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Research into the challenges and opportunities facing the Pacific Islands and their communities will flourish thanks to the uniting of the resources and expertise of three New Zealand universities.

The University of Auckland, Auckland University of Technology and the University of Otago have collaborated to form the New Zealand Institute for Pacific Research (NZIPR).

The institute is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to deliver a world-class research programme focused on Pacific development, investment and foreign-policy issues.

Drawing on further support from a range of international partners across the Pacific region, the NZIPR will advance New Zealand’s thinking on Pacific research.

The Ministry is contributing $7.5 million over five years to the NZIPR, which will be launched at the University of Auckland’s Fale Pasifika tonight by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.

By joining forces, the three universities have created a consortium that brings together their multi-disciplinary expertise. The NZIPR will be hosted at the lead institution, the University of Auckland.

The University of Auckland’s Vice-Chancellor, Stuart McCutcheon says that the NZIPR marks a milestone both in Pacific research and New Zealand’s relationship with its Pacific neighbours.

“The New Zealand Institute for Pacific Research will be a national and global focal point for research in the Pacific region, a chance to highlight and develop innovative research and engagement,” he says.

“This is an exciting opportunity to collaborate with our New Zealand partners, and with researchers in the Pacific region and beyond, in order to offer thought leadership on Pacific research.”

Founding director
The University of Auckland’s head of Pacific studies, Associate Professor Damon Salesa, has been appointed as the NZIPR director.

“The University of Auckland is honoured to be hosting the NZIPR, an innovative collaboration with AUT and the University of Otago, which also includes researchers from the Pacific and the US.

“The NZIPR is a groundbreaking initiative to develop research and understanding about the Pacific and its opportunities and challenges.

“The collaborative model of the NZIPR means it is committed to research that is anchored in the relationships that come from New Zealand’s unique position as a Pacific nation itself, a country with a rich Pacific heritage.”

AUT Head of Pacific Advancement Walter Fraser says the formation of the NZIPR consortium is a significant step in enhancing New Zealand’s Pacific research capacity.

“AUT is proud to be a key partner in producing world-class multi-disciplinary research on the Pacific,” Fraser says.

“Together, we look forward to advancing a much deeper understanding of the issues and challenges that face the communities in the entire Pacific region, so that we can collectively provide tangible, sustainable and durable solutions and recommendations for the region.

“AUT students and researchers already conduct world-leading research in and on the Pacific – across the areas of health, nutrition, media, tourism, culture, environment, and more. Our strengths in Pacific research, together with University of Auckland and University of Otago, will help ensure national policy in the Pacific is informed and effective.”

Long tradition
Professor Tony Ballantyne, pro-vice-chancellor of humanities at the University of Otago, says the university is keen to be involved in this initiative because of its long tradition of research on the Pacific.

“The creation of the NZIPR means that Otago researchers have the opportunity to bring their expertise into much more direct engagement with the complex processes that frame government policy and aid strategies.

“The institute will enable our researchers and students to build new research connections, to undertake more fieldwork in the Pacific, and to participate in a research consortium that will regularly bring leading international and national experts on the Pacific to Otago.”

The three universities educate 75 percent of all Pacific Island university students in New Zealand, and produce 60 percent of Pacific PhDs.

They also employ 90 percent of the 175 Pacific academics working in universities across New Zealand.

The consortium will work to make the NZIPR a focal point for the sharing of knowledge in the Pacific region to governments, businesses, community groups and other stakeholders.

The aim is to produce research that charts the changing shape of Pacific Island societies, the challenges they face and the opportunities for their future development.

Five-year programme
Over the next five years the three universities will deliver a five-year programme of world-class research on Pacific development.

Research projects set to start in 2016 include mapping donor contributions in the Pacific and their impact on the region, an analysis of labour markets and the skills needed to underpin economic development, and a study of the drivers and barriers to private sector investment in the region.

The three universities will also work with associated universities and organisations including the University of Hawai’i, University of the South Pacific, Australian National University and Peking University.

Visit the New Zealand Institute for Pacific Research here, and follow them on Twitter.

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