The University of Auckland is expected to release its annual report this month, which will include information on the achievement of Māori students in 2019.
The overall course completion rate for domestic University of Auckland students was 88.4% in 2018. Course completion rates for Māori students experienced a slight decline from 85.1% to 84.6%. The completion rates of Māori students for first-year courses also dropped to 77.8%.
The 2018 annual report details how Review Committees suggested the “inclusion of Māori and Pacific principles and content” as a future action to be undertaken by the university.
The Ministry of Education makes a number of recommendations around supporting the achievement of Māori students. These include building and strengthening relationships with Māori learners, developing connections with whānau and community, integrating Māori language and culture into the learning environment and exploring Māori perspectives on inclusion.
According to the Ministry of Education’s Te Kete Ipurangi website, “students are more likely to achieve when they see themselves and their culture reflected positively in subject matter and learning contexts.”
At universities around New Zealand, steps are being taken to support Māori learners. At the University of Auckland, Māori students can take part in the UniBound Program for school leavers, be involved in the Tuākana learning community and access dedicated scholarships for Māori students. The university also has a number of Māori student groups, such as Ngā Tairua Māori, South Pacific Indigenous Engineering Students, Te Mana Pākihi, Te Rākau Ture and the Māori and Pacific Health Students Association (Ngārehu O Te Mātauranga).
While all of these actions can be considered steps in the right direction, more can be done to ensure that Māori culture and language is reflected in the university environment. The university currently has official Te Reo Māori Policy and Principles, however unlike our neighbours in the Waikato, the use of Te Reo by the university around campus is not widespread. The university administered Postgraduate Māori Scholarships are heavily based on academic achievement, with the threshold for a guaranteed scholarship being a grade point average of 7.5 or higher.
In 2017, Universities New Zealand labelled the nationwide differences between Māori, Pasifika, European and Asian performance in tertiary education a “persistent achievement gap”. The Tertiary Education Commission decided upon setting individual parity targets for universities in light of the issue, however in a 2018 discussion paper Universities New Zealand (UNZ) said that they “do not support the sort of simplistic parity targets that have been set and continually missed in the past as those targets invariably disregard the unavoidable impact of the student pipeline through from the compulsory sector.”
The paper highlighted that “culturally-appropriate support” in the first months at university, foundation and bridging programmes and pastoral care and academic support are the three most effective ways of increasing first-year pass rates for Māori and Pasifika students, “noting that only a small proportion Māori or Pasifika students would need all three elements.” UNZ also mentioned how lack of cooperation between institutions and lack of investment into support targeted towards Māori students limit universities’ ability to achieve parity.
However, UNZ argues that in order to fully-address the issue, educational achievement must be improved prior to entering university. According to UNZ, factors unrelated to academics account for at most 10% of the difference in completion rates. Addressing this would take a united approach from the whole education sector, in which schools, the government and universities would collaborate.
NCEA Level 2 pass rates for Māori students steadily increased by 3.35% per year between 2008 and 2016, remained steady in 2017 and dropped slightly in 2018. In 2018, NCEA Level 2 achievement for Māori students was 13% lower than that of European students. At NCEA Level 3, the gap was even larger at 17%. Just 29.4% of Māori students achieved University Entrance, with this rate sitting at 55% for European students and 60.8% for Asian students.
Dr. Darryn Russell, Chair of UNZ’s Te Kahui Amokura Committee, highlighted in January the ongoing need for improvements in Māori achievement. “It should be of concern to Government as well as to…the wider community. The big concern I have is that if we don’t fix it, we have inequity in our society,” says Russell. “Through all this, we need to keep in mind the students. I know how important data is, but it’s the human element and organisational culture that need to underpin the change necessary to achieve parity. That’s a whole lot harder, but has to be a key ingredient for change.”
As the new annual report is released at the end of this month, the university’s reporting on the issue will demonstrate whether Māori achievement improved in 2019 and what action, whether new or ongoing, is taking place to address this.