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Māori Pay A High Price For Flawed Tertiary Policies

Māori Pay A High Price For Flawed Tertiary Education Policies.

19 August 2014

I’m excited about growing up in a post-settlement era where Te Tiriti o Waitangi respects the mana and tino rangatiratanga of our people as genuine and authentic treaty partners. But it doesn’t mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that things are now equal.

As everyone knows, Māori occupy a low socioeconomic position in society, which contradicts Article Three of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. There are further impacts. Because Māori are less likely to have the savings necessary to pay for the up-front cost of education, they are more likely to take out a student loan to pay for their studies. So while loans enable access, they mean that Māori are more likely to have debt. The average student loan debt makes someone $150,000 poorer when they retire than someone who didn’t have to borrow, as savings, and owning a house, get deferred in order to meet the loan repayments.

Māori are also underrepresented in tertiary education, especially at higher levels, primarily because the cycle of educational poverty means that Māori are more likely to be their first in family to enter higher learning. Education is an important tool for social mobility, it allows our people to free themselves from a poverty-cycle where they are born into poverty, aren’t highly educated, grow up in financial hardship and have children who are destined to have the same fate. While one in three young New Zealanders are in tertiary study, for Māori this is one in five. Half of those are in lower level qualifications, compared with only around a quarter of non-Māori.

A problem Māori face is the “casual racism” of low expectations. They are often poorly-prepared and advised at secondary school by their teachers and career advisors who, instead of supporting rangatahi aspiring to do degree-level study, set the target far lower. Many of our young people are talented and capable but when they indicate that they are interested in sports, they are encouraged towards a qualification that will result in them becoming a gym instructor instead of a physiotherapist, or encouraged to become a builder instead of a civil engineer. This results in many Māori being employed in low paid work with high levels of student debt. We know that the economy poorly remunerates such qualifications, and it is more likely for Māori to graduate with high debt and poor employment outcomes.

The first in family reality of many Māori in tertiary education is that they enter an alien environment and are unable to call on their whanau and community for empathy and support. The consequence of this is that Māori are starting a tertiary qualification with little knowledge of what their strengths are and what they want to achieve, and because of this, they start on the back foot and may take longer to achieve success. This is why Māori take longer on average to complete their tertiary qualification. Recently, the National-led Government restricted student allowances to 200 weeks over a lifetime, disproportionately affecting Māori.

If someone struggled to get university entrance and needed a few additional competencies (for example, literacy and numeracy), this “bridging” or “staircasing” course would cut into the total amount of support available. Some people who need extra help to get in the door and find their feet may cap out at the front end and lose their allowance 80 per cent of the way through their degree. This undermines the fundamental belief that public education should be open and accessible and that lifelong learning is desirable.

Addressing these inequalities by getting rid of fees and debt, providing financial support for as long as people need it and offering targeted pastoral and academic support that is based on individual circumstances is important for Māori. But what’s good for Māori is also good for the rest of Aotearoa. If we are guided by the principles of whakanui (respect), toi te mana (empowerment), nga kawenga (responsibility) and ahu kāwanatanga (partnership), we can work to create meaningful and necessary changes to the current education system to benefit all people.

Te piko o te māhuri, tērā te tupu o terāka – The way in which the young sapling is nurtured determines how the tree grows.

Ngā mihi,
Daniel Haines


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