Māori and Pasifika lecturers vastly underrepresented in New Zealand universities – research

Māori and Pasifika are woefully underrepresented in New Zealand's university staff rooms, new reports show.

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Academics Tara McAllister and Sereana Naepi spoke about the lack of diversity in tertiary education. Source: Breakfast

The papers, called Why isn't my professor Māori? and Why isn't my professor Pasifika?, focus on the ethnic makeup of professors at eight New Zealand universities. It found that between 2012 and 2017, on average, Māori made up only five per cent of academics in our universities, while Pasifika representation was just 1.7 per cent.

Two academics behind the study, Tara McAllister at the University of Auckland and Sereana Naepi from Canada's Thompson Rivers University, joined TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning to discuss the lack of representation in tertiary education.

Dr McAllister said the research found that "as you go up in terms of academic seniority, we get fewer and fewer".

"In 2017, there were 1045 professors or deans employed by New Zealand's universities, and of those 1045, 35 were Māori and five were Pasifika."

Dr Naepi said the lack of Pasifika representation is harmful because it is "telling our communities it is not possible for us to be an expert".

"We are experts, and it would be nice to see that in New Zealand universities," she said. "We imagine universities as places that embrace all learners, esteem all knowledges, circle all communities and that's what we want."

Dr Naepi said not seeing Pasifika lecturers in universities is also having an effect on non-Pasifika students.

"We occupy a really unique place in the world, and what Pasifika and Māori academics offer is really diverse views and alternative solutions to a lot of the world's problems relating to the call to action for climate change," Dr Naepi said.

Dr McAllister said there are "a number of different things that are going wrong" over the lack of representation in universities, adding that they hope the papers will be "conversation starters within universities, to be a little bit more reflective about how they recruit, retain and promote Māori and Pasifika staff".

She added, "It's so important to see yourself represented in this system. I spent eight years studying at New Zealand universities, and from my bachelor’s degree to my PhD, at no point in that time did I have a Māori or Pasifika lecturer in any of my science papers."

She said the conversation needs to start from the top in universities, during the hiring process.

"We really want universities to be more reflective about how they collect this data, how they disseminate it – transparently – so that it can inform better hiring practices which kind of lead to that inclusion of Māori and Pasifika academics."

Dr Naepi said the response to the papers has been "fantastic".

"People have been screenshotting emails to their vice chancellors. We've emailed it to every vice chancellor and pro-vice chancellor for Māori and Pasifika across the country and a few of them have emailed back and said, 'We've been pleading for these papers, thank you'. So we're positive that things will change.

"Tara and I – this is a long-term project for us, so we're going to work on this and not going to let them forget it."

While Dr McAllister said they were unsuccessful in receiving funding for the project, she said Dr Naepi and "a larger group of Māori and Pasifika academics" are dedicated to "getting this information out there so that we can create change – not only for us, but for our children and our grandchildren".

"I think it's really important that we show all students a different, diverse range of whakaaro, of ideas, and that will really shape the next generation of lawyers, doctors and teachers."