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Colonial Disparities in Higher Education: Explaining Racial Inequality for Māori Youth in Aotearoa New Zealand

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 September 2021

David Mayeda
University of Auckland, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand Email:
Alan France
University of Auckland, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand Email:
Tepora Pukepuke
University of Auckland, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand Email:
Lucy Cowie
University of Auckland, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand Email:
Marilyn Chetty
University of Auckland, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand Email:
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While recent research shows a gradual increase of young Māori in Higher Education it remains the case that inequality amongst the Indigenous population remains entrenched and institutionalised. This article explains how national governments in Aotearoa New Zealand have failed to address the colonial disparities and inequalities in the Higher Education system. In this process we will show, through the lens of historical privilege and institutional racism, how these processes continue to shape and frame both opportunities and experiences for Māori youth. The article will also highlight what strategies are needed if a more inclusive Higher Education system is to be developed that addresses the disparities that young Māori encounter.

© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press


Ehara taku toa, he takitahi, he toa takitini

My success should not be bestowed onto me alone, as it was not individual success but success of a collective.

The proverb presented above is a Māori whakatauki. Whakatauki are treasured sayings which draw on mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and collective experience to ‘demonstrate deeper parallels between historical times and the present in order to gain clarity about a significant time or situation’ (Barber-Smith, Reference Barber-Smith, Edwards and Hunia2007: 126). This particular whakatauki emphasises that in te ao Māori (the Māori world), one’s individual position is never an individual circumstance, but rather a ramification of collective efforts. As our article will explicate, this Māori worldview carries distinct connections to sociological assessments on educational policy in settler societies.

In the discussion that follows we will outline the historical, structural and cultural influences that have shaped the relationship young Māori have with the education system in Aotearoa New Zealand (henceforward Aotearoa). It will show through a discussion on Aotearoa’s colonial history how education for Māori has been framed and what impact it has on their ability to access and benefit from Higher Education. We will draw attention to the importance of understanding this process through the lens of Mātauranga Māori and also acknowledge that there is a history of resistance that has operated to improve Māori success in education. We conclude with a discussion on the importance of a government creating a policy framework that aims to decolonise Higher Education.

Within Aotearoa, Māori are tangata whenua (people of the land), or the country’s Indigenous inhabitants. Like Indigenous peoples globally, Māori have been forced to manage epistemological perspectives and cultural preservation within the confines of colonial imposition (Hokowhitu, Reference Hokowhitu2009) where presentations and understandings of Indigeneity materialise under evolving and contested conditions (Smith, Reference Smith2011). Historically within the context of education, Māori communities have persevered through imposed western systems that too often make facile attempts to incorporate Māori cultural frameworks, and at worst use explicit violence in attempts to eradicate Māori culture.

The importance of kaupapa Māori theory

Aotearoa is a settler society where British coloniality has functioned for roughly two centuries to diminish tikanga Māori (Māori customs and traditions). It has also imposed western theory that has bolstered efforts that marginalise indigeneity. While this may not be the intent of certain western theorists, it is important to acknowledge that western scholarship and research has contributed to and harmed Indigenous peoples and discredited Indigenous intellectual contributions (Said, Reference Said1979; Smith, Reference Smith2012b). It is therefore also important to incorporate and privilege Indigenous perspective in any theoretical analyses.

Before delving into a brief summary of kaupapa Māori theory, we do not claim expertise in this intellectual space. To begin with, while Tepora and Lucy are early career Māori scholars, and Marilyn is Fiji-Indian, senior colleagues, Alan and David are originally from England and the United States, respectively. Thus, as a scholarly team, although we are inspired by kaupapa Māori theory and our understanding of kaupapa Māori theory is on the rise, we have much to learn. According to Henry and Pene (Reference Henry and Pene2001: 235) ‘kaupapa Māori’ translates to ‘Māori way or agenda’, but as these scholars further explain, kaupapa Māori theory is much more complex than theory woven with Māori ways. It is a theory that ‘came out of a particular struggle for the legitimacy of Māori identity and the desire to operate as Māori within the education sector’ (Curtis, Reference Curtis2016: 399). Eketone (Reference Eketone2008) adds that kaupapa Māori theory is constructivist and steeped in māutauranga Māori. As such, kaupapa Māori theory is neither dependent on nor derived from western intellectuals.

Similar to other theoretical traditions, Māori scholars engage in debates over defining and shaping kaupapa Māori theory. We follow Mahuika’s lead which asserts that kaupapa Māori theory has clear anti-colonial objectives which ‘work both against and beyond the struggles and strife created as a consequence of colonisation’ (Reference Mahuika2008: 11). Although kaupapa Māori theory has similarities with critical theory and the Frankfurt School that confronts and contests dominant institutions, ‘Kaupapa Māori is grounded in māutauranga Māori as it derives from te reo [the language] and tikanga Māori’ (Pihama, Reference Pihama2010: 10). To this end, Māori scholars highlight the importance of kaupapa Māori theory being transformative and action-based (Smith, Reference Smith2012a), stimulating decolonial, emancipatory practices where Māori define their approaches to tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) (Pihama et al., Reference Pihama, Cram and Walker2002). Finally, scholars note that kaupapa Māori theory is owned and controlled by Māori (Jones, Reference Jones2012). As such, those of us who are not Māori are careful to reflect on our settler privilege so we do not unintentionally misuse the theory or appropriate it for personal benefit.

The historical context: British imposition and Māori resistance

Any discussion on policy in Aotearoa must begin with Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi), ‘…a treaty between the heads of two sovereign nations, Māori Rangatira (leaders) and the British crown’ (Mutu, Reference Mutu2018: 209), which is frequently considered the country’s founding document. Written in both te reo Māori (Te Tiriti) and English (The Treaty), the document included three articles which passed sovereignty from Māori to the British Crown. However, the Māori version placed significant protections on Māori sovereignty, while The Treaty (English version) empowered the British to develop colonial systems that stripped Māori of their land and institutional control (Kingi, Reference Kingi2007). Amongst the three articles in Te Tiriti, the second and third are most relevant to educational policy. According to Ka’ai-Mahuta, Article Two guarantees that the Crown will protect Māori cultural and property rights, including ‘Māori full Chieftainship over their knowledge including te reo Māori’ (Reference Ka’ai-Mahuta2011: 198). Article Three further ensures that Māori ‘will have the same rights and privileges of her British subjects’ (Ibid.). Unfortunately, as we will show, British interpretations of The Treaty did little to protect Māori sovereignty in education or many other institutional spheres.

With a few exceptions, British education served as an institution that forced Māori assimilation into western cultural norms and tracked Māori into unskilled manual or domestic labour (Theodore et al., Reference Theodore, Tustin, Kiro, Gollop, Taumoepeau, Taylor, Chee, Hunter and Poulton2016). This was perhaps best exemplified through the 1867 Native Schools Act that saw state-run schools established in Māori communities where English pervaded as the dominant language. This was something many Māori whānau (families) conceded to initially, although having just suffered through the New Zealand Land Wars, cultural assimilation was rationalised by many as the most practical pathway to survival (Timutimu et al., Reference Timutimu, Simon and Matthews1998; Tocker, Reference Tocker2017).

Native Schools functioned under the racist premise that Māori were biologically inferior to the British and that movement towards a bi-cultural society could best be achieved through Māori ‘civilization’ (Russell, Reference Russell2001). To this end, the Native Schools system functioned similarly to Eurocentric schools in other settler societies, acting as the colonial medium that positioned Māori at the lower end of a racialised hierarchy (Fletcher, Reference Fletcher1989; Adams, Reference Adams1995; Grinde, Reference Grinde2004). However, over approximately a hundred year period, Māori whānau came to view Native Schools in a variety of ways. For example, in some rural communities they took advantage of the educational structure so that they became ‘at one and the same time an instrument of colonial domination and site of cultural and linguistic continuity’ (Stephenson, Reference Stephenson2006: 320). This provided Māori with elements of educational control where te reo Māori and māutauranga Māori were actually sustained. Māori whānau, in other words, were sometimes able to find ‘cracks’ in the British system and subvert their colonial intentions, turning Native Schools into institutions that protected aspects of tikanga Māori.

As late as 1969, Native Schools were formally disestablished and their control transferred to the state’s Education Board. The disestablishment of Native Schools was largely a ramification of structural changes in the country’s demographics. In the post-WWII period, young Māori were moving in large numbers from rural communities to urban centres, making it difficult for the state to manage the diverse education systems that had been created. Prior to WWII, under 10 per cent of all Māori lived in urban centres, but by 1981, 57 per cent of all Māori lived in urban centres and an additional 22 per cent in smaller urban centres (Benton, Reference Benton1989: 71). However, the closure of Native Schools and development of a singular education system saw Māori being forced into a new, more contemporary form of educational coloniality that would neglect any forms of tikanga Māori (Stephenson, Reference Stephenson2006).

By the late 1970s, Māori communities across Aotearoa were also noticing that te reo Māori was spoken less frequently, especially by younger Māori. Loss of te reo was traced to a number of factors: Native Schools had banned its use; some Māori whānau wanted to encourage English in their children and, as noted above, geographic shifts took place that saw Māori move away from their place of birth, their iwi (local tribe) and their wider whānau. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Māori started to initiate actions to protect te reo by establishing kōhanga reo. These were pre-schools that immersed students in te reo Māori. Approximately, 500 of these community centres were established by 1988 (Benton, Reference Benton1989).

Māori whānau also realised that following pre-school, there were no educational institutions that could provide a Māori-immersed experience for their children as they aged into primary school. At best, tokenistic attempts were made in mainstream education to infuse tikanga and te reo Māori. As the state essentially advocated for mono-cultural education (Appleby, Reference Appleby2002), Māori sparked a ‘Campaign of Action’ in 1987, pushing to establish kura kaupapa Māori, schools utilising an entirely Māori education for primary school children. After years of battle with The Ministry of Education and exhausting community activism on the part of Māori whānau, legislation was passed formally to support kura kaupapa Māori (Tocker, Reference Tocker2015).

Outcomes of kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori have done more than perpetuate te reo Māori. These educational institutions have also yielded high graduation rates, sent large proportions of graduates to higher education institutions and fostered responsible citizenship in students (Tocker, Reference Tocker2007). Clearly, Māori have fought strenuously to preserve their culture and worked creatively within the Eurocentric educational systems that were designed originally as instruments of assimilation. In spite of these accomplishments, Māori continue to face educational disparity at the primary and secondary levels and in turn, show under-representation in higher education.

The structural context: intersections of race and class discrimination

While the above section does not focus explicitly on higher education, it presents the colonial context through which modern education developed in Aotearoa. As we know, what happens prior to the post-16 experience of education can and does have a strong influence on the educational trajectories a young person takes (France et al., Reference France, Roberts and Wood2018). But we also need to recognise the way that the political economy of Aotearoa contributes to educational disparities, by showing how the racialised, and classed nature of the distribution of resources over the centuries has also impacted on which groups have easier, or more obstructed access to higher education.

Aotearoa is no exception as a country whose colonial history has ravaged Indigenous communities. Historically, Māori land was stolen through explicit violence, as well as through manipulative credit schemes and other exchange practices laced with alcohol (McDowell, Reference McDowell2015), and colonial practices justified by overt racist portrayals of Māori inferiority (Rangiwai, Reference Rangiwai2011). According to Kingi, Māori land dispossession was so extensive that today Māori protect only 5.6 per cent of Aotearoa’s 26.9 million hectares (Reference Kingi2008: 132). And although a small proportion of Māori, who have largely bought into colonial enterprises, have reached greater positions of wealth, Māori in contemporary Aotearoa live disproportionately with higher economic and social deprivation (Poata-Smith, Reference Poata-Smith and Rashbrooke2013).

With respect to educational policy, the country’s Ministry of Education recognises economic disparity and has established a ‘decile system’ for its primary and secondary education sectors. A basic description of the system reads as follows: ‘We use deciles to target funding, for state and state-integrated schools, to help them overcome any barriers to learning that students from lower socio-economic communities might face. The lower the school’s decile, the more funding it receives’ (Ministry of Education, 2020). The decile rating operates along a continuum from 1 to 10, with decile 1 schools having the greatest proportion of students from the lowest socio-economic brackets, and the reverse for decile 10 schools.

Though lower decile schools receive greater governmental funding commensurate with their decile level, higher decile schools end up much more well-resourced due to hefty voluntary donations by wealthy families and high fees acquired from international students (Fyers and Kenny, Reference Fyers and Kenny2016). Likewise, students attending higher decile schools (whose families hold much more economic privilege) carry much more in the way of traditional western cultural capital that yields benefits in the dominant education system (Bourdieu, Reference Bourdieu and Richardson1986). More specifically, higher decile schools in Aotearoa function much like institutions modelled after British elite schools (Shain, Reference Shain, Matthewman, Curtis and Mayeda2021), sending students on international trips and providing exorbitant facilities for extra-curricular activities (Johnston, Reference Johnston2015a).

Māori students, unsurprisingly, are over-represented in lower decile schools, in both urban and rural communities. For instance, Māori represent about 13 per cent of Aotearoa’s largest city, Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland Council, 2020). However, Māori students comprise only 6 per cent of all students attending decile 10 schools, but 29 per cent attending decile 1 schools (of note, students from other Pacific backgrounds – Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island, Fijian, Niuean – are also disproportionately represented in lower decile schools; Johnston, Reference Johnston2015b). Concerns related to these racialised disparities in education are multiple.

To begin with, proportionally far more students from higher decile schools achieve standardised test scores qualifying them for university entrance (Johnston, Reference Johnston2015a). Additionally, racialised tracking has been identified as a systemic problem where it is more common for lower decile high schools with large proportions of Māori and Pacific students to have courses that prepare them for careers in hospitality and other forms of less-skilled labour (Johnston, Reference Johnston2016a, Reference Johnston2016b), a phenomenon present in Aotearoa’s secondary schools for generations (Hokowhitu, Reference Hokowhitu2004) and which has been identified with Polynesian students in other Pacific regions (Mayeda et al., Reference Mayeda, Chesney-Lind and Koo2001). Finally, the pathway to higher education is further engineered through scholarship inequities that perpetuate disparity, as a majority of university scholarships are awarded to high school student leavers who attended high decile schools (Johnston, Reference Johnston2018a).

Outcomes of these imbalances are predictable and very troubling. Research from 2018 shows that across six major universities in Aotearoa, only a very small portion of students from lower decile schools matriculate into select higher education pathways.

Data sourced from six universities shows while 60 per cent of the almost 16,000 students accepted into professional law, medicine and engineering in the past five years came from the richest third of homes, just 6 per cent came from the poorest third. If you only include decile one schools – the most disadvantaged – that figure drops to just 1 per cent (Johnston Reference Johnston2018b).

Just as in earlier times, however, Māori communities have pushed back against neocolonial disparities in secondary education. Globally, empirical research has demonstrated positive correlations between minority students’ ethnic identities and educational success; in other words, as ethnic minority youth hold more positive perceptions of their ethnicity and what it means to them, they are more likely to do well in school and aspire towards higher educational achievement (Kerpelman et al., Reference Kerpelman, Eryigit and Stephens2007; Wakefield and Hudley, Reference Wakefield and Hudley2007; Adelabu, Reference Adelabu2008). Very little research exploring connections between ethnic identity and educational success has been conducted in Aotearoa. However, Webber’s study with 113 Māori students, ages thirteen to fourteen, found that those students who articulated pride in their ethnic heritage ‘saw themselves as having an academic identity; that is, they wanted to do well at school and saw themselves as smart’ (Reference Webber2012: 23). Webber’s research further highlights that along with taking pride in elements of tikanga Māori, these students were conscious of the racial discrimination Māori faced (e.g. being portrayed as intellectually inferior, violent, criminogenic), but that they had forged resilient identities, a sense of self-efficacy, and acknowledged their whānau support systems, a finding which resonates with the whakatauki presented at the beginning of this article.

Still, most schools, following the 1970s, did not embed themselves with te reo and tikanga Māori, as was done in kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa. To this end, during the 1990s, some mainstream secondary schools began drawing on tikanga Māori to create culturally enriched teaching environments. Informed by Māori kaumātua (male and female Māori elders), these institutions began critiquing any deficit-laden perspectives they had on Māori students while also integrating key Māori cultural concepts into their teaching, placing greater emphases on values such as whanaungatanga (relationships), rangatiratanga (self-determination), and manaakitanga (ethos of care) (Macfarlane et al., Reference Macfarlane, Glynn, Cavanagh and Bateman2007). Funded by the Ministry of Education in 2001 and dubbed Te Kotahitanga, a formalised effort sought to ‘improve the educational achievement of Māori students in public/mainstream secondary school classrooms’ (Bishop and Berryman, Reference Bishop and Berryman2010). By doing so, educators hoped they would better engage Māori students and their whānau. Evaluation data of the programme indicate a strong relationship between teachers who effectively implement Te Kotahitanga principles and Māori educational success (Bishop et al., Reference Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh and Teddy2009), once more showcasing how Māori have driven educational policy with a decolonial tenor.

The cultural context: coloniality in Higher Education

Turning to the university system, the Ministry of Education (2012) reports improving numbers of Māori students participating in higher education. Unfortunately, under-representation persists.

In 2011, there were over 17,000 Māori and over 9,000 Pacific students enrolled in baccalaureate degree programmes, although together they made up only 14 per cent of the baccalaureate and less than 2 per cent of the doctorate enrolments in a country in which together they comprise over 21 per cent of the population (McKinley and Madjar, Reference McKinley, Madjar, Cram, Phillips, Sauni and Taugalu2014: 250).

An additional concern accompanies under-representation in higher education. It is a fact that Māori students who make it to the university level are less likely than students from European backgrounds to graduate with degrees in hand (Wehipeihana et al., Reference Wehipeihana, Kennedy, Pipi, Paipa, Cram, Phillips, Sauni and Taugalu2014). Difficult transitions from high school into the university environment play a large role in Māori attrition rates.

A major factor influencing Indigenous students’ transition is whether or not they are able to see themselves as part of the university structure. Often times this materialises through Indigenous students’ ability, or inability, to locate university role models who resemble them (Wilson et al., Reference Wilson, McKinney and Rapata-Hanning2011; Cameron and Robinson, Reference Cameron and Robinson2013; Carter et al., Reference Carter, Hollinsworth, Raciti and Gilbey2018). Curtis and colleagues (Reference Curtis, Wikaire, Kool, Honey, Kelly, Poole, Barrow, Airini, Ewen and Reid2015), for example, in their research in Aotearoa found that having support services embedded with tikanga Māori and Māori role models was a significant factor in helping Māori students succeed in undergraduate health programmes. But role models remain marginal. In recent research examining data collected from 2012–2017 it was found that 56 per cent to 83 per cent of all academic staff across universities in Aotearoa were of European backgrounds. In contrast, ‘the percentage of Māori academic staff remained relatively consistent between the same period, varying between 4.2 per cent and 5.1 per cent’ (McAllister et al., Reference McAllister, Kidman, Rowley and Theodore2019: 239). Naepi and colleagues’ (Reference Naepi, McAllister, Thomsen, Leenen-Young, Walker, McAllister, Theodore, Kidman and Suaalii2019) work exposes the pakaru (broken) university systems in Aotearoa that impede Māori scholars from securing permanent academic positions. For example, they are having to perform unrecognised, excess service work, being placed into precarious, non-permanent academic positions; and seeing the de-establishment of formal employment pathways for Indigenous academics. As a result, these factors maintain a disproportionately small number of Māori role models for Māori students.

Adding to the lack of role models are trends in Eurocentric university curricula that fail to reflect issues particularly relevant for Māori students or Māori ways of learning. What we have seen, especially in higher education is a dominance of ‘northern theory’ and ‘westernised’ knowledge systems that construct and reflect the world in a particular way. As a result Māori world views are marginalised and seen as inferior. Barber and Naepi (Reference Barber and Naepi2020), for example, note that even in critical academic disciplines like sociology, only a small fraction of university courses even mention ‘Māori’ or ‘Pacific’ in course descriptions. This highlights the need for curricula to be made more relevant for Māori students. Gorinski and Abernethy’s qualitative research (Gorinski and Abernethy, Reference Gorinski, Abernethy, Townsend and Bates2007) yielded feedback from Māori students who frequently made comments on Eurocentric curricula, for instance one participant stating, ‘I have found very little in the way of expression of Māori culture. There was no cultural content [Māori]…all western and American case studies’ (2007: 236).

Accompanying these forms of structural colonialism are patterns of inter-personal colonialism. Indigenous students continually encounter so-called ‘subtle’ racism, or everyday racism (Essed, Reference Essed1991) that exists in a range of settler contexts. Bailey’s (Reference Bailey2016) research with Indigenous and non-Indigenous university students in Canada, for example, found that on-campus interpersonal racism materialised in classrooms (including by lecturing staff) and social environments (e.g. friendship networks), both of which contributed to Indigenous students’ overall academic isolation. Similar research findings with Indigenous university students was identified in Australia (Barney, Reference Barney2013) and the United States (Brayboy, Reference Brayboy2004) Footnote 1 . In Aotearoa, Māori and Pacific students have described specific ways everyday racism materialises in university settings, speaking to the common surprise expressed by European peers at Māori and Pacific academic success. This has brought with it a backlash to equity programmes supporting Māori and Pacific admission, and the propensity for university pedagogy to be seen, by Māori youth as ‘white dominated…it’s white mainstream’ (as articulated by a Māori interviewee) (Mayeda et al., Reference Mayeda, ‘Ofamo‘oni, Dutton, Keil and Lauaki-Vea2014b: 15).

Finally, our own research reveals the substantial challenges that Māori and Pacific students face when transitioning into university. While most students, irrespective of their ethnic background, face transitional difficulties at university, Māori and Pacific students had difficulty managing a range of family and economic obligations which forced them to deprioritise university studies (France et al., Reference France, Pukepuke, Cowie, Mayeda and Chetty2019). In contrast, European and Asian students were more likely to rely on family connections that garnered them part-time work and internships which then bolstered their career trajectories and future work opportunities. These more economically privileged students also had more time (and money) to engage in extracurricular activities that made them feel connected to the university (Mayeda et al., Reference Mayeda, Pukepuke, France, Cowie and Chetty2020).

In spite of these colonial blockades and commensurate Māori attrition rates, many Māori university students break the stereotype by tapping into a ‘Māori cultural capital,’ which includes holding resistant attitudes toward colonialism, reciprocal connections to the land, and supportive connections with whānau past, present and future (Wilkie, Reference Wilkie, Cram, Phillips, Sauni and Taugalu2014). In fact, a substantial body of research with Māori students has showcased just this – Māori students locating atypical indigenised educational counter-spaces where they could connect with one another to enhance cultural pride, relying on whānau for motivation and support, acting as role models for younger whānau, and enhancing their education in order to rectify problems in their communities caused by colonisation (Curtis et al., Reference Curtis and Townsend2012; Mayeda et al., Reference Mayeda, Keil, Dutton and ‘Ofamo‘oni2014a; Theodore et al., Reference Theodore, Gollop, Tustin, Taylor, Kiro, Taumoepeau, Kokaua, Hunter and Poulton2017).

Towards an indigenised policy in Higher Education

To conclude, it is important to consider what an indigenised policy and practice should look like in higher education. As noted, the under-representation and poor graduation rates of Indigenous students in higher education are not phenomena unique to Aotearoa. This is a global colonial pattern, demonstrated by other articles in this special issue, that requires radical policy changes in how higher education is delivered if Indigenous students are to succeed in their own nations at levels commensurate with their settler peers. Of course Māori and other Indigenous peoples have been resisting coloniality for centuries. Still, decolonising higher education will require policy-makers to enact deep integration of Indigenous mores.

Gaudry and Lorenz (Reference Gaudry and Lorenz2018) suggest that a truly decolonised university system calls for policy changes across three levels: first, an increased hiring of Indigenous staff creating a greater ‘Indigenous inclusion’ that provides good role models and mentors; secondly, the centralising of Indigenous knowledges in curricula and relinquishing decision-making to Indigenous leadership and ‘Reconciliation indigenisation’; finally and most importantly, a dismantling of western university structures such that Indigenous educational practices can flourish without question creating a ‘Decolonial indigenisation.’ At this final level, learning practices challenge colonial wrongdoings, advocate for land protection, and rectify the havocs of colonialism (de Oliveira Andreotti et al., Reference de Oliveira Andreotti, Stein, Ahenakew and Hunt2015).

A decolonised academy here moves beyond its traditional walls by implementing Treaty obligations and supporting Indigenous nation building development efforts (Smith and Smith, Reference Smith, Smith, McKinley and Smith2018), supported by non-Indigenous staff who learn Indigenous knowledge and support a redistribution of power and privilege (Curtis et al., Reference Curtis, Jones, Tipene-Leach, Walker, Loring, Paine and Reid2019). Such policy efforts are essential for Māori students fully to access a Māori cultural capital and realise their success in higher education as part of a larger Indigenous collective.

One example of such an approach can be found in the indigenous Doctoral support programme – MAI Te Kupenga Programme (Pihama et al., Reference Pihama, Lee-Morgan, Smith, Tiakiwai and Seed-Pihama2019). This became a national programme established by Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga, the National Māori Centre of Research Excellence, in 2002. It is a programme designed and managed by Māori for Māori doctoral students. Over its life it has successfully increased the number of Māori Doctoral students both enrolling and completing their PhDs (ibid.). It is built around the principles and practices of kaupapa Māori and builds a decolonised practice that supports and guides Māori graduates. It rejects Pākehā knowledge or ‘white streaming’ that privileges and normalises western knowledges and approaches. It embeds practice in giving graduates access to Māori and Indigenous scholars as supervisors, mentors and as role models. It also:

… enables Kaupapa Māori and Indigenous cultural approaches; it affirms and enhances identity; it provides safe space for Māori and Indigenous scholars to speak to their research in line with their positioning without having to argue for or defend the cultural frameworks, theories and methodologies they are applying in their work; and is a place where MAI scholars can safely raise issues about the structural and institutional racism that many are faced with and develop strategies that ensure their safety when those issues arise (Pihama et al., Reference Pihama, Lee-Morgan, Smith, Tiakiwai and Seed-Pihama2019: 58).

Such a programme is a good example of how a decolonised approach can both work and be successful.


1 And is referenced in the SPA report which preceded this special issue.


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