Aotearoa


Aotearoa is Maori for the land of the long white cloud, New Zealand. I’m on a week’s visit here courtesy the UGC, to see their eight Universities: The University of Auckland, AUT (the Auckland University of Technology), Waikato, Massey, Victoria, Canterbury, Lincoln and Otago.

The long white clouds  have been playing hide-and-seek until the last few days of the trip. Many days looked more like  the picture on the right, a set of dark grey clouds that seemed to follow the delegation wherever we went. However, this was briefly graced by an unexpected rainbow one evening…

It has largely been a week of discovery- I have known less about New Zealand than is warranted.  Especially Otago- the University we visited on the final day. The southernmost University in the world, this is also NZ’s oldest university, very research intensive. The first people I met immediately asked after our School of Chemistry and our Centre for the Study of Indian Diaspora!

The manner in which universities here are funded is largely indirect: the Government essentially fully funds the students who are then charged whatever it takes to give them an education. There are some advantages to this scheme- the entitlements become clearer- and the Universities have more flexibility in what they can do. In addition there are other direct funds, of course, but by funding students directly, this makes sure that the responsibility for education is shared.

Small is beautiful might well be this country’s byline, but even so, visiting 8 universities in 5 days makes for a rather rushed visit. Nevertheless NZ, for a population of 4 million people has 8 universities, while we with 1200 million people, should by that scaling, have 2400. In reality we have only about 600 in all- central, state, private and deemed. So there are many miles to go, and much to learn from others.

Sometimes the unexpected. In Victoria University in Wellington, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences includes, among other disciplines, Art History, Film, Theatre and Media Studies, Nursing, Midwifery and Health, History, Philosophy and International Relations, Linguistics… Asian Studies, Literary Translation and even a University Press! The coexistence of all these areas under one umbrella is not as uneasy as one might imagine, at least that was the view presented… But even allowing for some latitude, our ideas of trying to federate the different centres that exist at the UoH should be viewed as an effort that is not without precedent or parallel.

One area that all the Universities highlighted was their efforts to include Maori into the mainstream of all efforts- academic and cultural- within the institution. Preserving the Maori language is one area where we can learn how modern tools can be used to keep traditions and cultures alive. This is a language without a script like many of ours, and seeing the loss of stories, traditions and culture if the language falls out of use has motivated all NZ universities to set up departments of Maori Studies. Our efforts at UoH have had similar foci in the Centre for Endangered Languages and Mother Tongue Studies and in the Centre for Dalit and Adivasi Studies and Translation. Perhaps there is something that we can learn from them, and they can learn from us in this area…

One phrase that kept recurring in conversations across the islands was that this was a country that “punched above its weight”. Certainly, that comes through- in fact this week’s The Economist points out that NZ has as many diplomats and diplomatic missions as India does, being about  1/300th as many in population, and some similar fraction in terms of area. Their Universities have a similarly large international presence, more than the numbers would warrant. I know these are not quite the right comparisons, and some things scale well while others do not, but it does seem that we do not always punch above or even at our weight. Mostly below, and even when we don’t need to.

The common colonial past  is reflected in the names. On the drive from the airport into Auckland city, one could see a sign for Khyber Pass Road, and Wellington has a suburb named Khandallah, with Bombay Street… There is an Indian diaspora that dates from the 1860’s and more recent migrations, of course.  There’s clearly a wealth of opportunities here for some serious academic engagement…

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2 thoughts on “Aotearoa

  1. Most of the Universities in the US have a strong Alumni base. UOH too must reach out to their Alumni, by having an Alumni Desk that is strongly backed by the Administration. There are several UOH graduates who are not only occupying key positions in the country and abroad but have also done the country and community proud. The Alumni link may help the University to raise funds for new programs and also attract students from all parts of the country.

  2. Prof Ram, I am glad you have happy memories of your visit to New Zealand. Hopefully the next time you are here, you get to see more of the country and it is not as rushed.

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