4. How can TEOs do better for Māori learners?

4.4 Summary of gaps in recent research and literature

The key gaps identified in the research and literature discussed above relate to the following:


Participation and success at higher levels of study

Another key gap in the literature relates to understanding factors contributing to or inhibiting Māori learners progression or entry to higher level study (eg. Level 4 and above), and whether or not relevant factors are the same key elements discussed in the preceding sections of this report.

This is an important area of focus as most tertiary participation by Māori is at subdegree level: “The proportion of Māori 18- to 25-year-olds studying at degree level is around half the proportion of non-Māori. Māori remain less likely to achieve a bachelors degree by age 25 than non-Māori.”19

However, for Māori, movement towards higher qualifications is central to accelerating Māori economic development (Landers, 2012) and the New Zealand economy through the development of highly skilled workers (Radloff and Coates, 2011). Having a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification improves employment opportunities and remuneration levels (Earle, 2007).

New Zealanders with a bachelor or higher degree are more likely to be employed, with 82 percent of the population holding a bachelor or higher qualification employed either full-time or part-time ... Only 2.5 percent of New Zealanders with a bachelor or higher degree are unemployed … New Zealanders with a bachelor degree level qualification also earn on average around 60 percent more than those with only a school level qualification (Radloff and Coates, 2011, p.v).

The little reference that is made in the literature about Māori engagement in higher study suggests that cost is a barrier, both in terms of fees, and in terms of time away from immediate income opportunities. Hence Māori may choose programmes of study at a lower level because they cost less to enrol in and take less time to complete (Wiseley, 2009).

Landers (2012) also notes that there are very few incentives in the welfare system to encourage progression to higher study and higher skills acquisition. Indeed, anecdotal information identified suggests that conditions attached to receipt of social welfare benefits may actually deter students from completing or progressing to higher study (see page 29).

Greenwood and Te Aika (2008) identify the importance of Māori learners being actively exposed to, and encouraged to consider staircasing options, and for staircasing opportunities to be easily accessible to students and seen as a realistic option. TEOs active connections to other institutions who offer relevant higher level programmes contribute to this.

In considering doctoral level study, Smith (2007) explored possible reasons for high Māori attrition rates, particularly in the first year, in an article in which she considered this through her own experiences as a doctoral student and based on previous literature.

Reflecting on the potential tensions between the Māori learner’s worldview and that of the institution, Smith raises key questions such as to what extent the tuakana-teina relationship and reciprocal relationship of teacher and learner foster supervisory relationships.

Smith also refers to the use of kaupapa Māori research methodology and how its validity and legitimacy is questioned in some fields of academia. This can result in students being steered away from using this methodology, “or asked to use multiple methodologies as a ‘back-up’ to ensure the validity of their research” (p.3).

The extent to which such elements operate no doubt contributes to or detracts from the experiences of a culturally familiar and relevant learning environment identified as significant in the literature reviewed at section 3 and 4 of this report. As Smith also notes, the individual focus of the PhD programme itself does not typically embrace collective and collaborative learning and is likely to be isolating.

Experiencing a hostile university space and conflict between “a kaupapa of whānaungatanga” and a culture of isolation and individualism, is also identified in the thesis of Villegas (2010) which examined an initiative of senior Māori academics at the University of Auckland in 2002 to support the development of 500 Māori doctorates in five years. Hence, the fostering of whānaungatanga amongst students and scholars and the creation of a community of Māori doctoral students was seen as central to the success of the initiative.

MAI20  helped to “breakdown the isolation of the doctoral experience, creating a central place where it was “normal” to be Māori … Ultimately, MAI offered a unique space at the university where Māori students could be honoured, celebrated, and lifted up. It offered support to Māori students and an opportunity to explore doing research based around a particular “kaupapa”, or philosophy, that emerged from Māori ways of being … MAI is based in a kaupapa of whānaungatanga and seeks to care for students as family” (Villegas, 2010, p.131).

Villegas discusses the important driving force of Māori academic leadership behind the initiative, including the support of a Pro-Vice Chancellor, Māori to develop and contribute to a range of initiatives to raise the profile of Māori in university and to stimulate more Māori academics studying at a higher level. This included responding to relevant barriers, such as a lack of Māori faculty and senior administrators, and an absence of Māori curriculum outside of Māori studies departments. Māori senior leadership was also behind a whānau-based approach to doctoral development and the driving force actively encouraging Māori learners to engage in higher study.

Māori learner participationTop

The literature lacks an in-depth focus on Māori learner participation in tertiary education, including enablers and barriers experienced by different Māori learners.

Role of Treaty of WaitangiTop

Understanding how TEOs purposefully give effect to the Treaty of Waitangi and the extent to which this drives organisational decision-making and development is a gap in the literature that is more likely identifiable from analysis of individual TEO documentation. A key question relates to how the Treaty is embedded in strategic organisational decision-making, planning, programme development, stakeholder engagement and relationships, and staff recruitment and development.

20MAI – the Māori and Indigenous Program formed at the University of Auckland – was created “to serve as a home away from home for Māori pursuing a PhD”, involving workshops on specific aspects of doctoral training, feedback on members’ ideas, writings and experiences, and visits from international scholars. MAI is now the national programme of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga for Māori and indigenous postgraduate advancement (Villegas, 2010, p. 130).