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July 16, 2007 | by  | in News |
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Too many degree-less students leaving Vic

Ethnic disparity evident

Recent findings from an annual report commissioned by the University show an ethnic disparity in undergraduate exit rates, particularly regarding Maori and Pacific Island students.

In the report prepared by Research New Zealand, approximately one in five Victoria students studying at 100- and 200-levels exited the University without graduating in 2006. This number has remained consistent at approximately 21 per cent since 2000, when the first report on student departures was written.

However, exit rates were found to be above this average for students identifying themselves as Maori or Pacific Islander – 30 and 31 per cent respectively.

The report identified nine related factors in students’ decisions to leave university without graduating: fee and study status, number of degrees and papers, faculty, gender, age, ethnicity and home region.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor David Mackay attributes the disparities between exit rates for Maori and Pacific Island students and students of other ethnicities to enrolment patterns and the differences in the way the students were admitted to the University.

“[It has been found] that a Maori student with the same marks as a Pakeha student in [Year 13] finishes at the same rate as a Pakeha student,” he explains, “but a higher proportion of Maori and Pacific Island students are coming in as mature students, or studying part-time.” “The school years are critical,” Mackay continues. “Students at the same scholastic level [at secondary school] have the same achievement levels at university, regardless of race… [whereas] mature students can come in any time over the age of 20.”

VUWSA President Geoff Hayward says he “appreciate[s] that VUW has begun to understand the issue of retention”, but that the University’s “initiatives have not matched the rhetoric.”

“A legacy of ‘bums on seats’ has meant that students were fleeced, neglected and left with no choice but to quit, even before their seat got warm. I hope that the new Investment Plan as part of the (Government’s) Tertiary Education Strategy will make universities more accountable in providing supportive and nurtured learning,” says Hayward.

It is suggested that the absence of scholastic prerequisites for mature students meant such students were more likely to struggle at university – and, statistically, Maori and Pacific Island students make up a larger proportion of mature students than other ethnicities.

According to the report, exit rates for mature students leaving without degrees reached an all-time high of 39 per cent last year, while one in two part-time students left university without a degree.

Such rates were reflected at other universities around the country, according to the Ministry of Education’s findings – although Victoria’s figures are slightly above average.

While overall exit rates have remained constant over the last six years, rates for Maori and Pacific Island students have fluctuated since 2000, with variances of up to 12 per cent from year to year.

Mackay admitted that the University was unable to explain the fluctuations and added that 2007 had again seen a large increase in Maori and Pacific Island first-year students.In response to the report, the University has been taking measures to retain its Maori and Pacific Island students. “[We] continue to survey how people view the University and the support they have,” Mackay says. “Most of the support schemes in place date back to 2000 (when the first report on student exit rates was commissioned).”

“The University has more liaison and Outreach officers, working with schools with a lower decile, to encourage students to go through to Year 13.”

Other support systems have been introduced, such as the mentoring programmes, campus coaches, awards and scholarships specific for Maori and Pacific Island students. “We’ve found that students are [most vulnerable to leaving] in the first semester of [their] first year, so emphasis is being placed there – trying to put programmes for the transition into [university life].”

“The University’s long-term goal is that the numbers of these students reflect the Wellington population at large”, says Mackay.

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