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Student leaders say trust needs to be rebuilt and the university’s leaders should apologise for their handling of the saga.
Otago University Medical Students’ Association leaders wrote an open letter to vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne, health sciences pro-vice-chancellor Paul Brunton and Otago Medical School dean Rathan Subramaniam yesterday, requesting a Zoom hui and public commitment from them to the Mirror on Society policy.
The policy aims to help create a health workforce more reflective of New Zealand society's make-up.
Prof Hayne said she welcomed the opportunity to have "a fair and frank discussion" about the university’s goals and intentions.
The meeting is set for September 29.
"In the meantime, please rest assured ... the University of Otago remains firmly committed to our Mirror on Society policy," Prof Hayne said.
The university is, however, considering limiting the priority pathways, which have recently become the way most students get into second-year medicine at Otago.
The student representatives said that, as future health professionals, they were deeply concerned about suggested changes to medical school admissions regulations, "as well as the attitudes of those presenting them".
"We oppose a cap being imposed on the number of applicants that can enter medicine through any of the five Mirror on Society categories of Maori, Pasifika, rural, low socioeconomic and refugee."
University leaders have been at pains to point out suggestions in discussion documents — including that preferential pathways should be capped — are not a formal proposal for change.
The university is also facing a legal challenge relating to the management of medical school admissions this year and Prof Brunton confirmed this was considered when the documents were drafted.
Otago University Medical Students’ Association president Anu Kaw said students were distressed about the university’s handling of the issue.
"That sense of trust has been eroded," she said.
Te Oranga ki Otakou president Isaac Smiler said the university had acknowledged flaws in its processes.
What was missing now was an apology, he said.
The student leaders took some heart from the university’s pledge to "strenuously" oppose the legal challenge, which is before the High Court.
The medical collective asked for written confirmation from university leaders about what the consultation process for reviewing preferential pathways would involve.
Student representatives want the university to acknowledge discourse about the issue has been hurtful and caused distress for many students.
The collective is seeking answers about the rationale for possible changes.
Otago University Students' Association academic representative Emily Coyle said the association supported the stance taken by the Otago medical students' collective.
"The university has been vocal in its commitment to the Mirror on Society policy but OUSA calls on the university to align its words and actions when it comes to these proposed changes."