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Barrier To Tertiary Education Must Be Broken Down

University of Auckland

Maori and Pacific Islanders will not achieve their full social and economic potential unless barriers to participation in tertiary education can be broken down, says the University of Auckland’s Pro Vice-Chancellor – Maori, Dr Graham Smith.

"While great store has been placed on opening up tertiary education for everyone, particularly Maori and Pacific Islanders, the outcome of the investments made to date have been very uneven," he said.

Dr Smith cited a University of Auckland taskforce study that identified close links between local educational attainment and Maori or Pacific Island ethnicity.

Ministry of Education figures for 1997 show that 37.7% of Maori and 26.2% of Pacific Islands left school with no formal qualifications compared to 12.2% of Pakeha/European students.

In the same year, 17.8% of Maori students and 26.5% of Pacific Island students left school with 7th form qualifications. This compared with 47.6% of Pakeha/European students achieving 7th form qualifications and 65.9% of Asian students.

"What we seeing is a tragic waste. Despite all the talk about tertiary education being the pathway to Maori and Pacific Islanders achieving their social and economic potential, the fact is that too few can set foot on that path. They are stumbling while still in secondary school."

Dr Smith said that in 1997, only 9% and 3% of total enrolments in New Zealand universities were of Maori or Pacific Island students respectively. Part of the problem was low levels of attainment in Bursary. In 1996, only 390 Maori and 194 Pacific Islander seventh form students gained an A or B Bursary, severely restricting their access to limited entry tertiary courses.

"While Maori and Pacific Island participation has increased within the context of educational participation and attainment amongst the population as a whole, the rate of improvement is not sufficient. We need a considered approach, including investing in the programmes that we know are successful, rather than trying to spread resources too thinly."

Dr Smith said the situation was exacerbated by general educational attainment trends in low socio-economic areas. In 1996, 32% of students from low-decile schools achieved Bursary passes compared with 72% achieving passes in other schools. This has led to a general decline in participation in tertiary education from these poorer areas.

"Over the past four years there has been a 20% decline in the proportion of students entering universities from low-decile schools. Polytechnics are also experiencing falling levels of participation from this group. Unless we can turn the tide, New Zealand faces a mounting cost in terms of unemployment and its associated impacts."

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