Call for mainstream universities to deal with institutional racism

25 October 2018

Providing Kaupapa Māori support and delivering on Treaty obligations within the university sector is critical for Māori graduate student success.

Those are two key findings of the recently completed ‘Te Tātua o Kahukura’ National Research Project undertaken by Te Kotahi Research Institute.  The research funded jointly by Ako Aotearoa and Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga highlights that where Māori doctoral enrolments have increased exponentially over the past 15 years the university system has been slow to create adequate and appropriate support to ensure success.

Principal Investigator, Associate Professor Leonie Pihama states:

Māori doctoral scholars were very clear in their views that current mainstream graduate support falls short of providing for Māori students. There is a lack of Kaupapa Māori support systems, the decrease in Māori staff numbers has led to difficulties in getting appropriate supervision and that often Māori doctoral scholars find themselves in conflict with programmes and supervisors that lack knowledge of things Māori and that are not inclusive of Māori approaches.

Many participants noted that systemic issues such as institutional racism impacted significantly on their ability to be Māori in their studies, and as such there is increased pressure on Māori staff to provide additional support.  Māori doctoral scholars and Māori staff highly commended the support provided by the Māori and Indigenous National Doctoral progamme, Te Kupenga o MAI, which was initiated by Professor Graham Hingangaroa Smith in the late 1990s and which has been supported by Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga.

Dr Pihama says the project was focused on investigating pathways post-doctoral studies for Māori and Indigenous students however a high proportion of Māori scholars saw it as an opportunity to share their doctoral journey experiences."In terms of support it is clear that the MAI Programme has made significant impact. However, it was noted that Maori scholars are of the view that mainstream universities need to do more to actively resource Kaupapa Māori initiatives to support doctoral pathways.”.

The research also calls on the Tertiary sector to provide greater emphasis on supporting Māori graduates both during and on completion of their doctoral degrees.

There is a dire need for more academic capacity building to be provided in the Tertiary sector for Māori scholars and that mainstream universities provide more opportunities for career pathways for their doctoral graduates. This includes ensuring there are Māori staff in all faculties available to provide supervision and mentorship, and that Kaupapa Māori programmes are developed that provide culturally relevant and appropriate support both during the doctoral journey and beyond.

In September  this year Professor Jacinta Ruru from the University of Otago raised issues of falling Māori academic staff numbers and in 2016 the Tertiary Education Union provided evidence of white-streaming Māori roles within the sector. The report  Māori Scholars and the University (2015)  by  Dr Joanne Kidman and colleagues from Victoria University states,

Māori experience a form of academic socialization in terms of career trajectories, access to suitable academic mentors, engagement with disciplinary knowledge bases and promotion prospects that pose unique challenges and tensions which differ from the trajectories commonly experienced by Pākehā academics. (Kidman et al., 2015, p. 15).

Dr Pihama emphasises, “These are not new issues. We have seen a number of reports raising similar issues recently which shows that there are serious systemic issues, including institutional racism, within the sector that need to be addressed.” She notes that the report highlights that these issues can be addressed by implementing active implementation of Treaty of Waitangi strategies within the Tertiary sector which include meaningful relationships with Māori communities, increasing Māori academic staff numbers, affirming and supporting Māori and Indigenous approaches including te reo and Kaupapa Māori initiatives within the sector and dealing directly with issues of systemic and institutional racism.

Associate Professor Pihama and Associate Professor Jenny Lee-Morgan have presented the report as a part of a Te Kotahi Research Symposium, held in Wellington at Te Wharewaka o Pōneke this month.

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