Cutting Dream Fono – so much for a diverse student body.



In 2002 the University of Auckland established the Pacific Islands Dream Fonotaga as an attempt to outreach to Pasifika young people in low decile schools, with the hope to inspiring them to higher education. In 2010 24% of Pasifika school leavers achieved university entrance (UE) compared with 59% of Europeans. Alongside the fact that Pasifika take longer than other students to complete NCEA schooling qualifications, it is clear that their pathway to tertiary education is longer and more difficult. So the University of Auckland should be congratulated for undertaking an academic mentoring programme such as Dream Fono, to raise the numbers of Pasifika students accessing higher education. The early data of Dream Fono showed that more than 50% of participants enrolled in tertiary education.

Dream Fono was targeted at Year 12 students who had the potential to succeed at university. Some schools involved in the programme only sent students they deemed as “university-material” and I remember the many discussions we had encouraging schools to apply greater lateral thinking on the idea of one’s potential to succeed. The programme was based on small group mentoring that began at a live-in camp including motivational speakers, academic counseling and goal-setting workshops. The live-in programme allowed a full expression of Pasifika ways of being – premised on what being Samoan, Tongan, Niuean or Cook Islander meant in a NZ context. The University of Auckland has as objective 11 of its strategic plan to see “…a diverse student body of the highest possible academic potential”. It has a specific measure in relation to students transitioning into the university via specific equity initiatives, especially for Pasifika communities.

Starpath research shows that notwithstanding the poor schooling experiences Pasifika students encounter in high schools, that once they are in the university system, they have markedly improved experiences of academic success. This tells us that there’s something inherently flawed about our secondary schooling system because when given the opportunity, Pasifika students excel in tertiary environments. Equity outreach programmes take time to have an impact. Over the past decade I’ve met students who tell of the massive impact Dream Fono had on them in terms of (re)identifying their personal and familial aspirations and working towards those goals. Dream Fono was a grass-roots established programme that recognized the values and experiences Pasifika students and families encounter in NZ. It is for this reason that it was successful.

In 2010 the Schools Partnership Office of the University of Auckland abandoned Dream Fono. After numerous inquiries seeking reasons for this decision, I’m yet to receive an answer. The programme more than paid for itself when calculating the cost it was to the university and the numbers of students that enrolled a couple of years later. I thought that perhaps a new programme would be set up in its place? But no, two years on and nothing. Writing a goal in the university strategic plan is commendable. But the true test of this commitment is funding and advancing initiatives such as Dream Fono that inspire Pasifika students to higher education. If you really want a diverse student body, then you need to employ diverse personnel and strategies that welcome and embrace a culturally diverse population. The schools partnership office is obviously incapable of such a task.


  1. This is the biggest problem we have in NZ – things are thrown in piecemeal and removed without explanation (often despite evidence that they are working very well for the target groups). It drives me insane that schools are shackled by rules and regulations (and lack of funds) and good schemes are dropped. Meanwhile charter schools are apparently going to solve everything,despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Will those be shut willy nilly, too, when there’s not enough profit there or the programme proves to tricky to administer/run? Research-based, well funded, well-run programmes with high quality educators and with a Sky-City-type-promise of secure future funding so they can plan might be a good start, rather than all these jigsaw pieces. Our kids deserve better.

  2. What a shame! This was one if the greatest accomplishments that came out of the University of Auckland. I would know being one of the products of Dream Fonotaga, I had the great privilege of taking my experience and the valuable tools learnt and use them to mentor others! Such a positive environment to breed the best that our young Pacific Island minds had to offer. I am sure we’d all agree that it is programme that should not be overlooked.

  3. The trenscending benefits of well planned and well thoughtout programmes like Dream Fono is lost within the narrow minded and those with a political agenda to once again stick a boot in and ensure the long tail of underachievers continues. Sadly, it is those in power at the top down hierarchical structure of the University of Auckland, who are able to inflict these measures based on their ill-informed values and lack of courage. I might add that these are the same people who saw social justice as a throw away item in a recent international conference hosted by UA when the best educational minds in the world were pushing it to be at the forefront of teaching and education. It was embarassingly clear how damaging it can be to have these non-inclusive individuals, who despite their claims to be kiwis are culturally arrogant and ignorant as leaders of our most prestige University. Sadly too is the fact that while the government has put Maori and Pasifika on the priority list for tertiary education achievement measures it really doesnt mean a thing when they systematically work towards getting rid of programmes that are working for Pasifika students, My daughter has benefitted from this amazingly effective programme. Suffice to say, her family and extended whanau to her local and greater community is now benefitting from her achievements.

  4. malo lava le faasoa

    im not an academic
    im a parent

    why o why do they do this?

    if it works surely we should refine it, replicate it and fund it.

    i totally understand the Pacific Psyche around the length of time it takes for some of us to try to navigate the vagaries and the systemic issues presented in the secondary school process. But, once having set foot into the tertiary world..we fly!

    we also see this in later years of adult education or reeducation , where once we have made the readjustment ( after early parenting or having lead a misspent youthful lifestyle , or finished ones auaunaga to the aiga etc…or simply a slow leaner status) we enter tertiary study and we Fly!

    Faanana, this issue doesnt need more words, it needs ‘wings’

    keep up the great work

    look forward to you as Min of Education one day soon


  5. First of all, if the program was as effective as suggested then I doubt very much that the university would cut it. If there is evidence to show that taking a select group of Pasifika kids on a week-end away “dreaming” about possibilities has as much as 50% success rate (as claimed) in helping them achieve UE and get to university then we shouldn’t have a problem with Pasifika education achievement. Also if it was that successful then we would have seen all the other tertiary providers rushing in to pick up the program. I suspect that the reason no one is rushing to pick up this “amazing” initiative is that there is absolutely no evidence that it actually worked. They will probably find however, that any of the kids who attended the “dream” week-end (like Mr Bruce Tasi’s daughter) who ended up at The University of Auckland were already on a pathway there and didn’t really need a week-end junket to make that happen. While on Mr Tasi – to suggest that somehow The University of Auckland would be deliberately taking action to ensure “that the long tail of underachievement continues” – bro – what are you on? Hopefully its not illegal. And finally, yes Mr Gagamoe, you hit the nail on the head when you ask “if it works surely we should refine it, replicate it and fund it” – clearly the answer is that it doesn’t work because if it did then it would have been replicated and funded by more than just the university of Auckland. As I said, everyone else (AUT, Vic, etc) would be doing it. And here’s a novel idea for you as a parent Mr Gagamoe – understand that we as Pasifika parents need to take a lot more responsibility for the educational achievement of our children and in this case, there IS a lot of research evidence to show that active involvement in our children’s learning (turning up to parent evenings, taking them to public libraries etc) WILL make a difference. Yes, I accept that with multiple jobs etc many of us struggle to find the time – but perhaps spending just a little less time at sports or on other wider community demands (church, village) etc would be useful – a couple of hours at the Public Library per fortnight would go a huge way.

  6. Man that is a pity, Dream Fono definitely played a massive role in reassuring my tertiary education aspirations. I hope the individuals in these ‘seats of power’ do come to their sense and realize the need for such programmes and set aside economic agendas.

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