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NZ teachers lead the world – Otago teachers lead NZ!

New Zealand was ranked number one in the world for educating students for the future, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) released late last year.

Here at Otago for the sixth time in seven years, we have the top tertiary teacher in New Zealand!  I’m sure we have all had teachers that we look back on and groan….but then there are those that inspired us, encouraged us and helped us become the best we could be….and we just happen to have that teacher (amongst many others passionate about their craft) here at Otago.

So who is this stand out teacher?  And what are her thoughts on Otago?  Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga took time out from her busy schedule to have a chat to us about her journey……

Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga

Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga receives New Zealand’s top tertiary teaching award from the Minister of Education, Hon Chris Hipkins, at a ceremony at Parliament. Photos: Ako Aotearoa.

From a little girl growing up in a small island in Samoa, to winning the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award at the National Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards, Faumuina has certainly come a long way.

“I came to New Zealand in the 1980’s – fresh off the boat – to train in Medicine at the University of Otago.”

Faumuina also received an Endorsement for Excellence in Supporting Pacific Learners, a reflection of her ongoing commitment to pastoral care and curriculum development of Pacific students.  She is “delighted” that Pacific Health is being recognised as important in the training of future health professionals.

“As an international student, coming from a small island in the Pacific (Samoa), the University could have been overwhelming.  I thrived in the environment, met wonderful friends from many areas in the world including Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas and of course Kiwis.”

Faumuina’s experience studying at Otago saw her face some major personal challenges, but ” through the excellent and supportive environment, I graduated despite developing a chronic illness (Lupus) while in training.”

Faumuina chooses to call Dunedin and NZ home now – “Dunedin is truly an international university city, its people are proud of this, and embrace all students from different ethnic backgrounds.”

But it is her experience studying and now teaching at the University that Faumuina and her husband (a first generation Canadian with Italian parents), choose to stay here…

“The University of Otago’s motto is ‘Dare to be Wise’ – students are offered every opportunity to excel here.”

Discover more about how Otago and New Zealand teachers could change your future.


Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, she is a recent graduate of Otago herself – she loves Otago so much she ended up getting a job here!

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