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Education 'too expensive' for Pasifika migrants

Mere Dimuri
Fijian student Mere Dimuri says Pasifika could do more to make their voices heard.  Laura Cunningham

Pasifika people say they are being let down by policies that make study in New Zealand too expensive and they are forced into low-income jobs to make ends meet.

They are calling on the next government to help them achieve a higher standard of living. 

Student Mere Dimuri, 19, recently left Fiji to study construction management in Christchurch. 

She said the next government must provide Pasifika people more incentives to succeed and that started with better tertiary education policies.

Most Pasifika people had no choice but to go straight into work after finishing school to support their families. 

Many Pasifika were caught in low income jobs; a cycle Dimuri was keen to break by more generous education policies. 

Canterbury Fiji Social Services Trust manager Una Raleqe said Labour had the best immigration policies to help Pasifika gain a higher standard of living.

She said under National, tax-paying Fijians, who had worked for over 10 years in New Zealand, “disappointingly” still had trouble gaining residency.

That meant their children were classed as international students and paid full fees for tertiary education. 

Raleqe said many parents sent their children back to Fiji instead of paying the fees here. 

"[However], the recent influx of Fijians to New Zealand has just taken place, and to them they don’t have much to compare [the National government] to."

National’s Minister for Pacific People’s, Alfred Ngaro, rejected criticism of the Government’s policies.  He said there had been a lift in Pasifika educational achievements. 

Under National’s education targets set in 2008, Pasifika students who gained NCEA Level 2 had risen from 51 per cent  to the national average of 80 per cent.

Ngaro said the recently announced Toloa scholarships, which had given 15 Pasifika students up to $25,000 to study science, technology, engineering or mathematics at tertiary level, were a big help to Pacifika people. 

"We are breaking new ground in those areas," he said. 

The scholarships were unavailable to international students like Mere, even though she planned to stay in New Zealand. 

Ngaro said other National policies to help Pasifika included improving healthcare accessibility and increasing home ownership through HomeStart grants.

Samoan Advisory Council Secretary Lepule Gali said many of National’s promises to help Pacifika communities last election were unfulfilled.

Gali said National did not meet often enough with Pasifika, and policies such as increasing Superannuation to 67 and the selling of state housing negatively affected people’s standard of living.

As a teacher, he disagreed with the gradual removal of Pasifika language from the education system.

Labour Pacific Island Affairs spokesman Aupito William Sio said National’s promise of a rock-star economy that would benefit Pasifika had not been delivered. 

"At the moment, Pasifika have high unemployment and low incomes."

He said that was mainly because of the high cost of tertiary education here. 

By 2024, Labour would make the first three years of tertiary education free. 

Sio said fixing the housing crisis and increasing wages would further help Pasifika better succeed in New Zealand.

He said he wanted Pacific languages restored and recognised as official community languages.