Otago Uni staffer claims seniors tried to push medical admission caps

Documents presented at a Medical Admissions Committee meeting last month suggesting a limit of 56...
Documents presented at a Medical Admissions Committee meeting last month suggesting a limit of 56 students a year through the Māori Entry Pathway and 20 students through the Pacific and low socioeconomic pathways. Photo: ODT files
Otago University bosses are being accused of misleading critics over its proposal to cap medical school admissions for Māori and other priority groups through its preferential entry pathways.

Prof Paul Brunton. Photo: ODT files
Prof Paul Brunton. Photo: ODT files
A staff member said they tried to push through changes much more aggressively than they have admitted in public, and told the Medical Admissions Committee it was not the university's job to address 200 years of disadvantage.

Two documents were presented at a Medical Admissions Committee meeting last month, suggesting a limit of 56 students a year through the Māori Entry Pathway and just 20 students through the Pacific and low socioeconomic pathways.

The pathways currently have no limit and were designed to create a health workforce that better reflected New Zealand's diverse communities, particularly Māori and Pasifika.

Health Sciences Pro Vice Chancellor professor Paul Brunton - who helped create the documents - says these were simply discussion points and no formal proposal was made.

But Zoe Bristowe, who attended the meeting on behalf of the associate dean Māori, said the committee was told the changes needed to happen immediately.

"Several times the words, 'this must happen', were used by the dean of the Otago Medical School and meeting chair. And when specifically asked towards the end of the meeting why there was such urgency, the pro vice-chancellor said changes needed to happen immediately to be in line with the Education Act," she said.

Bristowe, a Professional Practice Fellow at the university's Kōhatu Centre for Hauora Māori, said it was an 'extraordinary' meeting and held under urgency.

She said members were provided with the documents 24 hours before the meeting, and neither the associate dean Pacific, nor the deans of the Otago Medical Schools based in Christchurch or Wellington, were present at the meeting.

She said she and others present repeatedly raised concerns and questions over the modelling used to develop the proposal.

"I highlighted during the meeting that only 4 percent of the entire medical school cohort come from decile one to three schools, and roughly half of that entire cohort come from deciles 8, 9 and 10 schools or private schools.

"So by that modelling, we should be aiming for at least 30 percent of the school to come from decile 1, 2 and 3 schools. I asked, why would we propose a cap? And the chair, the dean of the Otago Medical School, stated that it's because these students don't actually arrive. He later said that it's not our job to address 200 years of disadvantage.

"Well, actually, that is our job. That is our commitment under the Treaty."

Bristowe said there was no input from people with expertise in health workforce development, equity or the Treaty of Waitangi or from Māori or Pasifika over the documents.

"These are really important strategic matters, and they require input from experts, yet they were presented pretty much on the spot with no time for robust analysis, " she said.

She said Medical Admissions Committee members were given one week to provide feedback on the discussion documents, which they did.

"This is week six and nothing has been discussed and there have been no minutes circulated. Our requests to the university for information about what's happened has just been met with silence, and I think that's why I feel the need to shed some light on the facts of what actually happened."

In a statement, a university spokesperson said it disagreed with Bristowe's portrayal of discussions at the meeting.

"Neither Professor Brunton (the Pro-Vice-Chancellor Division of Health Sciences) nor Professor Subramaniam (Dean, Otago Medical School) accepts the portrayal of discussions at the Medical Admissions Committee meeting.

"Both reject any inference that the University of Otago intends to abdicate its ongoing responsibility to use its admissions processes to help address historic inequities adversely impacting the make-up of the health professions in New Zealand."

The spokesperson said no formal proposal had been made, but if one were to be put forward all relevant stakeholders would be consulted.

The university denies a current legal challenge to its admissions process has anything to do with the discussion documents.


Restricting admission to higher education based on school decile ratings so it reflects society is Marxist madness.
It sounds nice and egalitarian. You can feel good saying it and others will admire your virtue but the real world doesn't care about your feelings.
We need the most capable people at the top of our systems because they are the decision makers of the future.
That doesn't make them the people that lift all boats with their hard work, vigilance and risk taking. It makes them the people that decide what kind of society everyone else operates in and if they get that wrong, why would you want to be vigilant, risk taking and hard working. Why not sit back, have a joint and let everyone else do that hard stuff.
If you want to encourage excellence and merit of character, identify the kids that have it throughout society, as young as possible and foster their academic skills.
We must never forget that the greatest contributors to good health are those that feed us, house us, provide fresh water, sanitation and energy.
Medicine only is of value after all those things are in place.
If Covid has taught us anything, it is who our essential workers are.

Surely the answer is to ensure that Maori and Pacific Island students are able to compete on a level playing field following the health science first year. Preferential placed for under-performing students of any group will backfire in the long term.

"... we should be aiming for at least 30 percent of the school to come from decile 1, 2 and 3 schools". This is a stunning level of stupidity. If one is serious about improving the representation, the point to start is to invest in these schools with better resourced teachers and facilities. But even then, home environment and parental influence will remain a factor.

If this person is a teaching stuff at the university, I would seriously re-consider whether I would recommend my kids to go there.

Ms Bristowe appears to have a strange understanding of what 'The Treaty' actually says. Unless she's found something in invisible ink, it contains precisely zero references to school deciles.







Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter