Students call review ‘racist’

University of Otago students are set to fight any possible move by the new government to limit Māori and Pacific Island special entrance pathways into medical school.

An agreement in the National-Act New Zealand-New Zealand First coalition deal to review the entrance pathways has been labelled a "racist dog-whistle" by the Otago University Students’ Association.

The university is also seeking more information about the agreement — which appeared to be news to staff there — to "examine the Māori and Pacific admission scheme and its Otago equivalent to determine if they are delivering the desired outcomes".

Outgoing OUSA president Quintin Jane said the wording of the statement, coupled with the move to axe the Māori Health Authority, was a "racist dog-whistle".

In a statement on X he said "OUSA will not let them touch it," referring to the special medical school entrance pathways.

"My biggest concern is what the wording [of the coalition agreement] means," he told the Otago Daily Times.

"A lot of the government’s talk has been about scrapping equitable pathways for Māori and Pacific Island people, and the talk of ‘examining’ would fit into that."

The Māori entry pathway means students need to reach the minimum grade threshold, be committed to giving back to Māori communities, and have whakapapa to be accepted into the second-year programme.

Mr Jane said special consideration had to be given to the "structural barriers" that existed for many Māori and Pacific Island students "before they even arrive at the university".

"It is an opportunity to ensure the demographics of medical school are proportionate to the demographics in our society.

"The pathways exist because the medical community recognised a need for it."

OUSA would campaign to keep the pathways intact, he said.

"There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes at the moment, but we need to be talking about this.

"If you get rid of the policy you’re going to have inadequate outcomes."

Acting dean of the Otago Medical School, Prof Tim Wilkinson, said the university had not yet received any information about the matter.

"As an education institution committed to diversity and equity, we welcome any constructive dialogue that aims to evaluate the effectiveness and fairness of our admission processes into our health professional programmes," he said.

University of Otago health sciences Prof Peter Crampton, who specialises in Hauora Māori, said he needed time to look at the background information behind the coalition statement to really get a sense of its implications.

"It’s certainly something I want to look into. I suspect it’s going to be a slow burn," he said.

Act NZ is behind the push for the review but party leader David Seymour declined to comment when contacted.

Another issue that may have impacted the university is National’s promise to, if elected, establish a third medical school, at Waikato University, with the first intake proposed for 2027 — but it may potentially be on hold.

As part of its coalition agreement with Act, National has agreed that "a full cost-benefit analysis must be presented before any binding agreement is made with respect to the Waikato medical school."

Acting Otago University vice-chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson has previously said she believed that the additional medical places required for this country could potentially be provided more quickly and at significantly lower cost by investing in additional capacity at existing medical schools in Auckland and Otago.

Incoming tertiary education minister Penny Simmonds did not return calls for comment on either matter yesterday.