20 Oct 2015

Support service warns Māori education under threat if it's closed

11:13 pm on 20 October 2015

A whānau support group at Victoria University says it's under threat.

Students protesting the loss of a whānau  mentoring programme at Victoria University.

Students protesting the loss of a whānau mentoring programme at Victoria University. Photo: Radio NZ / Adriana Weber

The mentoring programme, Te Rōpū Āwhina, started in 1999 and aims to raise academic achievement of Māori and Pasifika students studying science, engineering, architecture and design.

Liz Richardson, Deputy Dean (Equity) Faculties of Science, Engineering and Architecture & Design, University of Wellington

Liz Richardson Photo: SUPPLIED

Deputy Dean (Equity) Liz Richardson helped establish the support group, which she said had produced some great results.

Ms Richardson said the university was taking advantage of her retirement to conduct a review of Āwhina that would cut services and see the introduction of standardised piecemeal support services, rather than continuing with its holistic approach.

"The lower levels of responsibility means it is unlikely the on-campus whānau will have the resources to continue after December 2015."

A student-led petition against the changes has collected over 800 signatures and today 100 students walked through the campus protesting.

Student Jordyne Craven

Jordyne Craven Photo: SUPPLIED

Jordyne Craven said Te Rōpū Āwhina had played an important role in her studies.

"Essentially the closure of this initiative would mean that I would no longer receive the support of mentoring, a whānau environment to work in, career information evenings, and most importantly the opportunity to help close the inequality gap for Māori and Pasifika students," she said.

Warren Wainohu, who is doing a Bachelor of Engineering said if the changes go ahead it could put his studies at risk. He said he struggled to cope, until he found Āwhina which helped him adjust.

"For Māori and Pasific students I feel like we need that support, that network. It's whānau based, I feel actually like part of something where they support you.

"It plays into Māori tikanga [customs] about whanaungatanga [working together which provides people with a sense of belonging] and just being there for each other. At the university it's 'each man for himself' when everyone's studying, whereas Āwhina offers more support through mentoring."

Student Latu Clark

Latu Clark Photo: SUPPLIED

Another student, Latu Clark, said her main concern was with the university's decision to replace the deputy dean (equity) role with a two-year fixed contract which would severely reduce Āwhina's ability to support students.

"Two years barely covers an undergraduate degree. If the university's changes are implemented, incoming students will have no certainty surrounding the leadership and continuation of Āwhina in their final year.

"The potential closure of Āwhina will mean that myself and other students will again be lost in the university framework. There's currently no other initiative which supports students in the SEAD disciplines."

Professor Mike Wilson, Pro Vice-Chancellor Science, Engineering and Architecture and Design, said in a statement that the university had no plans to stop supporting or to close Āwhina and the programme was not under threat.

"We will be conducting a university-wide review of how Victoria's equity and mentoring initiatives are provided to students. That will include reviewing some roles and how they fit within the wider university structure and processes."

Students protesting the potential loss of whānau mentoring programme Te Rōpū Āwhina at Victoria University.

Photo: RNZ / Adriana Weber