24 Aug 2020

Otago university medical students fight proposal to limit Māori entry pathway

10:07 am on 24 August 2020

Students at the University of Otago are fighting a proposal to limit the number of medical school admissions for Māori students through its Māori Entry Pathway.

University of Otago - tower and garden, Dunedin, New Zealand

The University of Otago campus. Photo: 123rf

The pathway, which currently has no limit, was designed to boost the number of Māori in the health workforce.

RNZ understands the cap could be 56 Māori students a year, and even less for other minority entry pathways.

The Māori Entry pathway means students only need to reach the minimum grade threshold, be committed to giving back to Māori communities, and have whakapapa to be accepted into the second-year programme.

For students who aren't eligible for the pathway, meeting the minimum grade threshold doesn't necessarily guarantee them admission because spaces are limited.

Some have criticised the policy for being 'unfair', but Māori medical students association president Isaac Smiler said the pathways were crucial.

"We know that the health workforce is only made of about 3.5 percent Māori compared to a 16 percent Māori population," he said.

"We believe that to address the poor health outcomes of Māori and Pacific people we need more Māori and Pacific people in the workforce. So these affirmative admissions pathways were created to address that need."

He said if the new proposal was accepted, similar entry pathways for Pacific and low socio-economic groups would be capped to 20 students each.

Smiler said that wasn't enough to transform the health workforce, and he was deeply concerned there had been no Māori or Pacific input in the proposal.

Isaac Smiler and Anu Kaw.

Photo: Supplied

"There was no Māori or Pacific consultation in the development of this proposal," he said.

"When this proposal was given to the Medical Admissions Committee for discussion, there was also no consultation with the Associate Dean Māori and there was only 24 hours notice given before that meeting took place."

In the last year, of the 282 students who were accepted into the second year programme, 65 were Māori and 25 were Pasifika.

The university did not want to be interviewed, and would not confirm the details about the proposal.

But in a statement the medical school dean, Professor Rathan Subramaniam, said the university's Mirror on Society Policy had led to record numbers of Māori and Pasifika students entering the professional programmes in the health sciences.

"In light of that success, and with additional Mirror on Society categories introduced from 2020, the university is currently considering the desirability of updating the regulations to better reflect the policy and associated process requirements, and to enhance transparency as to the way in which the policy operates. There is no suggestion of any fundamental change to the overall principles of the Mirror on Society policy," he said.

"This is at an early stage and there is currently no formal proposal for change... If, at the end of initial discussions, any change to formal regulations is to be considered, that will be subject to the usual university procedures including opportunities for consultation with relevant stakeholders during that process."

He said there was no suggestion of any fundamental change to the overall principles of the Mirror on Society policy.

But the vice president of the Pacific medical students association, Renee Topeto, wasn't convinced.

She said the number of people in the health workforce remained alarmingly low.

"That number is really unsettling. With a health workforce that only has doctors identifying as Pacific being 1.8 percent and the New Zealand population of Pacific people being 9 percent, there's an obvious disconnect with getting people into the workforce who are of Pacific descent."

She said that meant Pacific communities still weren't being served by the people who knew their health and cultural needs best.

Otago University Medical Students' Association president Anu Kaw said she and her peers deserved to have a say about what the future of the health workforce could look like.

"It's our generation of students and that will be future health professionals... why should we let those who have already lived their lives determine our future?"

The university said no current students applying for admission to Medicine in 2021 would be affected by any potential regulation changes.

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