A new study has revealed a national call for te ao Māori perspectives and mātauranga to be recognised in tertiary education.
New Zealand's largest tertiary education provider Te Pūkenga has published an insights report focusing on factors that prevent and enable success in vocational learning for Māori.
The study consisted of focus groups from Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, New Plymouth, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Timaru, West Coast, Otago and Southland.
About 45 sessions were held across Aotearoa and included campus-based learners, online, work-based learners, and the staff who support them. Some included community and prospective learners in high school or community.
Its aim was to identify setbacks for those who are likely to be disadvantaged in a learning space, particularly Māori, Pasifika and people with disabilities.
It found not enough Māori and Pacific staff were in influential roles, which is now critical more than ever, with growing numbers of learners who have strong cultural identities.
Leaders in influential roles who reflect their students are said to create a space that enables a sense of belonging. Some participants said the current system has made them feel their voices are inhibited and they often leave as a result.
A lack of Māori and Pacific leaders has also resulted in cultural practices not being authentic for students.
The colonised tertiary learning experience may be a barrier to their success, the report found.
The study found that working with Māori could be the solution and that the system needs to prioritise Māori learners.
This would include a culturally safe space that is supported by staff they can relate to, especially for tertiary students from a kura kaupapa background.
The study also showed a desire for more holistic environments that were physically, culturally, emotionally and spiritually safe and included the wellbeing of whānau. These are generally standard values for Māori who find success when applying them.
Groups said they want their circumstances understood, for their strengths to be seen, and a trainer/tutor who believes they can be successful.
This could break down barriers, reduces stress and lead to engaged learning and motivation to continue.
"All learners have told us that the pathway into learning was an anxious time," deputy chief executive learner journey and experience Tania Winslade said.
"We have an opportunity to rebalance the scales and ensure more equitable outcomes in the vocational education sector for Māori learners, employers, whānau, iwi, hapū and communities.
"Understanding how we enable success for Māori, as defined by them, is key to making it a reality."
Removing the barrier of financial stress could also be empowering for learners.
The report found that the costs for students to manage life are a barrier. The student allowance is not enough to live on.
Some groups said their allowance would get reduced because of their partner's income, which can add financial strain.
Many students found they were in circumstances where they were unable to further their studies, particularly those with families and children. One income in the household in today's economy was said to not be enough to support the goals of studying.
"Māori learners within our subsidiary network and across industry training make up nearly a quarter of all learners. The number of Māori apprenticeships has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
"For all learners to be at the centre of how we deliver vocational learning in the future, Māori learners need to be part of the conversation from the beginning."
A second report is set to come out with a prime focus on Pacific and disabled learners.