Pita Sharples calls for universities to grant open access to all Maori. He thinks this will improve the percentage of Maoris with bachelors degrees, currently 7.1% as compared to 17.6% for Europeans. I think he is making a number of fundamental errors.
Firstly, as David Farrar points out over at Kiwiblog, giving open access to all Maori students is only likely to increase the failure rate, at great expense to the tax payer. Although, I do not mind funding university education with my tax dollars, I do object to wasting that money on people who have little or no chance of passing. We take NCEA in order to weed these out, so that money is not wasted. I hear what Sharples is trying to say – that Maori often do badly in a school environment but blossom later. However, the solution lies in helping them in their foundational years, not dumping them in the far more demanding university environment, with a poor educational foundation, and hoping that they will cope.
Secondly, the underlying problem here is not one of a deficient educational system (at least, not simply deficient for Maori only!). The basic problem is an ingrained cultural bias against academic learning as Sharples himself admits:
““We don’t have the basic educational or cultural background to make it in those institutions,” he said.”
Surely the solution for this lies not in opening higher learning opportunities, but in addressing the anti-education bias that discourages academic learning and striving for excellence? There are currently whole swathes of Kiwi society (not just Maoris) where anyone who wants to do well at school in systematically intimidated and looked down upon, not just by kids, but by their parents as well. Where education is not actively looked down on, it is treated extremely casually. Typically, these attitudes are endemic in families where parents are poorly educated. These are, of course, generalisations and many poorly educated, low-income parents are very determined to see their children properly educated – there are just not enough of them.
Having said that, whereas a good, basic education is essential, it is simply not true that a tertiary education is necessary for one to be successful. Dr. Sharples, of course, is a highly educated man and like all educated men tends to think of his success in academic terms. But the majority of business owners appear to have relatively low levels of education. One can only conclude that, while tertiary education will help in the job market, you do not need it to be a success. What you need is the motivation to be successful.
And that does not come from any institution…