The New Zealand media is now increasingly politicised, with editorial censorship and an increasing tendency towards ethnomania, particularly in relation to “co-governance” - the sharing of political power between the Maori minority (16%of the population) and the rest of New Zealand (84%). Our universities are increasingly, and compulsorily, including Matauranga Maori or knowledge, into all aspects of university life - in teaching, research, publications, and administration, with no discussion or debate.
“Co-governance” is not a recent concept. A paper on Co-governance was widely circulated by Professor Whatarangi Winiata to the participants at the Building The Constitution Conference at Parliament in 2000, hosted by then Prime Minister Helen Clark. Winiata’s paper proposed two separate Parliaments (Maori and Non-Maori) overseen by an upper chamber, The Treaty House, comprising equal numbers of Maori and Non-Maori. The Treaty House would pass (or not) all legislation in New Zealand. (See “Building The Constitution”, James, C, ed., Institute of Policy Studies, VUW, 2000 at pp205-6)
The present government’s past and current actions and intentions can only be described as blatant authoritarianism and political control shared equally between an ethnic minority (16% of New Zealanders), and everyone else.
I am most deeply concerned, however, about the intrusion of these political and constitutional elements into our tertiary education institutions and the consequent decline of our once world-class educational system, especially our universities. For example, the revised Schools History Curriculum must now teach an ethnically-focused form of New Zealand history. Only local tribal histories of the Maori minority will be taught, along with the evils (not the obvious benefits), of New Zealand’s European colonisation. A draft science curriculum is also being discussed, which is devoid of any reference to physics, biology or chemistry, but which instead focuses on “the natural world”; “place-based knowledge of the natural world and experience of the local area in which they live’; and “bring knowledge from the past for acting now and in the immediate future”. It is blatantly obvious that this science curriculum will be based, like it’s history counterpart, on the Te Ao Maori world view, which includes spirituality, in which Matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge) will have equal, if not more, status alongside other world science subjects, to the exclusion of physics, chemistry and biology and other world-wide disciplines. Just imagine secondary school graduates turning up to a university with NO knowledge of our colonial history (both good and disputed), or the genocide of the pre-Treaty inter-tribal musket wars of the 1820s and 30s, and being completely ignorant of physics, biology and chemistry amongst other key elements of science! Surely this must change, given the outrage expressed so far? Who on earth is dreaming up these bizarre alternative curricula?
It turns out that bureaucrats in the Ministry of Education, along with political activists now firmly entrenched in our universities, are responsible. These clowns are obviously taking instructions from their political masters, otherwise such nonsense would not be tolerated. The draft science curriculum for example has been developed by researchers at Waikato University.
Currently at least four, if not more, of our universities - Otago, Massey, Victoria and AUT- are all planning massive staff redundancies and the axing of significant courses, including, unbelievably, Tourism Management - surely a necessary adjunct to our economy?
All of our eight universities are significantly underfunded, with Otago posting a massive $60 million deficit, whilst funding a “re-branding exercise” of at least $1 million to more fully integrate the spiritually-based Te Ao Maori world view into all aspects of the university - teaching, research and administration. The government has recently announced (27 June 2023) a $128 million injection over two to three years to try to offset this financial disaster, which has already been criticised by the universities as being totally inadequate. The question, of course, is why has this situation arisen, during six years of a Labour-led administration? And, interestingly, why this late injection of inadequate funding? Could it possibly be because an election is looming in three months’ time? Surely not? With at least $1 billion set aside to centralise New Zealand’s locally-owned Three Waters, which will be “co-governed” by ten separate entities involving equal numbers of Maori and non-Maori directors, it is abundantly clear where this government’s fiscal, constitutional, social and political priorities lie. It is definitely not with our universities.
Universities obtain their operational funding from several sources, the most important by far being direct government funding. Student fees make up another significant source of income, both domestic (subsidised) and particularly international (unsubsidised) student fees.
Some universities also offer “block” courses part-time or at weekends, usually vocationally focused, for which participants are charged fees. And importantly, they also receive substantial bequests and donations from alumni which usually fund Chairs and scholarships.
Closing New Zealand’s borders during the Covid 19 pandemic, had a substantial and negative impact on all of the universities, by excluding international students from coming to New Zealand. But which of our universities switched to extra-mural, online learning during the pandemic? And what steps have they taken to attract more students from off-shore? Has the government done anything to improve the situation? No.
Another excuse being trotted out currently is that potential students are opting to take up work place opportunities rather than attend university fulltime. This is nonsense. Working students can easily opt to take their studies extramurally whilst continuing to work - and have been doing so for decades. Alternatively, how many of the universities are offering evening classes for working people?
In the 1960s, Canterbury University offered evening classes between 5pm and 9pm, duplicating day-time lectures for working people. Their “After Five” classes were extremely popular. In conclusion, all of the universities can do a great deal more themselves to increase their income. They all have Business Schools which purport to educate people in the skills of business. Do any of these Business Schools actively operate to improve their own university’s management? I very much doubt it ! Had they done so, the current financial disaster could have been avoided.
Many prosperous countries have a mix of public and privately-funded universities. The world’s top universities, such as Harvard, are privately (ie not government) funded. It is time to consider a New Zealand university which is not funded by the tax-payer but funded by private interests and public investment, as a well-run enterprise in which members of the public could take a shareholding.
Relying almost totally on government funding brings with it the inexorable prospect of political influence and intervention in a university’s affairs. Whilst Prime Minister Hipkins hypocritically extols the autonomy of our universities, his government’s funding is inevitably conditional upon the universities doing his government’s bidding, including requiring the compulsory implementation of the spiritually-based Te Ao Maori world view in every aspect of university activities, under the flawed and invalid “Treaty Partnership” concept.
Not only is a university legally mandated to be the “critic and conscience of society”, but is also required to be secular and democratic in its operating functions. It is supposed to be an environment in which every idea, concept or viewpoint, is open to challenge and discussion. Yet in New Zealand, compulsory inverse acculturation is occurring in our universities but cannot be discussed or criticised without the insulting accusation of “racism” being raised. The compulsory requirement to adopt the Te Ao Maori world view with no chance of discussion or challenge, makes an absolute mockery of such lofty principles. Currently, university staff are required to actively participate in Maori cultural processes (tikanga) including karakia (prayers), waiata (songs) and powhiri (greetings in the Maori language), at all meetings, even if there are no Maori people present. Stacking every university committee (appointments, promotions, funding, research, etc) with at least two Maori representatives is now required. Staff are also required to undergo “cultural awareness” programmes and to spend time on marae. Students cannot graduate from one of our universities unless they pass up to eight papers which include kaupapa Maori content - including, believe it or not, in Accounting! In at least one university, academic staff must consider a student’s ethnicity when awarding grades. This ethnomania extends into expensive “rebranding” projects in at least three of our universities.
There is no doubt that the overwhelming focus on one particular ethnicity, to the exclusion of all other cultural and ethnic identities, especially our burgeoning Asian community, is being politically driven, in spite of what Hipkins and other government hypocrites might claim.
That is not to say that New Zealand’s unique Maori culture should not be recognised, but to demand it be accorded such prominence and demand that people adopt it without question, is drawing a very long bow indeed. Such compulsion may well result in rejection or demeaning of the culture - or worse.
If universities are compared to substantial commercial enterprises with thousands of staff and budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars, might we who fund them expect that the governance and management of such huge enterprises is professionally qualified and experienced? Not so.
The governance of our universities (the Board of Directors), usually totals eleven people. Excluding the Vice Chancellor (ex-officio), they comprise four ministerial appointees, at least one iwi Maori representative, a representative each of the academic staff, administrative staff, students, and alumni, and two “co-opted” members. With the latter included, political appointees will inevitably be in the majority, so it is very easy to see why there is a focus on promoting minority ethnicity throughout the university system.
One presumes that administrative staff are professionally qualified and competent to run a multi-million-dollar enterprise. If that were the case, why are they in such a parlous financial and disastrous state today?
What strategic and risk-management planning have they developed, knowing that such crises as a downturn in international students and a decline in full time attendees was inevitable, following the Ardern government’s closing our borders and a total lockdown domestically? And, given the politicisation of the universities, what will be the consequences for bequests and donations, if such income is spent furthering party political goals as opposed to the continuous quest for knowledge?
In summary, the tragic decline of our once outstanding universities is primarily due to inadequate government funding, organisational weaknesses and blatant political intervention. The universities themselves appear to have contributed to this sad state of affairs through poor governance and management through inadequate planning, a lack of innovation and blind acceptance of political agendas - issues which any significant business would ignore at their peril. As for the future, focusing on ethnic division and politically-driven agendas, will only serve to negate benevolent funding and deter informed students who seek a higher education, rather than compulsory cultural indoctrination.
Henry Armstrong is retired, follows politics, and writes.