Getting to the CoRE of Māori research

October 2014


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The Tertiary Education Commission’s decision to cease Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga’s funding prompted an outcry. JUDE BARBACK investigates allegations that the funding process was flawed and explores what the future holds for Māori-led research.



The decision not to renew funding for New Zealand’s only Māori Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE), Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (NPM), left the Māori research community reeling. Advocates for NPM, and for Māori-led research in general, grappled with what the implications might be for Māori-led research, and for New Zealand research as a whole.

Origins of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga

The funding decision would have been a blow to any CoRE, but to NPM, New Zealand’s only Māori CoRE, which had been successfully operating for over a decade, the decision came as a complete shock.

Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, which translates as ‘horizons of insight’, was founded in 2002 by Professors Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Michael Walker. Hosted by The University of Auckland, with 16 partner research entities, it focuses on conducting research of relevance to Māori communities, but also on contributing to global indigenous research and affairs.

It boasts a lengthy list of accomplishments. It has just under 100 research projects either completed or underway spanning education, health, environmental restoration, and the Māori economy. Over the years it has supplied a huge number of grants and scholarships to support Māori and indigenous students and researchers working in its field of indigenous (Māori) development and advancement. Its Māori post-graduate programme, MAI Te KupeNgā, has seen a massive increase in the number of Māori postgrads.

NPM currently receives $5.3 million per annum from Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) CoRE funding, but in February this year, the results of the 2013-14 CoRE funding round put an end to future funding.

Marginalisation of Māori research

The TEC contracts the Royal Society of New Zealand to operate the general CoREs selection round and to provide the TEC with funding recommendations. An expert selection panel is appointed by the CoREs secretariat on the advice of the chair of the advisory committee and the appropriate expert selection panel chair.

For the 2013/14 round, the panel had the difficult task of selecting from 27 CoRE proposals – some existing CoREs like NPM, others new proposals. Of these, eight proposals were shortlisted for site visits, including three of the existing CoREs.

Four of the existing CoREs, including NPM, were not shortlisted. As a result, the decision was made to cease NPM’s funding when its present contract ends on 31 December 2015. Funding for the Riddet Institute at Massey University, Gravida at Auckland University, and the Bio-Protection Centre at Lincoln University also suffered the same fate.

No doubt the standard was high – 27 applications contesting for a slice of the $32 million funding pool, but perhaps questions need to be asked why no effort was made to prioritise Māori research, particularly New Zealand’s only Māori CoRE that had by all accounts proven itself to be successful in its 12 years of operation. In fact, not one Māori-led bid was shortlisted in the 2013/14 CoRE funding round.

The Government’s later actions confirm that Māori-led research is indeed a priority, which adds weight to the argument that perhaps the CoRE selection process was flawed.

NPM director Tracey McIntosh has raised concerns about the lack of Māori representation on the selection panel.

“There was no Māori on the selection panel or advisory committee, nor any individual with expertise in Mātauranga Māori or on Māori research methods,” said McIntosh.

The Royal Society of New Zealand website states that the appointments of members to the expert selection panels will aim to achieve where possible “adequate representation of relevant research disciplines”. There is also an expectation for members to demonstrate “understanding of and commitment to the Government’s strategic direction for New Zealand”.

Given the Government’s commitment to Māori research, it would seem McIntosh and others have a right to feel aggrieved.

TEC chief executive Tim Fowler does not dispute the lack of Māori representation but maintains the diversity of the 2013/14 selection panel.

“The Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga application was assessed by a diverse panel of experts containing respected and experienced researchers in social sciences, economics and policy,” he said.


In any case, the CoRE research funding decision prompted an outcry.

Dr Pita Sharples of the Māori Party described the decision not to renew NPM’s funding as “a slap in the face to Māori research” and said it was a clear sign that Government agencies are marginalising Māori development and communities.

Sharples noted the decision is at odds with Kā Hikitia, the Māori Education Strategy, He Kai Kei Aku Ringa and the Tertiary Education Strategy.

Lesley Francey of the Tertiary Education Union was among those left wanting to know more about the criteria for funding and why NPM had missed out.

“On the face of it, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga seemed to cover all the criteria for funding and more. It is a hard decision to fathom based on the information we have from the Commission so far,” she said.

Māori members of the Tertiary Education Union called the TEC to reconsider the funding application immediately.

However, TEC chief executive Tim Fowler suggests Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga lacked the “extremely high levels of research excellence” needed to be successful. Fowler describes the standard of the 2013/14 CoRES competitive selection round as “very high”.

“In regard to the application from Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, the CoREs selection process was fundamentally about funding research excellence first and foremost, together with other selection criteria focused on contribution to the tertiary education system, contribution to New Zealand’s future development, and governance and management. Applicants that were unable to demonstrate extremely high levels of research excellence and meet the other selection criteria were ultimately unsuccessful.”

Government response

Like a square peg is to a round hole, it seems that NPM did not fit the highly competitive model and tight criteria against which the CoREs were assessed in the 2013/14 round.

This did not appear to sit comfortably with the Government, and in the wake of the CoRE funding round decision, it appeared to grasp for solutions to help ease the pressure. In April it announced funding of up to $2.5 million a year in Māori-led science and innovation.

While NPM welcomed the investment, research director Dr Dan Hikuroa was quick to point out that it did not represent new or unexpected funding, or funding for Māori-led research, but rather funding that has been administered for some time under the Vision Mātauranga policy of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to unleash Māori potential.

“While welcomed, NPM notes that without a secure funding base it will be difficult to fully realise the potential of Māori. Te Pūnaha Hihiko funding guidelines explicitly state that this money is not to be used for research purposes,” said Hikuroa.

“Therefore, the future of Māori research, which ensures innovation and benefit to the nation are captured, will remain uncertain until future research monies are guaranteed.”

So to this end, the Government announcement did little to placate those fighting for the future of Māori research, and NPM’s future in particular.

The hui that was heard

Momentum continued to build. Over 100 letters were received from around the world decrying the decision not to continue NPM’s funding.

A hui was held on 20 March 2014 at Auckland University’s Waipapa Marae and attended by over 200 people. Many prominent speakers took the stage, including NPM board chair, Sir Tipene O’Regan, Professor Sir Mason Durie, Dame Iritana Tāwhiwhirangi, Associate Professor Leonie Pihama, and Professor Charles Royal.

While the cessation of funding for NPM was naturally high on the agenda, the meeting also addressed some wider concerns around the marginalisation of Māori research. It discussed concerns around the development of the Māori economy, issues of social transformation and equity for Māori communities, and how to harness and strengthen the creative potential of Mātauranga Māori.

Budgetary beacon of hope

The timing of the hui was crucial, as it coincided with the annual Budget. Among the budgetary decisions made around increased investment in research excellence, Māori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples and Associate Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Tariana Turia announced funding of $5 million a year to establish a Māori-focused CoRE beginning on 1 January 2016, when NPM’s current contract expires.

The funding is part of the Government’s further investment in the CoREs fund, for four more CoREs including a specific Māori CoRE.
In his announcement, Sharples acknowledged the “extraordinary research” carried out by NPM and said it is essential there is a Māori CoRE to continue that work.

“This new funding will ensure that we are building on the work that Māori are already doing in the research space,” Turia added.
Advocates for Māori research, including NPM representatives, were reportedly delighted with the news, although McIntosh posed the obvious question to Government.

“However, it must be asked of the Minister of Māori Affairs, why was Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga unsuccessful in its bid for its usual CoRE funding, which it has received from TEC since 2002?”

The answer remains unclear, although the TEC’s response indicates that NPM simply did not rank as highly as other bids in a highly competitive race for funding under tight criteria. Meanwhile, McIntosh, although quick to acknowledge the merits of the successful CoREs, believes the selection process, including the lack of Māori representation, was ultimately to blame.

In any case, she is certain the Government’s decision to establish a Māori CoRE was made in direct response to the outcry at the cessation of NPM’s funding.

“The groundswell has led to a high level of engagement with Ministers and officials in order to see the Māori CoRE come to fruition,” she said, “There has been incredible support.”

McIntosh hopes that Māori will also play a vital role in processes for the new Māori CoRE funding. She also says NPM will strategise with their partners to work towards a proposal for the best outcomes for the future of Māori research.

Fowler confirms there will certainly be Māori representation for the 2014/15 round.

“The TEC is directly operating the selection round to select a Māori CoRE. Emeritus Professor Sir Mason Durie, a highly regarded leader in Māori health and education and indigenous development, has been appointed to chair the selection committee. The TEC sought nominees for membership of selection committee and will be making further announcements on the composition of the committee in October.”

The new funding for the Māori CoRE is subject to a competitive tender process for Māori researchers and Māori-led research institutes.

Given the concerns raised about the CoRE funding round earlier this year, McIntosh says it is positive that there is to be an open contestable round process for the Māori CoRE, compared with a closed round process normally used for CoRE selection.

McIntosh says there have been at least three bids put forward for the Māori CoRE, including one from NPM.

Expressions of interest for the CoRE were due in by 15 August, pre-proposals are due in on 14 November, and full proposals by 27 February 2015.

The future of Māori research

Is NPM likely to win the bid for the Māori CoRE?

McIntosh feels they are well-placed to win, for a range of reasons including its global presence and high brand recognition.

“But we certainly recognise the strengths of the other bids,” she said.

The process of being unsuccessful in the CoRE funding round, then preparing for a new bid, has given NPM the chance for some self-reflection.

“It’s given us the opportunity to use our imagination and think about what is it that we need,” said McIntosh.
It has undoubtedly been a challenging year for NPM.

“It has been a difficult process,” acknowledged McIntosh. “It hasn’t been without some level of damage but I am confident the objectives of Māori research are now being heard.”

McIntosh said regardless of whether it wins the bid, NPM will continue in some guise.

Ultimately she is pleased that the future of Māori research is looking brighter.

“One of the good things to have come out of this is that whatever happens, regardless of whether Ngā Pae wins the bid, there will be a Māori CoRE, an avenue for Māori researchers.

“We do not want to see a return to the days when Māori research is funnelled back into the mainstream.” 

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