Study blasts NZ universities, research institutes for dearth of Māori, Pasifika scientists

Māori and Pasifika scientists are "severely underrepresented" in New Zealand's universities and Crown Research Institutes (CRIs), a new report has found. 

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Researchers say the lack of diversity at NZ universities and Crown research institutes threatens the potential of our science workforce. Source: 1 NEWS

Lead author Tara McAllister says without "purposeful and urgent actions ... these numbers will remain dismally low for generations to come".

One university hadn't employed a single Māori or Pasifika academic in science between 2008 and 2018, the research found.

Meanwhile the university with the most Māori and Pasifika staff had just 6.4 per cent Māori and 4.8 per cent Pasifika academic staff in science.

Gathering the data wasn't easy, with some institutions responding with "hostility and racist remarks", the researchers say.

An agreement to anonymise the data meant 14 of New Zealand's 15 universities and CRIs eventually took part. 

Two universities that weren't able to provide the data for the full 11-year period cited issues including lack of an historic record and that staff "change their ethnicity".

In the scathing report, the researchers say Māori and Pasifika scientists are "severely underrepresented" and there's been "very little change" in the last 11 years.

The researchers also addressed the issues for Māori and Pasifika academics, writing: "Before even considering the data presented below, we must acknowledge and highlight that science faculties within universities are generally not safe and inclusive environments for Māori and Pasifika academic staff."

"Importantly, there were no significant differences between the percentage of Māori FTEs in 2008 and 2018 [at universities]... Thus, meaning that over 11 years there has been no improvement in Māori representation in science faculties," the report says.

The researchers say "urgent responses are needed" to help retain, promote and support Māori and Pasifika scientists.

"The solutions importantly do not simply lie with getting more Māori and Pacific scientists into a science system, that was never made for us, but also addressing and removing the systematic barriers, which continue to marginalise us and make working in universities and CRIs as Indigenous scientists extremely difficult," Dr McAllister says.

Meanwhile the HR departments at the institutions show a "significant lack of understanding and reflection ... about ethnicity and diversity".

"If you do not employ any Pasifika scientists yet do ‘a lot of work in the Pacific’, you do not have a ‘diverse ethnic demographic’ of staff," the researchers say.

"It indicates that their work environments may not be culturally safe spaces and rather than institutions claiming to employ a ‘very diverse ethnic demographic of staff’ when they in fact do not, they should put more effort into ensuring cultural safety of Māori and Pasifika scientists and work towards removing institutional barriers that prevent them from entering, staying and progressing in these institutions."

In response to the paper, University of Auckland Associate Professor Nicola Gaston was firm: "This is not a pipeline issue, it is a racism issue."

"Even the extent to which I, as a Pākehā scientist, feel able to comment on this while some of my Māori and Pasifika colleagues do not, is structural racism," she says.

"We are all the poorer for the exclusion of talented Māori and Pasifika researchers from science.

"This realisation — which speaks to the extent to which the few Māori scientists we have are seriously overworked — only doubles the absolute shame which we should all feel, faced with these numbers."

The paper was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand today, and was funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment and the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor.