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Shirley: The expanding wananga

The expanding wananga

Thursday 24 Feb 2005

Ken Shirley - Articles - Treaty of Waitangi & Maori Affairs

Opinion piece: By Hon Ken Shirley MP

In the late 1990s three wänanga were operating on a pretty small scale. Enrolment numbers were low. They were not universities, and still aren't. They were being funded for operational funding, but had complained unsuccessfully to the Ministry that they needed extra funding for capital investment.

Believing they had a case that the lack of capital funding breached the Treaty of Waitangi, the three wänanga took their claim for extra capital funding to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1999.

Under the National Government, the Ministry of Education made vigorous submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal that there was no breach of the Treaty.

The Waitangi Tribunal duly found in favour of the wänanga. But remember, the Tribunal has no real power. It can only recommend to government.

Later in 1999, the National Government made an offer of some capital funding to the three wänanga, totalling around $10 million. The offer was made explicitly on the basis of providing capital funding, and the government clearly explained this was nothing to do with any Treaty claim.

Out of this Te Wananga O Aotearoa pocketed $5.8 million and said that would go a long way towards providing for the institution's future growth.

Soon afterward the Labour Government came to office, ushering in their flagship "Closing the Gaps" programmes. 2000 was the year that Labour would start showering money on all things Maori. So just months after the previous government's capital injection, Te Wananga O Aotearoa was back in the queue, this time asking for $46 million capital injection under the Treaty.

They knew Labour was a soft touch, and this time, along with the cash, they got an astonishing letter from the Ministry. Remember the Ministry had only months earlier rubbished suggestion of any relevance of the Treaty to the treatment of wänanga.

Now, under Labour, the Ministry wrote each of the wänanga an apology letter, stating the Crown accepted it had `breached the principles of the Treaty', and that this had compromised the financial viability of the wänanga and their integrity.

But the new Labour Government went further. Closing the gaps demanded even more taxpayers money be thrown at Maori. Along with the extra capital funding, the Government then played around with the operational funding per student, to provide for extra payments for Maori and pacific island students. Those institutions enrolling Maori and Pacific Islands students in courses could get an extra $125 per student. For Te Wananga O Aotearoa, this turned out to be very lucrative. Almost all of its students qualified for this. By 2003, the 24,000 Maori and Pacific Island students at $125 each meant the wänanga pocketed an extra $3 million a year for nothing other than the ethnicity of the students they enrolled.

Some university commentators at the time noted the rules for EFTS funding unfairly favoured those providing cheap low cost non-degree courses, with the Government's subsidy almost as much as that provided to universities for more costly science degrees and the like.

Any institution signing up a student to a general course at levels 1-4 received $5,300 in funding in 2003. This is only just below the amount funded for a first year BA student studying at a university.

Now that the rules of engagement had been drastically altered, the scene was set for rapid growth and profitability for Te Wananga O Aotearoa, with little attention to quality of outcomes for those it purported to serve.

The generous funding meant it could not only offer courses for free, but could offer inducements such as free cellphones and laptop computers to course participants.

With deals such as these, it is not surprising that the numbers enrolled swelled. Roll growth from 1998 to 2004 was an amazing 2,000%. As at July last year, there were 37,915 students enrolled at Te Wananga O Aotearoa.

The Labour Government moved belatedly to try and cap enrolment numbers to limit the increases. But the money still flowed. Taxpayers were haemorrhaging money to the wänanga, with very little to show for it.

The outrageous situation today stems from two things: Labour's total embrace of closing the gaps policies, and their swallowing of the ridiculous proposition that somehow the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 guaranteed Maori taxpayer funded training organisations in the year 2000 with minimal accountabilities.

Now we have the Minister, Trevor Mallard, saying he had concerns even before he was Minister five years ago. So let's get it straight:

1999:New Education Minister already has concerns over Wananga. Wananga funded $3.9 million a year.

2000:Government institutes closing the gaps. Government heaps extra funding on wänanga, and sets scene for rapid growth.

2001: settlement deal signed with Te Wananga O Aotearoa for $40 million for Treaty claim.

2004:Funding grows to $239 million annually.

Helen Clark is keen to publicly present her concern and wash her hands of it, but the blame lies squarely with her Government. Despite their apparent concern they have continued to shovel huge sums of taxpayers' money - all in the name of the Treaty. Quality of outcomes has been ignored - with many Maori students no better off whatsoever.


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