You can’t be aspirational if you begin with a deficit approach.

TEU’s Te Pou Tuarā Lee Cooper reflects on the Budget and urges the government to rethink its approach to Māori education aspirations to the Kaupapa Māori approach taken for Whānau Ora.

We know that change begins with shifting our core values, the principles on which we will act such as the TEU whāinga in our Te Koeke Tiriti.

In this respect it is important to acknowledge that the starting point of the well-being budget provides strong kōrero that will shift thinking long-term if they are acted upon.

The wellbeing Budget talks about Article 3 of Te Tiriti, of the fact that we must “challenge the status quo”, and that the focus is on the “wellbeing of future generations” of Māori and Pacific peoples “to lift their own wellbeing. This includes the wellbeing of whānau, language, communities, economic and social wellbeing”.

But there doesn’t seem to be adequate focus on tertiary education and the contribution it makes to the well-being of all. Māori have always been passionate about education, about the transformational power of education on lives, on iwi, on nations. We need the Labour government to reflect this in the Budget foundations.

Education with regard to languages is recognised in new funding investment. I applaud the funding boost to revitalise and uphold the mana of our reo rangatira. But I have a challenge.

The funds are going to crown agencies (then some to iwi which is great) but at the same time some of our Māori departments at universities are barely surviving and at polytechnics many no longer teach our reo. We need the Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, to realise that without the tertiary educators the laudable aspirations for te reo Māori will never be met.

We also need our institutional leaders to recognise the same.

Perhaps a starting point is to recognise the importance of Māori leadership and Māori positions if we are to tackle inequities in tertiary education outcomes. The government does recognise the importance of provision for Māori by Māori in its investment in Whānau Ora – another $80 million into health-related kaupapa is ‘positive’. Let’s hope this Kaupapa Māori approach flows into the tertiary education sector soon.

We need education investment at all levels, including tertiary, if we want to stop putting money into ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. Think about what $98 million could provide if put into education by Māori for Māori, rather than Corrections.

There is some spend on education and employment that is worth noting – and that’s the $27.4 million over four years "to ensure Pacific students and their families have the skills, knowledge and equitable opportunities to pursue any education pathway.”

Overall the spend is not ‘aspirational’.

Investing $197 million that was unspent to the Reform of Vocational Education will not provide Māori with what they need from the tertiary education sector.

The well-being Budget’s tertiary education section didn’t have anything specific about Māori.

TEU research on the tertiary education sector shows that Māori students and staff are suffering from a decade of austerity budgets and moves which white-stream or get rid of Māori initiatives altogether.

My plea to the government – take a different approach in writing the new Tertiary Education Strategy that is genuinely founded in the well-being budget. Start with the strengths kaupapa Māori brings to tertiary education and build, build, build.