Part 4: Addressing educational disparities

Tertiary education institutions: 2021 audit results and what we saw in 2022.

A key focus of the reforms is addressing disparities. Because these disparities are not just limited to vocational education, strategies that apply to all TEIs and tertiary education and training have been prepared.

In this Part, we describe some of the work being done across the tertiary education sector. It is not intended to be an all-inclusive list of initiatives in place but instead highlights some of the work currently underway.

We also do not provide any view on whether any of the initiatives described in this Part have been successful.

The Tertiary Education Strategy

The Government's Tertiary Education Strategy sets out the long-term strategic direction for tertiary education and was prepared after consultation with the tertiary education sector and other stakeholders.

There are eight priority areas in the Tertiary Education Strategy, including:

  • ensuring that places of learning are safe and inclusive and free from racism, discrimination, and bullying;
  • taking account of learners' needs, identities, languages, and cultures in their planning and practice; and
  • incorporating te reo Māori and tikanga Māori into their everyday activities.

There are several strategies and initiatives across the tertiary education system that are aimed at supporting learners who have traditionally been under-served. They reflect the priority areas of the Tertiary Education Strategy.

Ōritetanga Learner Success approach

Under the Third Article of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Crown has an obligation to ensure equitable outcomes for Māori as learners and to ensure that all learners – especially those currently under-served by the tertiary education system – can succeed. The Ōritetanga Learner Success approach is how TEC is giving effect to this obligation.

The Ōritetanga Learner Success approach provides TEIs with an approach for putting learners at the heart of what they do. It is designed to address biases and disparities that have led to specific learner groups being under-served.25

The learner component of the Unified Funding System

The learner component accounts for about 7% of the Unified Funding System. Its purpose is to support all learners, particularly those who traditionally have not been well served by the education system. TEC notes on its website that there are four groups the system has not previously served as well as it could. These groups are:

  • learners with low prior achievement;
  • disabled learners;
  • Māori learners; and
  • Pasifika learners.

TEC also notes that these groups serve as a proxy for learners who need additional support to be successful in vocational education and training. In other words, these groups provide a way to allocate funding across the vocational education and training system in a reasonably straightforward way. This does not mean that funding should only be used for learners in these four groups. Instead, education providers need to identify the unique needs of all their learners, make decisions about how to support them, and allocate funding accordingly.

Taumata Aronui – Māori success in tertiary education

Established in 2019, Taumata Aronui is an independent advisory group established to help ensure that the tertiary education system reflects the Government's commitment to Māori-Crown partnerships.

Taumata Aronui published its first report, Manu Kōkiri, on 24 May 2022. It calls for transformational change to the system to ensure more Māori success in tertiary education. This will benefit all New Zealanders. The overall vision for the New Zealand tertiary education system, as expressed by Taumata Aronui, is:

the best indigenously inspired tertiary education system in the world - one where incredible success is experienced by indigenous people (this is normalised and expected) and where indigenous knowledge and experience influences the sector positively and becomes the inspiration for the success of all. This is an internationally lauded, distinctive Aotearoa-New Zealand tertiary education system where all succeed.

In contrast to the aspirational and positive vision Taumata Aronui has for New Zealand's tertiary education system, the report also notes that:

Those Māori who do enter into tertiary education are often greeted by an environment that is negative toward their Māori identity and experience. Some suffer direct racism while others endure the inference drawn from the environment that being Māori is not welcome here.
The education environment does not reflect who they are, what their experiences have been, what their needs are, what their dreams, aspirations and hopes are. On the whole, the Māori experience of state education since the 19th century has been poor and, in some instances, disastrous.

We were told that officials from the Ministry of Education and TEC are currently working with Taumata Aronui members on how to take forward the vision and recommendations in Manu Kōkiri.

Ako Wānanga – Te Wānanga o Aotearoa

The Taumata Aronui report notes that some Māori learners might not feel welcome in the tertiary education system because of their ethnicity, and the education environment does not always reflect who they are, what they need, and what their aspirations are.

Wānanga have a unique role in the tertiary education system. Part of their uniqueness is the way in which they approach their practice and pastoral care of their learners to help them feel welcome and accepted.

Ako Wānanga is a practice of excellence that Te Wānanga o Aotearoa has developed and implemented. At its heart, Ako Wānanga is a commitment to nurturing transformative education and learner experiences. It is inspired by Te Kaupapa Matua o Te Wānanga o Aotearoa (the overall vision of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa) and supported by Ngā Uara me Ngā Takepū (the values of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa).

Ako Wānanga consists of four primary huanga (attributes):

  • Whanaungatanga – respectful relationships and connections.
  • Ako – living, learning, and teaching.
  • Aro – reflective practice.
  • Te Hiringa – passion, motivation, and spirit.

These are the essential components of Ako Wānanga and, when considered holistically, these concepts provide the philosophy for teaching and learning in Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

Te Pūkenga – "Ākonga at the Centre" research

In late 2021, Te Pūkenga published three complementary reports as part of its "Ākonga at the Centre" research. The reports provide insights from Māori, Pasifika, and disabled people about the enablers and barriers they faced in vocational and applied learning settings. Te Pūkenga notes that it is committed to applying the lessons from these reports to everything it does.

Addressing disparities faced by disabled learners

In September 2021, TEC announced that it would introduce disability action plans in its 2022 investment round as part of the Government's move to ensure that TEIs meet their responsibilities under the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The purpose of the disability action plans is to ensure that TEIs avoid discriminating against disabled learners and provide disabled learners with better outcomes from their education.

From 2023, outcomes focused on supporting disabled learners will be a funding requirement.

It is important that the tertiary education system continues to focus on supporting disabled students. As at June 2022, 32% of disabled people aged 15-24 years were not in employment, education, or training compared with 10% of non-disabled youth.26

Addressing disparities faced by Pasifika learners

An Action Plan for Pacific Education was released by the Ministry of Education in 2020 for the 2020-2030 period. Its focus is to ensure that Pasifika learners and their families are safe, valued, and equipped to achieve their education aspirations. For Pasifika learners and their families, recognising their unique identities, languages, and cultures is critical to success in education.

The 10-year Action Plan is intended to make systemic change in, and across, the education system. The goal is to improve educational outcomes for Pasifika learners and their families.

The Action Plan describes five key shifts needed to achieve this vision:

  • work reciprocally with diverse Pasifika communities to respond to unmet needs, with an initial focus on needs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic;
  • confront systemic racism and discrimination in education;
  • enable every teacher, leader, and educational professional to take co-ordinated action to become culturally competent with diverse Pasifika learners;
  • partner with families to design education opportunities together with teachers, leaders, and educational professionals so aspirations for learning and employment can be met; and
  • develop, retain, and value highly competent teachers, leaders, and educational professionals with diverse Pacific whakapapa.

Our next report will look at how the tertiary education system is addressing disparities faced by under-served learners and what progress is being made.

25: See "Ōritetanga – tertiary success for everyone", at

26: See "Household Labour Force Survey June 2022 quarter", at