PERSONAL AND FINANCIAL ISSUES AND THE COMPULSORY SCHOOLING SECTOR
5.2.1 The neo-libertarian educational market and Maori student indebtedness:
Testimonies confirm that the “user pays” tertiary education system, implemented by the National Government in 1992, has forced a disproportionately high percentage of Maori into state-sponsored debt. The Ministry (MoE, 2001:7) acknowledges: “the increasing uptake of the student loan system by Maori students is indicative of the fact that many Maori students need financial support in order to be educated at a tertiary level.” Research by the Aotearoa Tertiary Students’ Association found that during the period 1995 to 1999 (excluding 1996) 43, the proportional difference between Maori and non-Maori who required student loans had widened. In 1995, 18.9% more Maori than non-Maori (as a proportion of their student populations), acquired student loans. By 1998, it had risen to a 25.5% differential (Clark, 2001). Maori student debt currently represents approximately one billion of the seven billon dollars of the total student loan debt (NZUSA, 2004, Te Mana Akonga, 2004). In a Treasury Working Paper, Maani (2000:12) found that while Maori were disadvantaged in both 1986 and 1996 in terms of educational attainment, employment and income levels, the returns to education are greater for Maori compared to non-Maori despite lower attainment levels. However, Maani (2000:14) acknowledges that the “relatively higher income returns to educational attainment…. [are] partly a reflection of relatively lower income levels for Maori without school qualifications.” Notwithstanding Maani’s
findings, Clark (2001)44 contends that Maori face a relative disadvantage in repaying that debt, as a Maori with a bachelor’s degree earns less than three quarters as a non- Maori graduate with the same qualification. De Bruin contends that the acquisition of human capital mitigates Maori disadvantage as Maori graduates are subjected to comparatively less economic and employment discrimination than Maori without qualifications (de Bruin, 2000:38). De Bruin also cites Winkelmann’s (1993:33) findings that “Maori males with tertiary qualifications had an employment probability of 15.4 percentage points above the rate for Maori males without a qualification. For non-Maori males the corresponding difference amounted to only 5.5 percentage points.” Notwithstanding the Financial Difficulties associated with tertiary study, Raina (i) and other participants recognized the economic value of academic credentials.
From a theoretical perspective, Hall (1999:9) defines an important aspect of economic resilience as “the ability to locate resources.” Ethnic disparities in levels of borrowing can be construed as either a lack of Maori resilience or an increased vulnerability because of “being Maori.” The Special Rapporteur’s (2006:21) recommendation that Maori receive greater financial support is discussed in Chapter Eight. The Ministry (MoE, 2001:7) contends: “…Maori have seen the Student Loan Scheme as an opportunity for them to gain a qualification they could otherwise not afford to
contemplate.” However, this statement reflects the “push me” scenario in response to The Strategy’s rhetoric, rather than the “pull me” scenario where the intrinsic value of tertiary qualifications is comprehended. Maori vulnerability vis-à-vis participation in the post-compulsory education sector is emphasized in Crothers’ (2003:118) research into urban Maori disparities:
…education is seen widely as a key to liberation from economic hardship. There are very positive attitudes towards education, however, many respondents seemed unclear as to how their educational aspirations might be realised. Respondents seemed unaware that they might find themselves having accumulated debts they cannot repay as a result of pursuing educational opportunities that have not brought tangible benefits.
Keith Clark was the president of the Aotearoa Tertiary Student Association, Te Whanau Tauira o Aotearoa which at the time represented 14,000 students in 14 polytechnics and universities. His wrote two articles for the NZ Education Review, May 4 and May 11, 2001.
The Strategy’s failure to provide requisite safeguards to a population traditionally excluded from higher education and therefore lacking generational familiarity with, and understanding of, the tertiary sector exacerbates Maori vulnerability in the neo- libertarian education market. The omission of adequate protection for Maori in social policy is indicative of state racism, manifestations of which remain obscured by the general public’s assumptions of the neutrality of the state (Adams et al., 106-107). Some participants have been exposed to economic marginalization because of the unnecessary costs of excessive course enrolments that have resulted in withdrawals, non-completions and prolonged study durations. Hall et al.’s proposal (1994:29) that marginalized individuals are vulnerable to institutional exploitation is explored in Chapter Seven.
The paucity of state financial assistance and Maori scholarships available to
participants further reinforces the unwillingness on the part of the state to redress the impact of economic marginalization on Maori education. In a synthesis of
international research, Prebble et al., (2005:81) substantiate the correlation between deficit financial capital and the under-achievement of minorities in higher education, citing Padilla, Trevino, Gonzalez and Trevino’s (1997) findings that, in the United States, lack of financial resources was one of four primary factors affecting successful outcomes. As compensation for the cumulative effects of marginalization, Camara Jones (1999) asserts that free college education should be made available to all Afro- American citizens, a proposal that is germane to Maori. Such provision would redress breaches of fiduciary obligations vis-à-vis indigenous rights (a position adopted in Hawaii that entitles indigenous people to free tertiary education). In addition to the indigenous rights derived from the Treaty of Waitangi, which primarily focus on the redress of historical grievances, the Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act allow for the redress of contemporary socio-economic disparities. Both Acts, which are informed by international law, make provision for the granting of special rights to marginalized populations through discriminatory policies such as preferential access schemes or quota systems. Notwithstanding that the provision of affirmative action policies vis-à-vis the redress of educational discrimination is within the legislative power of Aotearoa/New Zealand, the statutory rights that could ameliorate Maori disadvantage are not given effect because of the state’s racial underpinnings.