Data shows Māori and Pacific course completion rates are on the rise

Thursday 23 May 2024

Massey has made strong progress in first-year retention rates, surpassing its target earlier than expected.

Pūrehuroatanga is focused on removing barriers to learner success

Last updated: Thursday 23 May 2024

Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University’s ‘whole of university’ approach to increasing student success and course completion by removing barriers to learning is proving successful, with improvement in key areas.

All universities must report their Education Performance Indicators to the Tertiary Education Commission and the latest figures show Massey has made strong progress in first-year retention rates, surpassing its target earlier than expected. Government targets designed to improve student success include course completion, first-year retention, student progression and cohort-based qualification completion.

Both Māori and Pacific priority learner groups have already achieved the university’s 2026 target to at least halve the parity gap. The Māori learner gap has reduced from 10.1 per cent in 2016 to 1.6 per cent in 2023. The Pacific learner gap also fell from 12.8 per cent to 6.4 per cent over the same period.

Over the past seven years, Māori learners’ successful course completion has improved, with the parity gap between 2016 and 2023 reducing overall from 12.9 per cent to 7.5 per cent. This also demonstrates a similar trend for Pacific learners, where the parity gap has closed from 20.4 per cent to 18.0 per cent over the same period. With both of these groups there are better results for internal learners, which is consistent with the wider distance student performance.

Provost Professor Giselle Byrnes says these results show the university’s approach, known as Pūrehuroatanga, is working.

“We should collectively be very proud of these results. There have been some significant changes to the way we do things, including becoming far more student-centric to understand the complexities of the barriers our students face and how we tailor support to help them overcome these challenges.”

Professor Byrnes and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Students and Global Engagement Dr Tere McGonagle-Daly co-chair Pūrehuroatanga on behalf of the University Council and Senior Leadership Team.

Dr McGonagle-Daly says Pūrehuroatanga was established in 2021 to better connect all the existing student support activities that were underway.

“This collective and collaborative approach is about ensuring the university is removing barriers to students’ learning success. There are student-facing and academic support teams working alongside student representatives on large and complex projects to remove barriers and these results show the changes are making a difference."

“Projects range from simplifying processes for students to access support, using data to identify what students need support and connecting them to services, and delivering culturally appropriate learning support and mentoring programmes, just to name a few."

Turning the tide for Pacific students

Around 70 per cent of Massey’s Pacific learners study the majority or all of their courses by distance. Understanding the unique challenges Pacific students face when accessing and navigating university is a major focus for the Office of Pacific Student Success. The office provides students with wraparound support, via a culturally safe approach, which has involved building relationships with communities inside and outside of the university.

Dean Pacific Professor Tasa Havea says many Pacific students are balancing studying alongside other important commitments like families, work and leadership positions in the community. He says his team collaborates with Colleges to tailor course delivery to help meet the needs of Pacific students.

“In one instance, we identified a course with notably high failure rates. Upon examination, we discovered the course featured weekly tests, which posed a challenge for students juggling multiple responsibilities.

“We asked the course coordinator to reconsider the assessment strategy, emphasising the importance of testing comprehension rather than organisational skills. By reducing the frequency of tests to two - one midway and one at the end - the course saw the highest pass rates among our Pacific students. We changed one aspect of the course but did not change the academic rigor or quality of the course.”

A by Māori for Māori approach

The Ākonga Māori Student Success Support team is focused on delivering administrative, pastoral and cultural support through Te Rau Tauawhi Māori Student Centre and academic support by Māori for Māori through a tuakana-teina mentoring programme where Kaihāpai, (tuakana) connect with Māori students (teina) to provide tailored support and advice in targeted courses and programmes for their academic journey. The Kaihāpai are supported within the colleges by Kaitautoko Māori who manage the mentoring programme and engage with academic staff to ensure ākonga Māori understand the expectations of course coordinators, as well as being able to engage with a senior Māori student (Kaihāpai) who has ‘been there, done that’ and can mentor/guide them through the learning journey.

Pou Ākonga Professor Dame Farah Palmer says mentors can refer students to key services that are available to them in their academic journey. They maintain regular contact with students and provide them with a sense of belonging at Massey.

“The Kaihāpai programme has the ability to inspire Māori to strive for success. It provides mentors with an opportunity to share their experiences, knowledge and successes relating to their journey at Massey University and in tertiary study.

“The mentors have studied for a number of years or are ahead in their education, so they can effectively share their knowledge and help other students. It provides the mentors (tuakana) with personal and professional development that they can add to their CVs, and the mentees (teina) feel comfortable to ask questions they may not want to ask of the course co-ordinator or tutor.

“It has been wonderful to see our tuakana and teina in the mentoring programme receiving their tohu at graduation recently, and they embody the kaupapa of Te Kawa Angitū – our Ākonga Māori Success Plan we’ve been working to deliver for the last few years.”

Further improvements are required for part-time learners, Professor Palmer says, adding

although there are some improvements, figures are broadly on par with previous expectations.

“We are aware part-time learners have different challenges to overcome, and we’re looking at ways of culturally appropriate outreach. For example, we’re exploring working with iwi to engage part-time and distance learners through whakapapa, while also providing more online opportunities for whakawhanaungatanga and manaaki to be demonstrated from Massey to our Māori distance learners.”