1 Jul 2013

Greater need for Pasifika research to have practical application

4:06 pm on 1 July 2013

It's hoped a new Pasifika Research and Policy Centre in New Zealand will build a better connection between researchers and policy makers, charged with making decisions which affect Pasifika people.

The Centre is one of the key features of a new strategy launched by Massey University to improve the education of Pasifika students.

At the heart of the strategy is the recognition that better education will contribute to the social and economic advancement of the Pasifika community.

Bridget Tunnicliffe reports:

The Pasifika director at Massey University, Dr Malakai Koloamatangi, says the main vision of the strategy, which carries through to 2020, is to achieve excellence for Pasifika students, researchers, and staff. Dr Koloamatangi says the new centre, which will be based at the Albany campus in Auckland, will add to the body of Pasifika knowledge and be relevant to those communities. He says one of the problems among existing centres of Pacific studies in Australasia is they often narrow in on Polynesia.

"MALAKAI KOLOAMATANGI: For example, except for the ANU in Canberra, Australia, no-one looks at Melanesia seriously. Yet the Pacific is Melanesian. The majority of Pacific Islanders are not brown, they're from Melanesia, so why are we neglecting Melanesia? The resources are there, it's got the most natural resources in the Pacific, the populations are there."

Dr Koloamatangi says there is a need for more research that has a practical application. Dr Lesieli Ikatonga Kupu MacIntyre is a senior Pasifika advisor at Massey and supervises doctorate students. She says offering students study opportunities in areas that affect their own community seems to galvanise their interest.

LESIELI IKATONGA KUPU MACINTYRE: They're picking topics they hold a body of knowledge about. And some of them, because of that, they go back to their respective islands and do their fieldwork in it. I have seen the improvements in the Pasifika students choosing their topics and exploring it.

Emilia Sa'u is a New Zealand-born Samoan studying for a Bachelor of Health Science at Massey. When she graduates next year she wants to work in the community to better the health of Pasifika people through sport, exercise and better eating habits. Ms Sa'u says one day she might take what she has learned back to Samoa.

EMILIA SA'U: So probably going back to Samoa and seeing how they do things and how they eat their food and teaching the community on how to sort of make it in a way that's more nutritional so that they can still have that traditional food.

Dr Koloamatangi, who's been appointed as one of the directors at the new research centre, says one of the things they are serious about is increasing the internationalisation of Pacific knowledge. He says they've started having conversations with other stakeholders and universities in the region, but says collaboration won't be limited just to the Pacific.

MALAKAI KOLOAMATANGI: We think that we've got a story to tell the world because the Pacific is international, it is global. This present engagement by the US in the Pacific as a counterweight to the Chinese presence is fascinating. So we need to be capitalising on that kind of thing. We're here in the Pacific - it's natural for us to provide for some of the advice, the policy formulation.

The new centre will be up and running in about 12 months.