Graduation day at Te Wananga. Soon after the Labour Government came to office it started showering money on all things Maori.

In the late 1990s three wananga were operating on a fairly small scale. Enrolment numbers were low. They were not universities, and still are not. They were being funded for operational expenses but had complained unsuccessfully to the Ministry of Education that they needed extra money for capital investment.

Believing they had a case that the lack of capital funding breached the Treaty of Waitangi, the three wananga took their claim to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1999.

Under the National Government, the ministry made vigorous submissions to the tribunal that there was no breach of the treaty.

The tribunal found in favour of the wananga. But the tribunal has no real power. It can only recommend to a government.

Later in 1999, the National Government offered some capital funding to the three wananga, totalling about $10 million. The offer was made explicitly on the basis of providing capital funding, and the Government clearly explained this was nothing to do with any treaty claim.

Out of this Te Wananga o Aotearoa pocketed $5.8 million and said that would go a long way towards providing for its growth.

Soon after the Labour Government came to office, ushering in its flagship "Closing the Gaps" programmes. It started showering money on all things Maori. So just months after the previous Government's capital injection, Te Wananga o Aotearoa was back in the queue, this time asking for a $46 million capital injection under the treaty.

Its management knew Labour was a soft touch, and this time, along with the cash, the wananga got an astonishing letter from the ministry, which had only months earlier rubbished suggestion of any relevance of the treaty to the treatment of wananga.

Now, under a Labour Government, the ministry wrote each of the wananga an apology letter stating that the Crown accepted it had "breached the principles of the treaty", and that this had compromised the financial viability of the wananga and their integrity.

But the Government went further. Closing the Gaps demanded even more taxpayer money be thrown at Maori. Along with the extra capital funding, the Government played around with the operational funding for each student to provide for extra payments for Maori and Pacific Island students.

Those institutions enrolling Maori and Pacific Islands students in courses could get an extra $125 a student. For Te Wananga o Aotearoa, this turned out to be lucrative. Almost all its students qualified for this.

By 2003, the 24,000 Maori and Pacific Island students, at $125 each, meant the wananga pocketed an extra $3 million a year for nothing other than the ethnicity of the students it enrolled.

Some university commentators at the time noted the rules for EFTS (equivalent full-time student) funding favoured unfairly those providing cheap, low-cost, non-degree courses, with the Government's subsidy almost as much as that provided to universities for more costly science degrees and the like.

Any institution signing up a student to a general course at levels 1 to 4 received $5300 in funding in 2003. This is only just below the amount funded for a first-year BA student studying at a university.

Now that the rules of engagement had been drastically altered, the scene was set for rapid growth and profitability for Te Wananga o Aotearoa, with little attention to the quality of the result for those it purported to serve.

The generous funding meant it could not only offer courses free but could offer inducements such as free cellphones and laptop computers to course participants.

With deals such as these, it is not surprising that the numbers enrolled swelled. Roll growth from 1998 to last year was an amazing 2000 per cent. At July last year, there were 37,915 students enrolled at Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

The Government moved belatedly to try to cap enrolment numbers to limit the increases. But the money still flowed. Taxpayers were haemorrhaging money to the wananga, with little to show for it.

The outrageous situation today stems from two things: the Government's total embrace of Closing the Gaps policies, and its swallowing of the ridiculous proposition that somehow the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 guaranteed Maori taxpayer-funded training organisations in the year 2000 with minimal accountability.

Now we have the Minister of Education, Trevor Mallard, saying he had concerns even before he was minister five years ago. So let's get it straight:

1999: New Education Minister has concerns over wananga. Wananga funded $3.9 million a year.

2000: The Government institutes Closing the Gaps. It heaps extra funding on wananga, and sets scene for rapid growth.

2001: Settlement deal signed with Te Wananga o Aotearoa for $40 million for treaty claim.

2004: Funding grows to $239 million a year.

Helen Clark is keen to present publicly her concern and wash her hands of it, but the blame lies squarely with her Government. Despite its apparent concern, it has continued to shovel huge sums of taxpayer money to this institution - all in the name of the treaty.

The quality of the result has been ignored, and many Maori students are no better off whatsoever.