Regulatory focus on grades ‘risks undermining Māori equity push’

‘Utopian’ approach needed that allows universities to judge for themselves what changes would have most impact, THE event hears

六月 2, 2023
Maori carved poles
Source: iStock

It is “too early to tell” whether New Zealand’s indigenous participation drive has been a success, with the “law of unintended consequences” militating against efforts to boost Māori attainment, an Australasian forum has heard.

New Zealand’s government has rolled out additional funding to foster Māori participation in education, most recently through a 0. 3 per cent boost to teaching subsidies in last month’s budget. But Victoria University of Wellington vice-chancellor Nic Smith questioned whether the extra money was enough to “move the dial”.

Regulatory action to boost attainment could prove equally unproductive, he warned, citing the Tertiary Education Commission’s 2030 deadline for Māori and Pacific islander students to achieve the same subject pass rates as their counterparts of European heritage.

“I could achieve that…by reducing entry [and] focusing only on Māori [and] Pacific students who come from what we refer to in New Zealand as high decile schools – and thereby not move the dial in any material way,” Professor Smith told the THE Campus Live ANZ event at The University of Queensland.

He advocated a more “utopian” approach to challenges such as indigenous educational participation. Universities had the know-how not only to effect change but also to judge what changes would have most impact, he said. Funding arrangements should allow them and their local communities “to do that the best way, and to judge by the end results”.

University of Queensland vice-chancellor Deborah Terry said local communities had a key role to play in solving society’s “wicked problems”. But this would not happen if universities kept “coming in…as if we’ve got all the answers”.

“It’s a two-way discussion,” Professor Terry told the conference. “It’s being…prepared to get out there, share information and have conversations [that] contribute back into the evidence base. We need to be out there more, hearing what the issues are. Institutions like ours [have] great convening power. We can bring teams together.”

The conference heard that a public focus on things such as vice-chancellors’ pay and international students’ treatment as “cash cows” undermined the “authenticity” of universities’ efforts to improve educational equity. But Professor Smith said it was misguided to imagine that vice-chancellors had a “pot of gold” to lavish on equity programmes.

He said universities faced “increasingly defined and regulated” constraints on their spending.

Their role lay not so much in resourcing equity initiatives as “elevating the discussion” to demonstrate “why equity and diversity is so significant”.

“Demographic trends are changing…in the same way [as] climate change, mental health and social cohesion,” he said. “If we’re not ahead of those trends, by the time they impact on us it will be far too late.”  



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