Thursday 4 March 2021 3:47pm
University of Otago’s new Pacific Community Engagement Manager, Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai (centre), with Director Pacific Development Dr Tasileta Teevale and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, External Engagement Professor Tony Ballantyne.
The University of Otago has established a new Pacific Community Engagement Manager role in Auckland – recognising the importance of community connections.
Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai started in her new role in January, returning to Auckland after 18 years as Otago’s Pacific Islands Centre Manager in Dunedin.
She is “very excited” about the move, as well as the respect that underpins it, and says her focus will be on building relationships with Pacific communities in Auckland, and, in time, across New Zealand and the Pacific region.
“In creating this role, Otago is signifying how it respects and honours its long-running relationship with Pacific peoples."
Otago’s first Fijian student, Ratu Dovi Madraiwiwi, was probably Otago’s first Pacific Island student, graduating in medicine in 1935.
"Being based in Auckland – the gateway to the country and home to the largest Pacific Island community – will give the University more of the presence we need to be visible and to journey with our communities.
“The placement of a Pacific community engagement manager in Auckland, recognises that, critical to the decision-making process for students choosing the University of Otago, is the influence of parents in advising and endorsing their higher education decisions. Central to each Pacific prospective student is the wider familial and community decision-making process, which is always collectively made.”
“COVID-19 has given us more reasons why it’s important to be here – to talanoa with our community leaders and stakeholders, especially about working in partnership to establish cutting edge programmes for Pacific, whether here in New Zealand or in our island homes of origin,” Tofilau Nina says.
In her time at the Pacific Islands Centre, Tofilau Nina established a Pacific presence at the University, guiding and supporting students and their families through their journey. The number of Pacific students enrolled at Otago blossomed from about 400 in 2012 to about 1100 in 2020.
Director Pacific Development Dr Tasileta Teevale says further strengthening Otago’s community engagement is a key goal of the University’s Pacific Strategic Framework.
“The placement of a Pacific community engagement manager in Auckland, recognises that, critical to the decision-making process for students choosing the University of Otago, is the influence of parents in advising and endorsing their higher education decisions. Central to each Pacific prospective student is the wider familial and community decision-making process, which is always collectively made.
“We needed a well-known Pacific community leader to continue to foster our relationships with our Pacific communities in the largest Polynesian city in the world. We are delighted that someone with the mana of Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai is continuing to contribute to our University’s goals and driving our progress, to lead in being the best University for Pacific students in Aotearoa New Zealand,” she says.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, External Engagement Professor Tony Ballantyne describes Tofilau Nina’s appointment as “very significant” for the University.
“It further underlines that Otago clearly sees its relationships with Pasifika communities within New Zealand, and our connections to the broader Pacific region, as vitally important to the University’s future.
“There is simply no better person than Tofilau Nina for this role: she will bring her deep cultural expertise as well her great knowledge of Otago to the position. I am very excited about working with her and the possibilities that lie ahead.”