Māori academics 'isolated' and lacking in numbers

6:21 pm on 12 September 2018

Māori academics are few and far between with the latest figures showing Māori make up less than 5 percent of all university academics in New Zealand.

Indigenous studies expert, Dr Joanna Kidman, from Victoria University.

Indigenous studies expert Dr Joanna Kidman says universities can be isolating places for Maori academics. Photo: Te Aniwa Hurihanganui / RNZ

The latest figures from the Ministry of Education show there were 495 Māori academics compared with more than 10,000 non-Māori last year.

Indigenous studies expert, Dr Joanna Kidman, from Victoria University, said for Māori academics, universities could be very isolating places.

"Often when academics are wanting to raise issues about Māori concerns or bringing mātauranga Māori into courses at the universities, sometimes we're kind of met with blank stares."

She said racism was a common experience too.

"That's not necessarily people coming and saying really terrible racist things to them, although that does happen.

"More often the case was that it was really difficult to get Māori concerns onto the agenda, and in terms of the promotion of Māori academics, these things were a lot more difficult."

These findings are backed up by a study she helped worked on in 2016 where 43 Māori and Pacific academics shared their experiences working at universities in New Zealand.

Dr Alayne Mikahere Hall, from the Auckland University of Technology, said she was - along with other Māori colleagues - often requested to take up additional work, whereas other academics were treated differently.

"We get requests to provide advice or consultation about research they're doing.

"Or we might get a random phone call saying, can you please come in?

"Or would you mind doing a one-off lecture for us? And sometimes we're not that familiar with the topic that they're teaching."

That expectation disregarded the workloads Māori academics already had, she said.

"The difficulty in being asked and called on to be the Māori voice on everything, it's problematic because it's an impossible expectation."

"It's not an expectation that other academics are perhaps required to do. In fact it's unlikely, and that's what it is. It's additional work, and I think sometimes people forget that we have our own work loads."

Dr Vini Olsen-Reeder, te reo Māori lecturer at Victoria University.

Dr Vini Olsen-Reeder, te reo Māori lecturer at Victoria University. Photo: Te Aniwa Hurihanganui / RNZ

Māori academics at Victoria University of Wellington make up just 4.6 percent, or 54 Māori academics out of 1000 academic staff.

Māori staff make up 5.4 percent at Massey University, about 5.8 percent at the University of Otago, and about 10 percent at Waikato University.

Dr Vini Olsen-Reeder, te reo Māori lecturer at Victoria University, said with so few Māori academics the university could struggle to teach quality mātauranga Māori or Maori knowledge to its students.

"There's such a push to increase more mātauranga Māori into lecture content that our Māori students, who might be doing a science degree or something like that, are being taught Māori content not necessarily by a Māori lecturer and not necessarily correctly," he said.

Lack of visibility of Māori academics at the university could mean Māori students did not see a pathway to academia, he said.

"We don't have enough of a face at the university because we are so few and spread out.

"We don't have a face to be able to say to our students, 'look at what we're doing, we're really proud of what we do, we're really proud that we have achieved different stages of higher education, which might be masters or PhD, this is a career pathway for you'.

"And that's really, really sad," he said.

Dr Kidman said with so few Māori academics, questions must be asked.

"Whose knowledge is being taught? Whose knowledge is being validated and whose knowledge is counted as important? I think there's room for improvement."

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