By: Simon Collins

Māori tribes are keen to buy Auckland University’s prime $80 million Epsom campus when the university’s education faculty leaves the site in 2020.

The university’s Dean of Education Mark Barrow has told school principals that his slimmed down education faculty will move to the city campus in Symonds St in late 2020.

The 15ha Epsom site, which has been used as a teachers’ training college since 1926, is likely to be sold subject to a right of first refusal granted to the original Māori tribes of the area under a 2014 Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust deputy chairman Ngarimu Blair said it was too early to say whether any of the tribes would buy it, but they were keen in principle.

“The University of Auckland has long been aware of Ngāti Whātua’s desire to ‘re-acquire’ as much of its former estate as possible,” he said by email.

“I confirm the subject land was part of our second gift of land to the Crown in 1841 and part of a large block of around 13,000 acres that took in Westmere, Pt Chev, Mt Albert and Newmarket.

“The Epsom campus contains one of the most sacred sites to Ngāti Whātua and also our Waiohua relations – that site is called Te Pou Hawaiiki where our foundation ancestors placed soil they had brought from the Pacific islands to anchor themselves in a new land.

“There are also other special sites very near to the campus, however the grounds itself were mostly historic kumara and taro gardens that supported the Maungawhau and Maungakiekie Pa complexes.

“It is our understanding that this land would have to be offered to Ngāti Whātua before going to market,” he said.

“As this land is subject to the Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau Collective Redress Act 2014, it necessarily means we would work with the Waiohua tribes and Ngāti Paoa and their relatives from the Hauraki region should the land be offered to us all to purchase.

“It is too early to predict whether we or any of the tribes would purchase the site and what its future would be. Negotiations have not begun, however we have a longstanding Memorandum of Understanding that reflects our historic and ongoing obligations to each other.”

The education faculty has confirmed that it will axe 29 fulltime-equivalent academic jobs, a sixth of its 165 academic staff, because of a 27 per cent decline in teacher trainees over the past five years.

It is also ending most of its advisory services to schools, which employ a further 77 people. It is not yet clear how many of those jobs will disappear.

A university spokeswoman said the remaining faculty would move into the city campus when a renovation of the engineering building in Symonds St was completed in late 2020.

“We will begin looking immediately at the space that will be freed up [at Epsom] by that move and how that, and other space, might be used to accommodate the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes of Education and Social Work, including their specialist facilities,” she said.

Barrow said the faculty had also been asked to leave the Manukau Institute of Technology’s Ōtara campus, where it has been training about 200 teacher trainees, because of redevelopment there.

He hopes to open a new South Auckland “hub” for teacher training and possibly other university courses by the start of 2020.

Source: NZ Herald

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