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Otago plays major role in boost to Pacific research

Friday 1 April 2016 1:43pm

Pacific-Shore Image
An idyllic image of the Pacific.

The man responsible for Otago’s involvement in the New Zealand Institute for Pacific Research believes it will help frame government policy and aid strategies, while also sparking research collaborations, more field work and visits from experts.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor Humanities Professor Tony Ballantyne has answered a series of questions for the Otago Bulletin Board about the significance of the initiative for the University.

The Government recently announced the creation of the Institute and that it is injecting about $7.5 million over five years, to better target the growing needs of the Pacific.

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Pro-Vice-Chancellor Humanities Professor Tony Ballantyne.

The Institute involves the combined multi-disciplinary efforts of three universities: Otago, Auckland University (the lead institution) and AUT. The Government wants the Institute to work in support of Pacific governments and regional agencies, and focus on producing the kind of hard-headed analysis that can support sustainable economic development in the Pacific Islands.

Research projects set to start this year include mapping donor contributions in the Pacific and their impact on the region, an analysis of labour markets and the skills needed to underpin economic development, and a study of the drivers and barriers to private sector investment.

The three Universities involved with the Institute educate 75 per cent of all Pacific Island university students in New Zealand and produce 60 per cent of Pacific PhDs. The three Universities also employ 90 per cent of the 175 Pacific academics working in universities across New Zealand.

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A Pacific-style house.

Professor Ballantyne says the Otago was keen to be involved because of its long tradition of research on the Pacific, and the University’s breadth of expertise on the Pacific means it has a lot to contribute to the work of the institute on thinking through Pacific development and New Zealand’s engagement with the region.

Otago was also delighted with the prospect of working with the University of Auckland and AUT in the collaborative undertaking, which will create new significant research opportunities for Otago staff and students.

What does the creation of this Institute mean for Otago and humanities?

The creation of the NZIPR means that Otago researchers have the opportunity to bring their expertise into much more direct engagement with the complex processes that frame government policy and aid strategies. At the same time, NZIPR is going to bring a wide group of New Zealand’s leading Pacific researchers into sustained and regular contact as research teams made up of scholars from the three universities and our partner institutions across the Pacific work together to tackle a range of important projects. The Institute will enable our researchers and students to build new research connections, to undertake more fieldwork in the Pacific, and to participate in a research consortium that will regularly bring leading international and national experts on the Pacific to Otago.

Who among our researchers are primarily involved with this?

Otago researchers are prominent in the first projects that the NZIPR is tackling. Associate Professor Jenny Bryant-Tokalau (Te Tumu) and Dr Iati Iati (Politics) are co-leads on a project on land tenure systems in the Pacific, while Professor David Fielding (Economics) is co-leading a project on donor aid to the Pacific. As the NZIPR’s programme of work develops, other Otago researchers will have the opportunity to lead and contribute to a range of other research projects framed in dialogue with MFAT.

How important is this initiative?

This is an important initiative because it underscores the Government’s commitment to seeking a robust foundation for its decision-making with regards to the Pacific region: it is very encouraging to see this engagement with expert scholarly research and a strong commitment to developing New Zealand’s position as a leader for thought and research on the Pacific.

What do you hope it will achieve overall?

Obviously we hope that NZIPR will help enrich official understandings of the depth and complexity of Pacific societies and states and that it will serve as an important forum for conversations between leading researchers, postgraduate students and government experts. But we are also excited about the prospects for enhancing our nation’s Pacific research capacity and fostering a range of new scholarly connections, connections that will offer real intellectual benefits to our staff and students here at Otago.

How will it benefit our students and postgrads etc?

Otago’s participation in the NZIPR will benefit our staff and students by creating new opportunities for them to engage with government. It will facilitate greater mobility for our researchers within New Zealand and into the Pacific, and bring leading intellectuals and politicians from across the Pacific to New Zealand (including Dunedin). It will stimulate growth in our postgraduate programmes through scholarships and new opportunities for participation in seminars, symposia, and conferences.

You can visit the New Zealand Institute for Pacific Research here.