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Sereana Naepi

Dr Sereana Naepi, University of Auckland. Photo: Supplied.

2021: Dr Sereana Naepi, University of Auckland, has been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for research titled ‘Planning for Change: An analysis of neoliberalism, equity and change in higher education’


Published on 11 Whiringa-ā-rangi November 2021


Dr Sereana Naepi is a Pacific scholar and emerging leader in critical university studies. A pouako, lecturer at Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland, Dr Naepi produces research that pushes for space in academia for Indigenous voices and knowledge that challenge the way universities and research sectors are constructed. Since obtaining her PhD in Educational Studies from the University of British Columbia in 2018, Dr Naepi has launched herself even deeper into the very institutions she critiques. With an expert, inside view, Naepi focuses on enhancing the Indigenous academy and creating opportunities for Indigenous researchers, whilst challenging the non-Indigenous research and higher education sector to serve Indigenous communities better.

Research summary

From the time that the first universities were built, they were designed with the privileged in mind and, to this day, maintain an unfair system toward women and racialised people. While many universities increasingly express the importance of diversity, they routinely do not practice it – with everyday people’s experiences telling a different story. Many researchers – including Dr Naepi – have identified issues within Aotearoa’s universities including neoliberalism, colonialism, and structural racism; however, few have provided solutions or methods for change.

In her project ‘Planning for Change’ Dr Naepi proposes to make higher education more inclusive by moving away from the historically dominant Western systems. She presents a new model that centres on Pacific ways of knowing and creating knowledge. From these models we can explore institutional change via the shared knowledge of Pacific peoples and explore methods for change.

The project is made up of four interwoven stages:

·         Exploring experiences of neoliberalism in universities;

·         Exploring mechanisms for future strategic change;

·         Articulating a higher education sector from a Pacific standpoint;

·         Establishing how Pacific ways of learning can transform knowledge production.

All four stages will be grounded in Pacific research methodologies including talanoa –a Pacific narrative enquiry method.

Engaging in richer conversations with people at all levels, inside and outside universities, about the possibilities of a different higher education system, Dr Naepi has big plans for change. Changing from a deeply ingrained segregated structure towards an alternative space that recognises all types of people and knowledge in Aotearoa will require Tagata Pasifika – all peoples of the Pacific.

Sereana and daughter

Dr Naepi and daughter. Photo: Supplied