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Award Winning Scholars Step Closer To Achieving Equity For Pacific Peoples

Two award winning Pacific academics are hopeful that a $US75K Spencer Foundation Vision grant will lead to future generations of Pacific peoples having greater achievement in Higher Education.

Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland academics, Sociologist Dr Sereana Naepi (Fiji, Aotearoa) and Historian Dr Marcia Leenen-Young (Sāmoa, Aotearoa) were among the newly announced 15 Vision Grant winners from four hundred international submissions. The US based Spencer Foundation 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 underserving 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.

As a Rutherford Discovery Fellow Dr Naepi is a Research Impact Award recipient for her work that seeks to address inequity and racism, experienced by Pacific people. Dr Leenen-Young has been recognized 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.

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With their latest award, the pair are also eligible to apply for the much-touted Spencer Foundation $US3.5M Transformative Research Grant, 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. Yet 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.

“To bring us together to design a dream… the dream is not just with policymakers, not just with community and not just with 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,” Dr Naepi.

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