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Otago's future in Pacific focus of Suva event

Monday 17 July 2017 11:08am

Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai (left) and Dr Tootooleaava Fanaafi Aiono Letagaloa at the Samoan Alumni chapter launch in Apia last year.

The University of Otago will celebrate links with the Pacific, and engage with alumni about ways to enhance and strengthen its special relationship with the region, at a special gala event in Suva on 20 July.

The focus at the Suva Otago alumni Vakavinavinaka event, to be held at the New Zealand High Commission Residence on Thursday night, is fulfilling the University’s vision for activity in the region, as outlined in the Pacific Strategic Framework 2013-2020.

The Framework outlines Otago’s commitment to excellence in research initiatives relevant to the region, and its desire to recruit students who will later contribute to the Pacific’s social, cultural and economic development.

Otago Pacific Islands Centre manager Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai, who was master of ceremonies at a Pacific alumni event in Auckland on 13 July, says consultation with alumni and supporters is at the heart of Otago’s community-building plan in the region.

“While there will be plenty of opportunities for alumni and guests to catch up and reminisce about their time at Otago, we want to find out what matters to them and hear their thoughts on how Otago can make a meaningful, lasting contribution, beyond our existing research, recruitment and academic initiatives,” Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai says.

Otago sees alumni as a “one of its greatest resources” in the region, and central to implementation of its strategic aims.

“So many of our alumni and supporters are business and cultural leaders, politicians, academics and professionals, who already make a tremendous contribution in the Pacific, and we are seeing strong enrolment growth – particularly in postgraduate programmes and areas like dentistry – from the Pacific. In 2012 about 3% cent of students at Otago identified as Pacific, now it’s about 4.5%,” she says.

The event will be hosted by Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Vernon Squire and New Zealand Deputy High Commissioner (and Otago alumna) Amanda Vercoe.

Vernon Squire
Professor Vernon Squire

The master of ceremonies will be Dr Patrick Vakaoti, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work and Associate Dean (Pacific) in the Division of Humanities.

A main theme at the event will be discussing ways local alumni can work with the University to create sustainable projects that are of benefit across society; this may involve the formation of a Fiji-based alumni chapter, similar to the group which was formed in Samoa last year, or other forms of support and partnerships.

“The key is consultation and putting things in place that will last. Also, Fijians gravitate towards events and are natural networkers, so there are many opportunities to work together to address real issues in the region,” Dr Vakaoti says.

Dr Vakaoti, who is from Levuka on the island of Ovalau, researches youth related issues in Fiji and the Pacific region such as street-frequenting and political participation. He has completed consultancy research on these issues with organisations like UNICEF Pacific, Pacific Leadership Programme (DFAT) and the Pacific Community.

Associate Dean (Pacific), Division of Humanities, Dr Patrick Vakaoti

University of Otago International Office Deputy Director Jason Cushen will attend the Suva event. Mr Cushen invites prospective students and parents to join him at the Tanoa Plaza Hotel on Wednesday 19 July from 6pm, to discuss studying at Otago and the range of scholarships available to Pacific students.

Thursday, 20 July 2017 – Suva, Fiji: Otago alumni Vakavinavinaka event, 6pm start.
New Zealand High Commission Residence, Ratu Sukuna Rd, Suva. Registrations essential by 18 July.

Meet with International Office staff: Wednesday, 19 July, 6pm - 8:30pm, Tanoa Plaza Hotel. No appointment required.