Chief executive relents to state in battle for financial control

March 11, 2005

Rongo Wetere, the chief executive of one of New Zealand's Maori higher education institutions, or wananga , has backed down after a stand-off over financial control.

When Trevor Mallard, the Education Minister, appointed a Crown manager to oversee finances at Te Wananga o Aotearoa, Dr Wetere refused to cede control, suggesting that he would rather let the institution fail.

But taking on Mr Mallard, a top-rank minister with a reputation for tough dealing, proved a risky gamble. By the end of the week, the wananga council had persuaded Dr Wetere to accept Crown management.

Until last month, when two senior appointments were made, the chief executive was in sole charge of day-to-day financial and operational matters with a budget of about NZ$200 million (£76 million).

In its publicity material, the wananga called itself "Te Wananga o Aotearoa - translation the University of New Zealand" but this year dropped the word "translation", until Mr Mallard insisted it be reinstated.

He was concerned that promoting the "University of New Zealand" in Asian countries could be commercially damaging to the country's export education market. While another wananga , Awanuiarangi, recently gained permission to confer doctorates, the bulk of Aotearoa's students are not studying at degree level.

When Aotearoa was set up in 1997 it had fewer than 1,000 students; last year 66,796 students enrolled. Rapid growth has led to concerns about course quality and management issues.

Dr Wetere later accused Mr Mallard of wanting to close down the wananga .

"We have a hostile minister who is trying to send us (Maori) back 100 years. Education is the most important thing that our people need," he said.

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