Lee Cooper (Ngāpuhi), is Te Pou Tuarā, National Māori Officer at TEU Te Hautū Kahurangi discusses early input into the Government’s new Tertiary Education Strategy by TEU Māori members.

TEU Te Hautū Kahurangi members around the country have been taking the opportunity for early input to the Government’s new Tertiary Education Strategy, 2020-2025 (TES).

The Strategy sets out the Government’s long-term strategic direction for tertiary education, and must be renewed every five years, with the current Strategy expiring this year. The  Strategy provides a clear understanding for all people in Aotearoa New Zealand of what the tertiary sector exists to do, why it must do this and how it is able to do this.

A key component in building this understanding has been the input of Māori in this early stage of the Strategy’s development. What has come through strongly through national and regional hui with Māori across the motu is the need for the Strategy to strengthen the Tiriti o Waitangi component within the document.

Specifically, our members want the place of Tiriti strengthened around the obligations and responsibilities the government has, but also between the government and public-crown entities, including Tertiary Education Institutes (TEI) and TEI councils. Acknowledgement and expression of a commitment to honouring the responsibilities of Te Tiriti must be strengthened within the Strategy, but also within TEI investment plans.

Giving further expression to that commitment within the Strategy is about ensuring that existing Tiriti relationships that TEIs currently have with local hapū and iwi are maintained and advanced with opportunities for the creation of new Tiriti relationships with hapū and iwi in communities where TEIs are located are supported.

The current Strategy addresses Māori participation and achievement, and we can be proud of gains made in many areas. However, high levels of participation and achievement at pre-degree certificate level at polytechs and wānanga can mask the fact that much more needs to be done to ensure equity of access and increased participation and achievement in our universities and at post-graduate level. We propose that access once again be made a priority to ensure that Māori continue to achieve at all levels of tertiary education.

We also propose that the government’s numeric targets for recruiting and retaining tauira Māori be extended to numeric targets for kaimahi Māori to ensure an increase in Māori staffing levels. After all, who best to recruit Māori students than Māori staff going into secondary schools and communities? Who better to teach and lecture Māori than Māori? Who better to warmly greet our next Māori leaders, teachers and business people at reception, in the library, or to see them through the transition into post-graduate studies or into the workforce?

Opportunities for higher education need to be made available and inviting for everyone, whether that be in regional communities, at polytech or wānanga or at universities in larger centres.

Education can be the fence at the top of a hill. Investment in education and the opportunities that come from education - the access to acquiring knowledge, the furthering of education, getting skills which one applies at work, and getting qualifications that will enable us to earn decent wages and improve our lives, are invaluable and crucial for all New Zealanders.