Sharples hits a nerve

Last updated 14:18 18/06/2009

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples's call for open entry to universities for all Maori has sure struck a nerve - as the canny Sharples knew it would.

The colourful Maori Party co-leader was well aware when he made his comments yesterday that they would provoke a response, and that the idea would be immediately slapped down by Prime Minister John Key.

That's why he didn't tell the Prime Minister first. If he had brought the idea up with National's leader, and Key had said something like "that's certainly an interesting idea, Pita, why don't you go and do some more work on that?'' then it would have been more difficult for Sharples to then flag the idea publicly.

Sharples knows the idea is never going to happen. For starters, National is trying to move away from affirmative action programmes for specific ethnic groups. That was Closing the Gaps, the ill-fated set of expensive but ultimately futile programmes set up by Labour in its first term.

Second, Key would look like an enormous hypocrite if he allowed Maori into universities as-of-right while at the same time he is trying to argue that Maori should not have special representation on the Auckland super city by dint of their ethnicity.

Third, Key is well aware that the general public would be outraged by such a move - particularly the mums and dads of non-Maori who either can't afford to go to university or are unable to make the grade academically.

And lastly, such a move would fly in the face of the move away from the "bums on seats'' model that National introduced in a previous life when it was last in government. Put simply, the country can't afford to let everyone into universities any more.

The Government is actually cutting university budgets, which is what has led to restrictions on so many first-year courses these days.

None of which stops Sharples from trying, however, and nor should it. I know that he should as an Associate Education Minister toe the Government line, but personally I expect Sharples to be a passionate advocate for his people. As long as Key doesn't actually agree to this hare-brained idea, I'm happy for Sharples to push it.

For one thing, it's good to have a debate about the place of education in our society, and remind ourselves that it's pretty much the only thing that is going to get us out of the economic backwater in which New Zealand now resides.

And it's true that Maori participation statistics in tertiary education are appalling, and something needs to be done about it. I just think Sharples has the wrong end of the stick. There's little point letting more Maori into university if they are simply going to fail.

There's no way universities are going to relax their standards for awarding degrees, because to do so would be fatal to their international reputations. So simply shovelling Maori - or anyone, for that matter - who would otherwise not qualify into university is not only going to cause the institutions a world of trouble but also badly dent what little self-confidence the failed students have left.

A better question might be why so few Maori make the grade to get into university in the first place. And I suspect that can be traced all the way back through the school system to early childhood and the child's parents. I'm sure Sharples would argue that is all the system's fault, and perhaps part of it is. Though I think Maori could probably shoulder some of the blame as well.

As I say, though, the debate is a needed one. Just recently Canterbury University vice-chancellor Rod Carr had a good serve at the Prime Minister for cutting funding in real terms to universities and polytechnics, and I think this issue is going to become a hot topic in the months to come.

Personally I would rather the Government put the additional $750 million it shovels into the health black hole every year into tertiary education instead. I reckon it would pay huge dividends.







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eddie   #1   02:26 pm Jun 18 2009's easy.

Just give all Maori, when they reach 21, a PHD or a Masters Degree!

That way they don't have to put any effort into anything too difficult, like learning/studying.

Yes, that'll sort it out.

Ohhh, and not forgetting that ALL companies in NZ must take these 'qualified' workers into their employment, may as well have reserved spaces for them too, it's only fair I guess.

Cool, that's that problem solved, isn't it Dr Sharples?

Rick Rowling   #2   02:29 pm Jun 18 2009

Pita Sharples on National Radio today said several times that he wants this to happen because the secondary schooling system is failing Maori. Surely it would make more sense to deal with the secondary schooling system.

filbert   #3   02:33 pm Jun 18 2009

Just goes to prove that those treaty settlements and special privaleges that maori already get doesn't work and should all be scrapped.

Karyn   #4   02:40 pm Jun 18 2009

It's simply not necessary. There already exists Provisional Entry - the ability of any person to gain entry to university no matter their educational level of achievement, once they reach the age of 20 years.

All it will do is increase the bitterness that many New Zealanders already have toward Maori as a result of policies that provide perceived preferential treatment to Maori in other areas.

The issues he's talking about aren't a problem of access to university. It's the wrong thing to target. As noted by the university professors spoken to in the articles about this subject. Still, gets him in the papers.

max   #5   02:42 pm Jun 18 2009

I don't agree with Sharples on this because, really, if Maori don't have a high level of education pre-tertiary there isn;t much point in going to university. The problem I have with saying something like this, when he knows it isn;t going to happen, is the issue at the heart of the debate, better education for Maori, is ultimately lost to the "this is PC gone Mad" "Maori get too much already" etc etc that we had after Don Brash's Orewa speech. I was glad when that debate was put to bed, but I hope it doesn't rear its ugly head again...

RichardRight   #6   02:54 pm Jun 18 2009

well reasoned and balanced article Colin.

I would argue however over time it does Maori in general little good having leaders (in this case Sharples) continuously spouting the ‘special needs’ required for Maori as this has the ultimate consequence of making Maori believe that in-fact they are lesser/different/inferior than everyone else…..and hence they should be treated differently or ‘specially’.

In reality it comes down to the individual and the family - far more constructive I would have thought would be messages and programmes designed to teach anyone who is failing (including Maori) the value of education, positive and constructive parenting, family values, respect etc

Then as a natural consequence we will see more young people (including Maori) actually being educated and passing ECMA and earning their place at a university....

Cullen's Sidekick   #7   03:01 pm Jun 18 2009

Colin - I agree with your view that we should spend more on education - i.e. not Labourer style funding hip-hop tours and how to suck eggs courses, but true high quality education. If this means reduction in other areas, so be it.

Our country is a free democratic country. Everybody can raise a topic for discussion and we should debate the pros and cons of that topic. This is a freedom not many people in the world enjoy. Let us see what our future PM Baghdad Battler says. He could come up with a privatisation of Maori education plan.

PBP   #8   03:08 pm Jun 18 2009

I agree on the call for more funding for the tertiary sector. It is simple, we need creative minds to drive our country forward. No disrespect to older generations, but it is commonly known that students/younger generations are the creative powerhouse, show them a bit more respect/support and we might see some weight being pulled. The 'black hole' of health is simply bureaucracy gone wrong. Why does a manager's manager need a manager? Just like cabinet ministers, DHB leaders should be specialists in their field, not economic managers.

George   #9   03:12 pm Jun 18 2009

Colin - can I be the first to point out the typo in the title?

Sure it should be 'Sharples has a nerve?'

Sheelagh   #10   03:12 pm Jun 18 2009


I wondered if you would grab this by the scruff of the neck and go with it.The previous blog was certainly lively and I am sure this one will be no different.

I see Dr Sharples has obviously completed tertiary education. What has he got his Doctorate in? Was he let in the side door or did he work through the Pakeha system like eveyone else?

I would like to ask Dr Sharples how the Asian community come to this country and as English, being their second language, they still manage to do so well at secondary schools and tertiary education. They usually top the classes even in the English language.Are they getting preferential treatment? I don't think so.

He is certainly not helping relations between Maori and Pakeha.

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