New entry categories have been introduced at the University of Otago this year to ensure more students from refugee backgrounds and lower decile secondary schools will train as doctors, dental professionals, pharmacists, radiation therapists, medical laboratory scientists and physiotherapists.
Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Brunton.
The move reflects the University’s commitment to a culture of equity and diversity where all students are included and valued. In 2012, the University’s Division of Health Sciences introduced the ‘Mirror on Society’ policy designed to ensure the student intake into its health professional programmes was diverse and reflective of the New Zealand population.
Head of the Division, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Brunton, explains good progress has been made in increasing the diversity of the health professional student cohort. Between 2010 and 2016 there was a 124 per cent increase in Māori students, a 121 per cent increase in Pacific and the proportion of students from rural areas grew from 19 to 22 per cent. However, at June last year only 4.2 per cent of students in the health programmes were from decile 1–3 secondary schools.
“We have introduced the new sub-categories of ‘refugee’ and ‘socioeconomic equity’ for the first time this year in a bid to ensure our intake does in fact mirror the population of New Zealand,” Professor Brunton says.
“I am very pleased that 35 students from low decile schools and refugee backgrounds have gained entry into our health professional programmes for 2020,” he says.
“This project recognises these students have lived within diverse communities and they have potential to make a significant positive difference in the health of these communities.”
>Nineteen-year-old Luka Fox from Taipa, a small town in Doubtless Bay, Northland successfully completed the Health Sciences first year course last year and has begun a medical degree this year. He is amongst the first cohort to be supported by The Socioeconomic Equity (EQ) Project, aimed at increasing the number of students from low decile schools into health professional programmes.
To be eligible for the Socioeconomic Equity sub-category for entry into both the support programme and into the health professional programmes, students must have attended a decile 1-3 secondary school during Years 11, 12 and 13 in New Zealand, within the last five years.
The Socioeconomic EQ Project team supports students with a programme specifically designed for Health Sciences First Year and beyond, aimed at giving them the best start to their first year at Otago and supporting students to achieve their educational goals. Support includes study skills, peer mentoring, guidance around transition to university, tutorials, course advising and degree planning.
Luka has wanted to be a doctor since he was six years old after having meningitis and spending a lot of time in hospitals. He found the support from the EQ Project “really empowering” and believes the biggest advantage of creating the socioeconomic sub-category is that it will result in more health professionals working in low socioeconomic areas.
“I’m much more likely to return to my community and work there.”
Returning to work in a low socioeconomic area like the one she grew up in in Lower Hutt, is something Esther Yu is also passionate about.
The 18-year-old also attended a low decile school – Taita College and qualified for the EQ programme in her Health Sciences First Year programme, before being accepted into dentistry this year.
Esther says the support she received through the EQ programme was invaluable.
“The support was incredible, the impression from day one was that they were really welcoming. Both the pastoral and academic support they provided was valuable for me.”
Esther believes she was the only person from her school to attend the University of Otago last year, but understands up to four students will begin studying here this year with support from the EQ project.
“Personally for me, coming from a low decile community did pose challenges in my decision to come to Otago and still does for many students I believe.
“In my first year of university, even though we only needed to pay for accommodation while tuition costs were free, my family had challenges paying for my accommodation in the process. Thinking of how it is more financially pressurising – travelling to visit home, paying for living costs, having to provide for other dependent children etc, does add more financial strain on families,” she explains.
“However, I am very grateful that the EQ Project has taken this initiative to help such students so that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds can have more opportunities to give back to their communities.”