Otago University defends diversity quota after Māori students' concerns

By Heta Gardiner

Under attack from the university's Maori students association, the Otago Medical School dean has defended his school's diversity quota and said it was just trying to update processes and transparency.

However, he did not say whether a quota reduction was being considered and he argued a formal proposal had not yet been put forward.

That came after Te Roopū Māori (Otago University Māori Students Association), in a letter to the dean and seen by Te Ao Maori News, objected to what it said was a proposal to limit the number of students entering medicine through the subcategories. Māori arein that category and there is an allocated amount of reserved places for Māori, under the university's Mirror on Society policy.

But Otago Medical School dean Professor Rathan Subramaniam said in a statement to Te Ao: “The University of Otago is extremely proud of – and committed to – its Mirror on Society policy within the Professional Health Sciences Programmes, including the Medical Degree Programme (MB ChB).  This policy reflects the university’s intent to benefit the New Zealand population through delivering a health workforce that is representative of the demographic makeup of that population, and thus best able to meet society’s needs.” 

“This policy has led to record numbers of Māori and Pasifika students entering the professional programmes in the Health Sciences Division.  Between 2010 and 2016 there was a 124% increase in Māori students, a 121% increase in Pacific.”

Updating rules and transparency

“In light of that success, and with additional Mirror on Society categories introduced from 2020 (socioeconomic and refugee), the university is currently considering the desirability of updating the regulations to better reflect the policy and associated process requirements, and to enhance transparency as to the way in which the policy operates. 

"There is no suggestion of any fundamental change to the overall principles of the Mirror on Society policy.”

“A discussion document has been presented to the university’s Medical Admissions Committee to begin an exploration of these matters. This is at an early stage and there is currently no formal proposal for change.”

The letter  from the Otago University Māori Students Association said that the changes “were discussed without the presence of the Associate Deans Māori or the Associate Deans Pacific” and called that "concerning’." 

However, Subramaniam said in his response to Te Ao: “When the paper was first presented for an initial discussion to the Medical Admissions Committee there were representatives at the meeting standing in for the Associate Dean Māori and Associate Dean Pacific.”