By Lyam Buchanan
Oct 04, 2018

Faceless Data

In Issue 22, Nexus published ‘Drop Out Season’ featuring illustrated graphs of dropout rates based on 2017 provisional figures. The results showed a jarring disconnect between Te Pua Wananga Ki Te Ao – Faculty of Maori and Indigenous Studies, and every other faculty; one we wanted to dig a little deeper on.

It’s worth pointing out no one has complained or suggested we were portraying these stats in an unfair light. It just didn’t sit right with us that the average dropout rate would be almost double of the next worst. We had some theories, of course; the notion of first in families, socialisation, the poverty gap, and expectations of University life. But, just because we theorise about something, does it make it more acceptable? Even if all of these were factors in the dropout rate, shouldn’t we be doing something about it or getting mad? At the very least, we should seek some sort of reassurance that this is something people are trying to understand.

Given its Issue 24 and we were empowered by the notion that whatever we fuck with we don’t have to fix next week, we decided to just approach Deputy Vice-Chancellor Maori Dr Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai and Dean of Te Pua Wananga Ki Te Ao – Faculty of Maori and Indigenous Studies Professor Brendan Hokowhitu and just flat-out ask them what was going on.

Professor Hokowhitu said, ‘The FMIS data relating to ‘drop outs’ is significantly skewed due to one of our language immersion courses, which sits outside of a degree programme.

‘Many of our students choose to do this to become more fluent in their reo without taking part in any other study, and so when they complete this course, are classified as part of the ‘drop out’ statistics which is not correct.

‘...If we take these students into account the percentage of FMIS students who ‘drop out’ is more in the region of 17-20 percent...’

Dr Sarah-Jane said, ‘The challenge that we do have at the university is what the data presents which in a way is faceless, and then when you try to put a face to all of the data, that’s where you get all of the complexities.

‘There’s FMIS, but it’s relative across xall the other faculties as well.

‘We have a Māori equity fund, which I do oversee, and some of the initiatives we had there, we work really closely with our Māori student groups and provide funding support and enhance the participation of our Māori students while they’re here.

‘The University, as a whole, has a responsibility to provide support services for all of our students, of which 24 percent of our student population are Māori, and then the equity fund is over and above that, so it’s an additional pool of funding which helps enhance.

‘For me, it’s about ‘what else can we do to help lift that?’ Through our Māori mentoring services, working directly with the students, our leadership programme for our Māori students...

‘It kind of speaks to the diverse experiences of our students across the campus, and making sure we’re not just trying to do a ‘one size fits all’.

‘Data is data, and what we’re trying to do is provide a diverse range of opportunities and experiences which speaks to the diversity of our student population—and that’s challenging.

‘We don’t have a distinct ‘this is a big issue’ for us. There are some anomalies across all of our programmes so we just try and work to the specifics.’

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