Dr Julie Douglas, TEU Vice President Auckland University of Technology-Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makaurau, TEU National Industrial and Professional Committee and Rainbow Te Kahukura advisory group member and senior lecturer at AUT shares some thoughts on the Tertiary Education Strategy’s proposed Objective 1: Learners at the Centre – Learners with their whānau are at the centre of education and providing an inclusive and learner-focussed education experience for LGBTIQ+ communities.

Learners at the centre of their education is a commendable objective in the Tertiary Education Strategy. For members of the LGBTIQ+ communities this should result in a safe space for individuals to gain education, develop personally and grow social networks.

All students, particularly LGBTIQ+ students would welcome the aims of this objective in valuing and sustaining identity, of ensuring physical, emotional and social safety, and in making sure students feel they belong and have voice and influence as partners in their education. However, nowhere in the Tertiary Education Strategy is the LGBTIQ+ community mentioned, and if the objectives are to be realised for this community then greater consultation,  education and training of educators, and institutional change must occur.  

It is an unfortunate reality for many LGBTIQ+ young people that family or whānau may not be supportive of them and therefore education institutions may need to provide a higher level of care. For most LGBTIQ+ students their education experience and context are devoid of appropriate role models in the curriculum and learning environment, or at best these appear as add-ons or negatives.

Queer studies are absent from most tertiary institutions which enable individuals to pursue identity studies, and the general curriculum in most courses use LGBTIQ+ examples as extraordinary (if at all), rather than ordinary. Students respond best to learning when they see relevance, and themselves, reflected in teaching materials.

Research shows that in New Zealand Pasifika LGBTIQ+ youth have the highest statistics for self-harm. Many in these communities suffer from bullying, lack of confidence, poor attendance, and non-completion of studies. A truly inclusive and learner-focused or centred education strategy must address the societal discrimination, long term under achieving and poor health indices that many in LGBTIQ+ communities face.  

Despite the hardships some in Rainbow communities face, many also achieve very well and this reinforces the need for all to feel able to explore their potential safely in our education system. All learners/ākonga deserve an education that builds self-esteem, confidence and the skills which will create an inclusive society for everyone.  

It is time to see an acknowledgement of the issues faced by the LGBTIQ+ communities as learners and an authentic response to them. A revised Tertiary Education Strategy that recognises the needs and potential of LGBTIQ+ communities offers an opportunity to meaningfully engage with LGBTIQ+ communities as partners in their education.