13-year-old doing double degree 'too young to become a Kiwi'

Author
Lincoln Tan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 5 Jul 2020, 9:53AM
Vicky Ngo's teacher says she has a good analytical brain and has a forward-thinking grasp of maths concepts. Photo / Dean Purcell
Vicky Ngo's teacher says she has a good analytical brain and has a forward-thinking grasp of maths concepts. Photo / Dean Purcell

13-year-old doing double degree 'too young to become a Kiwi'

Author
Lincoln Tan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 5 Jul 2020, 9:53AM

A child prodigy from Vietnam is on course to graduate with a double degree at the age of 14 - but has been told there is no pathway for her to become a Kiwi.

Maths whizz Vicky Ngo, 13, says her biggest dream is to becomes a Kiwi and represent New Zealand in the International Mathematics Olympiad competition.

But Immigration New Zealand has told her family that because of her age, there is no student pathway for her to gain residency.

Vicky's adoptive mother, who did not want to be named, said the girl was "heartbroken" by the news, but was determined to prove herself and hoped to "change the minds" of the New Zealand Government.

The mother adopted Vicky from a family in Vietnam who was too poor to pay for her to further her education.

She felt there was something very special about Vicky and felt she was a gifted child.

Vicky Ngo's dream is to represent NZ in the International Maths Olympiad, but she has been told there is no pathway for her to become a resident in NZ to enable her do so. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Vicky Ngo's dream is to represent NZ in the International Maths Olympiad, but she has been told there is no pathway for her to become a resident in NZ to enable her do so. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Vicky excelled in her studies in Vietnam and her adoptive mum felt taking her to New Zealand would give her better opportunities.

"I asked Vicky if she wanted to go to New Zealand, she said yes because there are penguins here," the mum said.

"Vicky loves penguins and on the day after we arrived, I took her to see live penguins for the first time at Kelly Tarltons."

Vicky came to New Zealand on a student visa while her mother, who has a Kiwi partner, came as her guardian.

Vicky moved to NZ in 2018 and attended St Thomas School, where she graduated her Year 7 level with distinction.

She moved on to Selwyn College after being bumped up to Year 9, but graduated high school as a top scholar for Year 12 that same year.

Graeme Holden, a teacher of mathematics and economics, said Vicky obtained excellence grades in all subjects and her answers were "well above the level needed".

"Vicky fully deserves to be fast tracked into the university study system. Despite her age, she is a mature and advanced mathematics student," Holden said.

"She has a very good analytical brain and has a forward-thinking grasp of all the maths concepts taught."

He believed Vicky would prove to be a real academic asset to the university in the future.

Selwyn College principal Sheryll Ofner said in her recommendation letter to AUT that Vicky was "single-mindedly focused on her academic subjects above anything else".

"This extraordinary academic drive coupled with an advanced intellect are helping her to achieve at levels well above her age group," she said.

Vicky was granted a ministerial exemption to enrol in university, and enrolled at AUT.

Vicky's mum said she was pursuing double degrees in applied mathematics and finance, and aimed to graduate next year.

Vicky says it "feels weird" being the youngest student at AUT but also special that she was being treated "like a princess".

"Every day, there are designated students taking me from class to class and after school, there will be security waiting with me until my parents come to take me home," she said.

Vicky told the Weekend Herald her favourite subjects were mathematics and finance.

"I just love working with figures, and I really hope to work in the financial sector and be able to buy my first property by the time I am 16," she said.

"My immediate dream is to be on the NZ Maths Olympiad team and help them become world champions, but I need to find a way to become a resident so I can do that," she said.

Nicola Hogg, INZ's general manager said Vicky had been able to study in New Zealand on a student visa, which she was first issued in 2018.

"She is not eligible for any student pathway to residence because of her age," Hogg said.

Hogg confirmed that her adoptive mother has applied for a partnership work visa, but there was also no provision to include dependent children in such applications.

A person who is in a relationship with a New Zealand citizen or resident can apply for a partnership visa as a pathway to residency.

"Vicky can only be deemed a domestic student if she becomes a resident. The pathway for her to do this is through her mother gaining residence and her then being approved under the Resident Dependent Child category," Hogg said.

She said INZ had held face-to-face interviews with Vicky's mother and her supporting partner, and was assessing further information to determine whether she meets requirements for a visa under partnership.

Both Vicky and her mother now hold interim visas while their applications are being processed, Hogg said.

Massey University sociologist and immigration expert Paul Spoonley said there needed to be grounds for exemptions in the current system to allow special students like Vicky to remain.

"This is a challenge for both our tertiary education and immigration systems. Vicky has negotiated the first but falls foul of the second. She is a dependent and under New Zealand law, is underage for most things," Spoonley said.

"The simple thing would be for the Minister to exercise his discretion. The system has to set parameters but there should always be grounds for exemptions."

Ministry of Education's deputy secretary sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said it was not common for students this young to attend university.

"However it can be an appropriate option for those who are ready to engage in learning at that level," Casey said.

"When considering an application for exemption from schooling for a student to attend university we take into consideration evidence from a range of sources. This can include information provided by the family, the school the student attended, the university and other academic and wellbeing reports."

There is provision within the Education Act to enable the Ministry to consider requests for exemption for students under 16 years old, she said.

In the past five years, 484 domestic students have received an exemption grant in Auckland.

An AUT spokeswoman said the university was proud to have Vicky studying at the institution.

"During Semester 1 she studied in our School of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences, and is now considering what to study in Semester 2," she said.

"AUT is proud to have Vicky studying with us. It's a privilege to have such an outstanding young person studying with us."