Educationalists are warning that the current education system must change so that Māori students are more stimulated in the classroom, which could inspire them to enrol in tertiary courses.
At the recent annual Māori education hui, speakers warned that in future Māori will outnumber Pākehā, and new strategies must be used to inspire them to become leaders in their chosen field.
Figures from the 2013 Census, show 36,072 tāngata whenua hold a bachelor's degree - up 56 percent on the 2006 census and Māori education leaders said the time was ripe to encourage more to take up tertiary training.
Tuia Te Ako, held in Christchurch last week was co-hosted by Ako Aotearoa - the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence - and Te Tapuae o Rēhua - the lead organisation for the Ngāi Tahu-led collaborative partnership with tertiary organisations.
The acting kaihautū of Te Tapuae o Rēhua, Eruera Tarena, said the hui was a good match with iwi educational aspirations, given that Ngāi Tahu had recently launched some tertiary training programmes.
"It includes universities, it includes wānanga, it includes polytechs, it includes industry training," Mr Tarena said.
"And if you think of just even in our takiwā [tribal territory] we've had a thousand Māori trade graduates. The iwi has an interest in the whole spectrum of tertiary education, not just high level research at a university, but supporting our people into farming, nursing and all sorts of different areas."
Deputy director of Ako Aotearoa, Ngahiwi Apanui, said kaiako Māori or teachers, need to make more of an effort in developing the next leaders in mātauranga Māori.
"Preparing for 2050, the demographics of our country will change and 52 percent of the population will include Māori, Pacific Island and Asians," Mr Apanui said.
"So Pākehā will be in the minority by that time, but they will also be largely old people. We as Māori tertiary educators need to start looking to see if we're developing leaders, how do we develop them and what sort of resources do we need to put behind them."
Dr Pedro Noguera is the executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University and was a guest speaker at the hui.
He said although there were similarities in the under-achievement rates between African-Americans and Māori, the universal problem that was causing their so-called 'failure' was an irrelevant education system.
"Rather than blaming the children for that failure we have to change the approach," Dr Noguera said.
"There's nothing wrong with the children, what's wrong is the way we are approaching their education. If we can change that and create learning environments that are more stimulating and supportive we can get better outcomes for our children.
"But, that's the work that we have to do otherwise we'll continue to replicate a model that's failed us."
Dr Noguera said grooming the next group of Māori leaders needed to start now, because in 35 years time the population of Māori, Pacific Islanders and Asians will over-take Pākehā.
"Māori and others will soon be in the majority and that raises important questions because the 'white' population is aging, and will be more dependent on the - what is now the minority population - to support them.
"And so unless we do something different to prepare Māori and others for leadership roles, through good education, the society is in trouble, the future is in trouble."
Dr Noguera said in order for children to achieve at school there must be support for their parents as well.
He said then they can reinforce the value of education with their tamariki for them to become tomorrow's future leaders.