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August 5, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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The McCourt Report

I’m a believer that the way to change lives is through high-quality, accessible public education. It’s also one of the ways we can improve the opportunities and outcomes for Māori families and communities.

Credit where it’s due: the Key National Government is to be commended for making Māori education a priority in tertiary education. Aligning the Tertiary Education Strategy and Tertiary Education Commission funding to outcomes from institutions (however imperfect the measuring) has produced a real culture shift in a lot of universities towards supporting enrolment, retention and completion of Māori students.

However, the Government’s policies restricting allowances have also led to a massive 19.7-per-cent drop in over-40 Māori students since 2007. We know that lifetime learning and reskilling can be pivotal for enrolment rates in the children of graduates. And it makes sense: if Mum or Dad has been to Uni, they can talk to you about what it might be like. It becomes less distant, less terrifying.

Here at Vic, we’ve been steadily improving our enrolment and completion rates among all-aged Māori students year-on-year. Our course-completion rate was 79.3 per cent for Māori students, two-percent up on the previous year. This is good progress, but the glaring gap between that figure and the 85.6-per-cent course-completion rate at Vic generally should be of concern.

In order to close that gap, and get the egalitarian outcomes any decent society should aspire to, we need to continue our investment in programmes like Te Pūtahi Atawhai, the on-campus Māori and Pasifika tutoring and support service, as well as backing the voice of Māori students at Vic.

Ngāi Tauira, the Māori Students’ Association, Ngā Taura Umanga, the Māori Commerce Students’ Association, and Ngā Rangahautira, the Māori Law Students’ Association, all work really hard to represent the views of Māori students at Vic, through events, partnerships, and the University’s Faculty Boards and other committees.

We know that improving educational quality and student outcomes requires empowering students to have an authentic, connected and accountable voice through the ways they think fit their community and culture best. That best practice also happens to support rangatiratanga and honouring these groups as Treaty partners when the University needs to engage Māori students.

Perhaps understandably, the financial discrepancies within our Māori Students’ Association have, in recent times, cooled administrators’ willingness to engage. But at some point, we need to move on and find an accommodation between ensuring financial transparency and accountability, and backing Māori students to determine their own destiny and voice on campus. There is a lot of honouring (of the Treaty) that we need to do as a community, and the excuses to shirk these responsibilities are drawing thin.

If achieving better outcomes for Māori students is our shared goal, then surely empowering the authentic representatives of Māori students is a smart strategy. It’s also the honourable thing to do.

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