee,
Old Government House,
University of Auckland
Saturday 6 May 2006
It is a pleasure for me to be here tonight to congratulate this year's Pasifika graduates of the University of Auckland, and especially to commend the five Pasifika students who are graduating with their PhDs.
As a graduate of and a former teacher in this university, I am very aware of the dedication and enormous amount of effort everyone graduating has put into their studies. As well, many here tonight will be the first in their families to graduate, and your families will be taking enormous pride in your success.
It is heartening to hear that the number of Pasifika people enrolling at the University of Auckland has been increasing fast. Last year there were 3,126 Pasifika students enrolled at the University, which is fifty per cent more than in 2003.
Pasifika students last year made up eight per cent of the University's total enrolments.
More enrolments lead to more graduates.
This year's group of 327 Pasifika students graduating is up fifty per cent on only three years ago. The number of Pasifika graduates is projected to rise to 600 by 2008 – a further 83 per cent increase on this year’s record numbers.
Part of this increase is a result of the Auckland College of Education’s merger with the University’s Faculty of Education, which produces the greatest number of the University’s Pasifika graduates. It is important that Pasifika people are making careers in education, and are role models there for new generations of young Pasifika people.
It is vital for New Zealand's future that these very positive trends of increasing Pasifika participation in university education continue.
Pasifika populations in New Zealand are steadily growing. New Zealand's success depends on all its peoples having the opportunity to fulfil their potential. And being able to fulfil our potential is central to the New Zealand dream and to the vision which Pasifika people have for their children when they migrate to New Zealand.
The government has recently reviewed the progress made during the timeframe of the Pasifika Education Plan 2000-2005. While Pasifika enrolments in tertiary education overall nearly doubled in the last six years, the growth was mainly at sub degree level. While that's important, so too is the higher-level study.
A new Pasifika Education Plan has now been approved by Cabinet, and is due for release next month. It sets goals for achievement from this year through to 2010.
Making university study more affordable is part of the answer to lifting Pasifika participation, and we've launched a number of initiatives to do that over the past six and a half years.
The big new initiative is lifting all interest from student loans from 1 April this year for students who stay in New Zealand. That means new students will pay back only what they borrow from now on, and can clear their debts more quickly.
All those who have loans already will have no more interest added to their loans. Under these new rules, more of our graduates are likely to stay in New Zealand and contribute to our country for the longer term. The no interest policy is a win: win for students and for New Zealand.
Our government also caps student fees to give greater certainty about the cost of study, and we aim to keep increasing the parental income thresholds for eligibility for student loans.
Many Pasifika students are also eligible to apply for the income-tested Step Up scholarships available for study for health, science and technology degrees, and for a range of scholarships for trainee teachers.
Indeed the uptake of government scholarships by Pasifika students in early childhood education teacher training has risen from 35 in 2000, to 140 in 2004, the latest year for which we have figures.
Increasing Pasifika enrolments is also helped by the willingness of our universities to reach out to Pasifika communities. It's good to see that the University of Auckland's strategic plan does prioritise that and the importance of equal opportunity for Pasifika students.
As well, the University is looking to increase the participation of its Pasifika staff in research, and to support the career development of Pasifika academic and general staff.
This can only help enhance the success of the University’s Pasifika students, as they look to Pasifika role models for direction, guidance and mentoring.
I also believe that the building of the magnificent fale here was a strong signal of this university's determination to welcome Pasifika students and communities to the campus.
New Zealand today has many fine role models of Pasifika achievement – in the professions and business, in sport and the arts, in the community sector, and throughout the workforce where there are so many hard working Pasifika people.
This year's Pasifika graduates from the University of Auckland are also set to make a big contribution to New Zealand. You have made your families very proud, and we all join with you tonight in celebrating your success.
I wish you all the very best for your personal and professional futures and look forward to more celebrations of Pasifika education success in the future.