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By Professor Bob Buckle, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Commerce
The decision to consider closing the Māori Business programme at Victoria Business School was not made lightly, and follows an extensive period of consultation and review of the programme.
As a result of ongoing low enrolments in Māori Business papers and discussions with the teaching staff, Head of School of Management and the Faculty Management Team, the Victoria Business School Faculty Board agreed in 2012 to close enrolments to the Māori Business major but to continue to accept enrolments in the minor. Arrangements were made to ensure students could complete programmes of study. Following further review and continued low enrolments during 2013 and 2014, the University’s Senior Leadership Team and the Victoria Business School Faculty Board agreed in September to circulate and begin consultation on a proposal to close the programme.
The closure of a programme is not unusual. We often consider and try new ideas. If they don’t achieve our objectives, we reassess. For example, recently, the Business School reassessed the Bachelor of Business and Information Studies and, in light of student demand and overlapping course material, the Faculty decided to close that degree. Change enables us to be innovative, to adapt to new information, and to be responsive and meet the changing needs of our students and stakeholders.
Victoria Business School has experienced continuous growth in Māori student enrolments in recent years. The number of Māori students as a proportion of total domestic students enrolled in Commerce at VBS has increased from seven per cent in 2000 to over ten per cent in 2014. That is, Māori student enrolments have grown faster than enrolments of other New Zealand students in a Faculty which is on a growth curve.
However, in contrast, enrolments in the Māori Business programme never reached levels comparable to those in other programmes and have steadily declined during the last decade.
Victoria Business School is committed to improving the learning experience and outcomes for Māori students. A range of initiatives designed to achieve these objectives have been introduced in recent years, leading to a significant improvement in Māori student success in Commerce programmes.
Te Kawa a Māui (TKAM) offers a major in Māori Resource Management, alongside other courses, that covers material similar to that offered by some courses in the Māori Business programme. Commerce students have the opportunity to include TKAM courses in their BCom degree and can complete an outside minor or outside major in related topics as part of their degree.
If the Māori Business programme does close, a significant proportion of the resources which have supported the programme will be redirected into activities that can further improve the academic performance of Māori students studying Commerce, and other initiatives that can help advance Māori economic development. This process will involve consultation with stakeholders to identify appropriate ways to do this.
by Rāwinia Thompson, Vice-President (Academic)
When I was in Year 9 at high school, my parents encouraged me to take up Te Reo Māori. Instead, I chose to learn Latin, a centuries-dead language that I perceived to be more relevant and valuable to me in my prospective career as a lawyer. I was a white-on-the-inside, slightly pretentious urban Māori girl, and looking back, I can see how far I’ve come in realising the importance of Māoritanga not only in my own life but in New Zealand. But this isn’t about me – it’s about what’s at stake should the Māori Business programme cease to be offered by the Business School here at Victoria.
In coming to the decision to close the programme, the Faculty of Commerce employed a cost–benefit analysis that weighed declining enrolment numbers and profit–loss too heavily against the almost unquantifiable benefits of an education in Māori Business. There may not be thousands of students flocking to Māori Business, but the transformational effect of education in this area can have far-reaching benefits, not only for the students of the programme, but also for their whānau and communities. All things that matter aren’t necessarily those which can be measured.
This decision calls into question the way we determine the worth of the courses we offer here at Victoria. Is it all about enrolment numbers, and retention and completion rates to impress the Tertiary Education Commission? Is it about meeting the bottom line and turning a profit? Māori Business students will know that the Māori business model employs a quadruple bottom line, where social, cultural and environmental concerns are equally as important as making ca$h money. Perhaps an education in Māori Business would be useful for University management.
Fact: numbers of Māori students enrolling and completing qualifications in the Faculty of Commerce have skyrocketed in recent years. The Faculty should be commended for implementing a number of teaching and learning initiatives that have seen Māori students succeeding. However, it is important to differentiate between Māori students succeeding as Māori, and Māori students succeeding as Pākehā. These students may be excelling in Economics, Finance, Management and Commercial Law, but do they appreciate the Māori way of doing things? Or are they like my Year 9 self, succeeding as Pākehā?
This isn’t just ‘reverse racism’ or ‘bleeding-heart liberal stuff’, either. The Māori economy is booming in the post-settlement era, providing a market for Māori Business graduates valued in the billions of dollars. Research in the area of Māori Business is also lacking, so there is a huge scope for graduates who wish to take either a professional or academic pathway.
The proposal to close the Māori Business programme will come before the University’s Academic Board this month. I look forward to the robust debate, and raising questions of how this proposal fits with the University’s own strategic plan and commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi.