“Every PhD completion by a Māori student was a rare event a few years back,” says Professor Piri Sciascia, Victoria’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori). “This year, we expect 14 Māori students to complete doctoral study across a diverse range of disciplines.”
Part of the increase, says Piri, is due to providing PhD students with regular opportunities to meet, study and write together, and funding support through initiatives such as the Ahumairangi PhD scholarship that is open to Māori students in any discipline.
In addition, a strategic decision to put a strong emphasis on completion has delivered results.
“We’ve worked hard to demystify PhD study and show that it’s achievable, while also creating a culture where students are expected to complete, and give them the backing they need to do so.”
Role modelling has also been important, says Piri, with Māori lecturers attracting Māori students.
Awanui Te Huia, one of three Victoria Māori PhD December graduates to have recently joined the University’s teaching staff, agrees.
“If you can relate to your students on a cultural level and adjust content so they see themselves in what you are talking about, they are more attentive and engaged.”
Awanui, whose doctoral research looked at what motivates learners of te reo Māori, says for her, doing a PhD was about enhancing credibility in the eyes of the academy. “The PhD allowed me to develop both qualitative and quantitative research skills so that I am better prepared to support Māori research projects in the future.”
Awanui says support through MAI ki Pōneke, an international network of Māori and indigenous postgraduate students, Toihuarewa and the location of Victoria’s Te Herenga Waka marae helped her succeed.
“At some universities, the marae is remote, but here it’s very connected to the Kelburn campus. We study, teach, eat and are culturally nourished there.”