The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 3           January 23, 2006  
Maori university wins claim against New Zealand gov’t
AUCKLAND, New Zealand—The Waitangi Tribunal, a body set up to hear Maori claims for stolen land and other rights, has condemned the government for its attempts to control and downsize Te Wananga o Aotearoa (TWOA). The wananga is a Maori-based educational institution providing courses for adults.

On December 22 the tribunal released its ruling in favor of a claim by TWOA’s parent body, which said the government had undermined Maori authority through exerting “immense and unrelenting” pressure on the institution.

In February 2005 the government appointed a manager to take over the wananga’s finances, withheld a $20 million loan, and forced members of TWOA’s governing council to resign—leaving government appointees in a majority of that body.

In a related barrage the media alleged misappropriation of government funds. In the firing line was TWOA’s chief executive, Rongo Wetere, whom the government called upon to resign. The auditor-general’s office began investigations and the wananga’s council suspended Wetere in October.

Releasing the auditor-general’s report on December 5, Wetere said it found “no fraud, no corruption, and no nepotism.” Ignoring these findings, the government said the audit found some poor management practices and continued targeting Wetere. On December 15, Wetere announced his retirement.

The government pressure is aimed at imposing a charter on TWOA, which would restrict its courses to those with Maori cultural content or specifically tailored to Maori, and limit its roll predominantly to Maori students. This would lead to cutting the size of the institution and reducing government funding.

Wetere set up the wananga in 1983 to encourage the large numbers of Maori who had left school to resume studying. In 2003, more than half of all Maori students participating in tertiary (university-level) education were enrolled at TWOA.

The popularity of TWOA’s courses is such that it has become New Zealand’s largest tertiary education provider, with 56,000 students enrolled last year, 55 percent of whom were non-Maori. Most courses are free.

One new course with nearly 6,000 students is Greenlight Learning for Life, aimed at improving reading and writing skills for adults. It has come under particular attack because of its origins in and connection to Cuba. The Cuban Ministry of Education has provided teachers to come here to develop the New Zealand version of this internationally-renowned program. This course gained recognition at the Seventh World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education, which was hosted by TWOA in November.

Since the tribunal’s ruling, the government has backed off its efforts, for now, to change the wananga’s charter and reduce its size and has agreed to expand the governing council.  
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