The Tertiary Education Commission is making a new attempt at improving enrolment and pass rates among Māori and Pasifika students after institutions fell short of previous targets.
In 2012 the commission announced it wanted Māori and Pasifika students to have the same pass and enrolment rates as other students in polytechnics, wānanga and private institutions by 2015, and in universities by 2018.
Those deadlines will not be met. The commission will now set targets with individual institutions.
Commission chief executive Tim Fowler said it would not set deadlines this time and did not expect a quick fix.
"If you look at the importance of Māori and Pasifika folk to our economy ... we've got to turn our attention to it now.
"But clearly it's a long-term job."
Mr Fowler said the commission's latest push for parity would be more successful because it had more information and research to guide its work.
The tumu awhina for Te Toi Ahurangi, the Māori wing of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU), Margaret Taurere, was part of an advisory group that recommended the original deadlines and said she was disappointed they had been missed.
She said money would be essential to persuading institutions to change things.
The TEU found roles set up specifically to mentor and help Māori or Pasifika students were discontinued or rolled into generic student support roles if specific government funding for them stopped.
Te Wehi Wright, the co-president of Te Mana Akonga, which represents 12 Māori students associations, said parity was a great goal, but there needed to be repercussions for institutions that fell short.
"It's easy for people to subscribe themselves to something knowing there [aren't] necessarily going to be any ramifications if they don't actually achieve those targets."
Mr Wright said it would take at least five years for institutions to make consistent progress toward parity.
Universities say they're close to closing the pass rate gap
The Tertiary Education Commission recently told incoming Tertiary Education Minister Paul Goldsmith that universities' response to parity efforts in the past decade was weak.
Universities New Zealand chairman Stuart McCutcheon, the vice-chancellor of Auckland University, said they were close to closing the gap in pass rates.
Professor McCutcheon said Māori and Pasifika students with University Entrance (UE) enrolled in university at about the same rate as non-Māori with the same qualification, and their success rates were getting close to those of other students.
Across the eight universities, completion rates for Māori and Pasifika students after they reached their second year of study were around 80 to 83 percent compared to about 90 percent for other students.
He said 83 percent of students had completed their degree within eight years of starting it, and the figure for Pasifika was around 60 percent and for Māori close to 70 percent.
Professor McCutcheon said the bigger problem was the number of Māori and Pasifika students who had the ability but did not get University Entrance qualification because of personal, family and socio-economic circumstances.
He said about 3000 more Māori and Pasifika students needed to get UE each year in order to achieve parity with other students. Universities wanted more government funding to help them achieve parity.
Union of Students' Associations spokesperson Rory Lenihan-Ikin said there should be deadlines for achieving parity, otherwise it was a "hollow goal".
"As for sanctions, that's probably something for TEC to have a think about and decide themselves."
He said the issue needed to be addressed right through the education system, and was not simply a tertiary problem.
School performance key to later study
A new joint report from the Productivity Commission and Auckland University of Technology (AUT) identified the three factors it said contributed the most to lower levels of bachelor's degree study among Māori and Pasifika.
They were prior performance in school, socio-economic status and parents' educational attainment.
"By far the largest contributing factor is prior school performance. Parental education and socio-economic status were also significant but not nearly as important," said Dr Gail Pacheco, a professor of economics at AUT and the director of the NZ Work Research Institute.
The research was based on information about almost 200,000 people born between 1990 and 1994, who were enrolled in a New Zealand secondary school as 15 and 16-year-olds.
The director of the Productivity Commission's inquiry into tertiary education, Judy Kavanagh, said while prior school achievement influenced Māori and Pasifika participation in bachelor's study, the tertiary system influenced whether a student stayed on to complete a bachelor's degree.