The University of Otago has denied that Ngai Tahu can veto research proposals at the university, following criticism of its Maori consultation policy in the media.

In an opinion piece about the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Aparangi, columnist Bob Brockie said the iwi was making "inquisitorial demands" on the university.

Brockie suggested Ngai Tahu could go "thumbs down" on research proposals that conflicted with its own business interests. The consultation policy asks researchers to submit their proposals to be considered by the Ngai Tahu research consultation committee.

However, on Wednesday, a university spokesman said the consultation policy, which had been in place since 2003, did not give Ngai Tahu any power to block research.

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"The [policy] along with its supporting processes, do not approve or veto research projects," the spokesman said.

"The committee might make note of some concerns on a particular area, and potentially offer recommendations. However, the panel does not have the power to decline any proposal."

The committee consists of two representatives from each of the three local runanga, the university's Maori research manager and the kaiwhakahaere rangahau Maori (Maori research facilitator). The spokesman said the three branches of the iwi represented on the committee were independent of the iwi's business interests, and considered research projects at a local level.

Brockie also suggested in his column in The Press last week that the committee was evaluating research in areas beyond the expertise of its members, such as quantum physics, logistics, and dental technology.

However, the university spokesman said the committee did not delve into the details of academic research.

"They offer their thoughts on tikanga Maori [Maori customs] and the appropriate processes rather than providing an academic peer review."

The requirement to consult was about "opening the eyes of researchers to potentially collaborating partnerships with Maori organisations and groups", he said.

"[Consultation] has helped expand the scope on a variety of research projects ranging from education studies to mental health, and cardiovascular disease to cancer," he said.

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"Anecdotally, people have used recommendations from the committee around areas such as additional survey questions right through to how they store and dispose of blood."

The committee worked to the same process as an ethics committee, the spokesman said.

"There are monthly meetings and there are publicised deadlines for submitting their proposals. Researchers know about the meetings, when to submit, and within a day or two of the committee meetings they will get a response."

University of Otago Christchurch academic Margreet Vissers wrote an opinion piece in the The Press rebutting Brockie's statements, and defending the university's stance.

- Otago Daily Times