Kiwi centre had a 'valuable' role, review finds

There is demand and need for the Centre for New Zealand Studies in London, according to a review instigated after the decision to close it.

The centre at Birkbeck, University of London was set up in 2007, with the backing of the University of London's vice-chancellor, Sir Graeme Davies.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the New Zealand government and Birkbeck, and the government donated £100,000 to the centre in April 2008.

In a letter to Sir Graeme in April 2009, Karen Sewell, New Zealand's education secretary, praised its work and said the country's interests were being "well met".

But last autumn, less than three years after it opened, Birkbeck said it intended to wind down the centre.

The college faced criticism for the move from prominent New Zealanders, and more than 1,000 people signed a petition calling for the centre to be saved.

In response, Birkbeck said it wanted its work to continue and commissioned a review. The report says the centre was seen as a "valuable social and intellectual hub".

But it says ongoing financial support had not been secured, adding that there was concern about the centre's future direction "due to its current academic standing". Although it ran a reading group, evening classes, seminars, annual conferences and attracted PhD students, the centre made little attempt to develop collaborative research between UK and New Zealand scholars, the report says. The review panel recommends reorganising the centre to "embed" its work within Birkbeck's academic framework.

An annual report on the centre submitted to the New Zealand Ministry of Education in March 2009 says the centre had funding to take it through to April 2011.

However, in October, Sir Graeme and David Latchman, master of Birkbeck, told the university's collegiate council that the MoU included an agreement to raise an endowment to support the centre long term and this had not been achieved.

Paul Burns, a friend of the centre, said the review left "a lot of questions unanswered".

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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