Education

University’s new southside home

One of Damon Salesa's students once gave a speech when she won a university award that revealed she had done all her study through school and onto her degree years while propped up on her bed at home. 

She had nowhere else at her home to study. The kitchen table was taken for work. There was no desk. She was in a shared bedroom.

"She spoke of her father's commitment to getting her a desk. It was a really wonderful speech."

Salesa, the University of Auckland's Pro Vice-Chancellor (Pacific), recalls this story when speaking of the university's new home in South Auckland, which is about to open in Manukau for up to 140 students.

"Some of our target groups have a lot of challenges. You take for granted that there is a desk to study at at home, but when you look into it a lot of that stuff is not there," he says.

The new facility, Te Papa Ako o Tai Tonga, is the university's first, standalone presence in the south, replacing courses it offered previously within the MIT facility at Otara. That relationship ended at MIT's instigation and Auckland was determined to find a southside solution.

"There's never any doubt we were going to stay south," Salesa says. "The easiest thing would have been to walk away. We could make the space here [at the university's central city campus] but everyone understood the centrality of South Auckland. It's New Zealand's largest young city. We are New Zealand's largest Pasifika university and that is the Pasifika heartland."

The university has appointed a former student from Manurewa, Rennie Atfield-Douglas, who works in the Unibond office at the university to run its new southern home.

Atfield-Douglas says the aim is "to give students the access to the courses in the areas where they live. It's important to have the students engaged where they are located".

Initially, the facility will offer courses in education as well as Tertiary Foundation Certificate pathway programmes, "allowing people who might not have the qualifications, people who are coming, say, out of the workforce and wanting a change of career but maybe don't have the background in a degree pathway."

Rennie Atfield-Douglas. Photo: Supplied

"Students who live in Manurewa or Mangere can come to the south campus and not need to have to go into the city. It saves on transport costs and time."

A lecture theatre for 170 and breakout spaces, a student hub and library access, with support services being finished in a refurbished building that previously housed a private education provider. 

"Students will be able to use computers, with internet access - some don't have that at home - and we will have that study space for students to come in and get their work done." he says. There will also be the country's first automated laptop loan system - almost like a vending machine. "Swipe a card and take out a laptop." 

Salesa says the new facility is a 21st century response to community needs. "It's a different way to engage and be within the communities." He cites a model in Detroit, a centre for the University of Michigan. "They are not mini-universities. This is a different way of being present, making learning more accessible, a relatively quiet place with computers and printing available."

"We have plans for a lot of community-focused research and sharing, a series of talks, conferences, engaging what is far and away New Zealand's leading research university with a community that has not had access to world class research ... one that has often been the subject of research but it's been more difficult sharing it."

He says the challenge for the University of Auckland is not so much to grow its student numbers from the south, as it does not have 'open entry' for all. "Rather than to grow them it is to make sure the students who would thrive here and want to be in our programmes, get here."

The university works with schools in the area, encouraging Pacific high school students in the transition to university. "This includes the Pacific Academy that supports students in six South Auckland schools with maths programmes," says Salesa. "We have seen some outstanding results from these programmes and look forward to developing this reach further."

Auckland has had a satellite campus before, with facilities and courses at Tamaki, but had decided to move that back to the city.

Atfield-Douglas, who studied health science at Tamaki, believes the Manukau City location with its train and bus connections across the south - and the projected population growth through Manurewa and Papakura towards Bombay - will work for students and staff. The new facility opens with semester 1, later this month.

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