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Manaaki Tauira In Te Ao Marama

Veronica M H Tawhai



YOU KNOW, one of the many talents Māori seem endowed with is that we are excellent storytellers. And since we are all tino expert professors, young, yet super knowledgeable about our own experience, the fact I am alive qualifies me to share my experience with you. And so, as a tertiary student, indigenous sister and desperately aspiring world transformer, this is my story.
Te Mana Ākonga, who I work for, is the National Māori Tertiary Students Association. Begun in the 1970s, with a current membership just under 30,000, our purpose is to represent the interests of Māori students in tertiary education, with the hope of helping transform the sector to one where Māori potential may flourish. We are grounded in rangatiratanga – the assertion of Māori self-determination over our development. For us at Te Mana Akonga we like to say it is Māori right to engage in tertiary education in a way in which we, ourselves, can then determine our destiny.
Just like many of you no doubt, I used to have a major problem with the fact that I was going to a ‘mainstream’ institution to learn about myself (language, cultural protocols etc). But my elders tell me that it is what we have done to survive. After our systems of knowledge were outlawed in the suppression of our tohunga/teachers, after the suppression of our language, after our families were pushed away from their traditional homelands into cities looking for work, and then once they were deliberately placed by government away from each other to prevent communities of knowledge continuing, going through the Western system is what we have done to survive. So the questions posed by the Te Ao Marama issue include: how is it going? How does the current policy setting sit with MĀORI NEEDS AND ASPIRATIONS? What is the Māori student experience? Now, I only got so much space, but this is what we are feeling…
I used to have a major problem with the fact that I was going to a ‘mainstream’ institution to learn about myself (language, cultural protocols etc)
Firstly, the Tertiary Education Strategy (TES) is an outline of how tertiary education is going to help realise this nation’s development goals. In recognition of Māori as tangata whenua, this is meant to include Māori development priorities. Strategy Two of the TES, Te Rautaki Mātauranga Māori, looks in particular at how tertiary education can contribute to that. It speaks of tertiary education leadership that is accountable to Māori communities; strong Māori staff profiles to ensure Māori are in places of authority and decision making; quality programmes that recognise Te Ao Māori, including research; options for Kaupapa Māori tertiary education; greater participation by Māori across a wider range and at higher level qualifications; and plans for collaborations to occur between providers and iwi to ensure the expectations of iwi are being met. But wait, there’s more! A new Māori Potential Framework has been developed by our Ministry for Māori Development, Te Puni Kokiri, focusing on three new areas for strategic investment: Matauranga, the building of knowledge and skills; Whakamana, strengthening of leadership and decision-making; and Rawa, the development and use of resources.
Sounds fabulous huh! From this view, our system look great – there is a plan for the development of the systems to grow and be responsive to Māori needs and aspirations. And you know what else? To add to these fabulous policies, the government has some fantastic statistics on hand to tell you that Māori are doing great! That we are participating in tertiary education in higher levels than any other ethnic group; that Māori unemployment is at an all time low; that we are experiencing economic transformation and due to our cultural renaissance and Treaty claims are venturing out as citizens of the world, being all we can be…
And guess what else? Yep, we Māori students are raining on the parade. Sorry to kill the party people, but the actual experience of being a Māori student, tells a different story… Ministry of Education statistics show that Māori graduating with certificates and diplomas simply don’t earn the same as non-Māori with the same qualifications. So yeah, seeing that 85% of all Māori students study at certificate or diploma level, its a major concern. Be this because of continued racism in the labour market, whatever, that dream of economic transformation seems a bit further away then what’s being made out. But there is hope at hand. What we know is that at the degree level this income disparity disappears. The obvious answer is that we need a drastic increase in the number of Māori going from certificates and diplomas into degrees, right? Māori students are there in the system, they just need to be supported to the staircase up, up and away into equivalent earning power. And as the TES suggests, this is something the government hugely agrees on with us. Right? But actions speak louder than words. Despite the clear answer being the support of Māori student from certificate and diploma level courses into higher level degrees, the past year is a great example of the gap between high level policy and what actually happens on the ground.
In June 2005, the Māori specific component, and the component for certificates and diplomas of the Special Supplementary Grant was cut. The grant was funding to institutions to develop programmes to enhance the achievement of Māori students – peer mentor programmes etc. – many of which focused on retaining Māori students into degree programmes. So 85% of all Māori do not receive this support.
What we were soon to learn was the cutting of SSG Māori was part of an overall purge of Māori targeted funding, following a wave of anti-Māori sentiment in the run up to the 2005 election. Following Brash’s Orewa speech on Nationhood at the beginning of 2004, a review concluded seven months later saw a cut of over $130 million dollars worth of Māori targeted funding in health and education. The pledge was that this was to be replaced by needs based funding – and just to note here, not only is this needs rhetoric a form of selective amnesia in terms of the history of colonisation that systematically placed Māori into a position of ‘need’, we are yet to see any of that $130 million accounted for in construction of needs based initiatives.
In July 2005, a review was launched into the quality and relevance of certificates and diplomas. Without a word of a lie, one of our traditional knowledge programmes, which utilised the traditional transmission system of song and chants that tell our histories, genealogies, sacred traditional knowledge, was labelled a “karaoke sing along”. By whom do you ask? Without a word of a lie, the then Minister of Tertiary Education.
The economic effects of colonisation mean that Māori students have less money, less assets and less savings, and so do our families
In September 2005, the unprecedented popularity of wānanga in giving learners failed by the secondary school system a shot at transforming their lives and the lives of their families, which saw incredible growth over relatively short period of time, lead to a review. Whatever details there were, the timing couldn’t have been worse: the race based funding cuts, review of the wānanga while reviewing the quality and relevance of certificates became one thing in the public eye – the cutting of low quality, irrelevant Māori programmes.
So as you can imagine, earlier this year when Michael Cullen, as the new Minister of Tertiary Education, announced that all institutes, the entire sector, is now to be funded according to this quality and relevance, we were fairly concerned.
And lastly, the Budget 2006: Manaaki Tauira, a needs based grant for Māori earning under a certain amount of income, who are not receiving any other scholarships, or any other assistance, received yearly by the 9,000 Maori students, was abolished. No warning, just one sentence on page 400, of a 700 page Budget report. Quite frankly, Māori students were devastated. And still are – after a year of attacking what we study, where we study, and support funding to our institutions, never did we think they would attack the funding that goes to us! The students!
Because, when it comes to Māori in tertiary education the facts are facts. The economic effects of colonisation mean that Māori students have less money, less assets and less savings, and so do our families. Māori therefore need to borrow more to fund our study, and this means we have amassed a collective loan debt hitting $1.5 billion. To put this figure into context, it is more than the fiscal cap on Treaty of Waitangi claims that are meant to settle a century and half of Crown injustice.
And initiatives like the Manaaki Tauira grants made a difference, for many of our students, as to whether or not they would study at all. Without saying, the past year has left us distraught as to our future. Economic transformation, let alone the wider (socio-political) developments we envisage, may as well be a millions stars away when our resources and our strongholds are continually and systematically removed. So the conclusion about the current context? We have excellent and sound policy frameworks that nurture Māori development through tertiary education, none of which are being followed through in terms of getting Māori to the higher degree levels that enable us to do so. The policies we have are full of promise; the problem is the government following through with actions that totally contradict these statements.
The policies we have are full of promise; the problem is the government following through with actions that totally contradict these statements
So what do we do? How has Te Mana Ākonga responded? One of our tohunga, Rose Pere, talks about upholding her wellbeing, her own sacredness and place within the genealogy of the Creation that leads us into today. What our worldview tells us, is that after aeons of Nothing, which developed into aeons of Night, the gods discussed separating Father Sky and Mother Earth, and through the courageous feat of Tane, let in Te Ao Marama, the World of Light, the World of Knowing, the World of Comprehended Creation. Within this world, Tane then fashioned humankind from earth, breathing life into the physical body. He then brought about our full consciousness to the world by fearing the dangers to climb to the heavens to retrieve the Kete o Te Wānanga (Baskets of Knowledge). So Māori worldviews of the Creation and upholding our wellbeing lies at the heart of Māori endeavour for knowledge.
The many stories of our ancestor Maui is the example of how humankind can use this knowledge to intervene within the world to change it: lengthening of the day, securing access to fire, experimenting with the metaphysical… Knowledge is certainly what constructs our frame of reference within the world, and shapes our choices on how we be and act. Māori students, due to the social, economic and political contexts we find ourselves in as a result of oppression, often find ourselves on a mission. Aspiring world transformers you might say. So stifling our ability to get to the higher levels of education, by withdrawing support such as Manaaki Tauira, is potentially suppressing the ability for radicaltransformative action.
We need to look at the capacity of the current system, its restrictions, its potential to fulfil our needs and aspirations, in the light of our ability to be within the world, and to engage within it, to change and grow it as we see fit
So being all we can be within this World of Light? This is the framework Te Mana Akonga adopts in assessing our wellbeing – and assessing moves such as the cutting of Manaaki Tauira. We need to look at the capacity of the current system, its restrictions, its potential to fulfil our needs and aspirations, in the light of our ability to be within the world, and to engage within it, to change and grow it as we see fit. I believe there is potential in this system. I hear stories from my fathers generation who were the first to enter ‘mainstream’ tertiary education, become masters of it, and then forge a place for Māori within it. At his institution he saw the advent of Māori papers, then the separation of Māori studies away from Anthropology to become its own school of learning – considered ‘radical’ in that time. Now we have the establishment of wānanga, and Māori research arms in institutions like our universities, focusing on Māori knowledge within the world, and knowledge exchange with others across the globe. What next? You tell me? What I can tell you is Manaaki Tauira has been a key initiative supporting this type of knowledge exploration and growth by getting our people there. We cannot stop in our efforts to ensure its continuance. Our wellbeing demands it. These types of initiatives are essential if tertiary education is to be utilised as a means of knowledge transmission and generation, to fulfil its promise in propelling Māori advancement into the future, and imagining the possibilities of a world in our grasp.