Pacific peoples and tertiary education: Issues of participation

Publication Details

This research focused on the participation patterns of Pacific students in tertiary education and barriers to their participation. It has three parts: a literature review on the experiences of Pacific tertiary students; analysis of national data and information from tertiary education providers on their strategies for recruiting and retaining Pacific students; and interview-based information on the experiences of participants and those who didn't complete their studies or take part at all in tertiary education.

Author(s): Melani Anae, Helen Anderson, John Benseman and Eve Coxon, Auckland Uniservices Limited, University of Auckland.

Date Published: February 2002


The Brief

The Government's Pasifika Education Plan for tertiary education nominates as its focus `increasing participation and achievement, improving retention and encouraging higher levels of study'. The research study reported on here addresses this focus.

As stated in the Ministry's brief for the research, the recognition of the need for a research study of this nature arose from the considerable evidence available about the `gap' in participation and achievement of Pacific peoples in tertiary education. While Pacific peoples' participation has increased over the last decade it is still lower than that of the general population, and there is a lack of understanding about why the `gap' persists. As noted, in order for appropriate Pacific-focussed policy responses it is crucial that the specific barriers to Pacific participation and achievement in tertiary education be identified.

The purpose of this research study was, therefore, to gather qualitative information on the actual and perceived barriers to participation in tertiary education and training for Pacific peoples. The study had a particular mission to develop an understanding of the experiences and perceptions of Pacific communities, in order to inform future policies aimed at addressing barriers to Pacific people's participation in tertiary education and training.

Specific areas for the project to investigate included:

  • current participation patterns and steps taken in different tertiary education institutions to identify and remove barriers;
  • the views of Pacific peoples who have participated successfully in tertiary education, those who have participated but not completed their studies, and those who have not participated in tertiary education; and
  • the views of a range of Pacific community members, including the families of potential students as to why some have succeeded and the barriers to students' participation.

The following assumptions were made in designing the research:

  • that `tertiary education' includes universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and private training establishments (PTEs);
  • that Pacific peoples can enter tertiary education both as school-leavers and as mature-age adults, and that the research needs to address these groups as taking different routes with different accompanying issues;
  • that the term `Pacific peoples' contains considerable cultural and historical diversity which will need to be addressed in appropriate ways by the researchers; and
  • that there are already in existence successful programmes and strategies in this area and that it is important to document and analyse these success stories as part of this project.

Research Methodology

The research questions established by the Ministry were addressed by a range of research activities utilising both qualitative and quantitative data sources:

  • Identification and analysis of previous research and writing on the topic of Pacific students access to, participation in and experiences of tertiary education.
  • Analysis of present participation patterns nationally and in a selection of key tertiary institutions. The quantitative data collated has been analysed for total distributions and for statistical significance nationally, across and within institutions. Results from this data analysis is presented in graph form.
  • Survey of tertiary institutions' present policies, programmes and strategies aimed at recruiting and retaining Pacific students.
  • Interviews with key informants in selected TEIs and PTEs, with experience in recruiting, supporting and retaining Pacific students.
  • Interviews with Pacific students who have participated in tertiary programmes and who did complete their studies.
  • Interviews with Pacific students who have participated in tertiary programmes, but did not complete their studies.
  • Interviews with non-participants.
  • Interviews with Pacific community members (including families of potential students).

All data from individual and group interviews was recorded, transcribed and analysed using conventional qualitative data analysis and the NUDIST software package. All individuals were given acronyms and full confidentiality was assured. This was stipulated in the ethics approval for the project provided by the University of Auckland Human Subjects Research Committee.

The final draft report was circulated for comments to all key persons (16) from Part B, and individual interviewees (30) from Part C, and comments noted before the report was finalised.

Pacific Research Protocols

The research team was committed to ensuring that appropriate `Pacific' cultural protocols and processes were embedded in the research design, implementation, analysis, report writing and dissemination. It was determined that the team would:

  • uphold Pacific `ownership' of the objectives and processes of the research.
  • seek and utilise Pacific input at all stages of the research and use consultative and participatory processes.
  • proceed in a manner appropriate to the cultural contexts concerned and ensure that language is not a barrier to participation.
  • ensure that the Papalagi members in the research team acknowledged their cultural limitations, and affirmed their commitment to working in culturally safe ways.
  • ensure that all aspects of the research were monitored closely for safety and relevance, both by our Pacific Senior researchers, and community-based interviewers.
  • ensure that Senior Pacific Researchers managed and had overall responsibility for research interfaces with Pacific participants.

The Report

The research findings are presented in four parts. Part A, Context and Patterns, includes two chapters: the literature review and the data on tertiary participation patterns of Pacific students. A list of references is provided at the end.

Part B, Tertiary Provider Views, also includes two chapters: one detailing the providers' views on Pacific students' access to tertiary education and the other their views on retention of, and success for, Pacific students.

In the four chapters comprising Part C, Pacific Voices, the information shared through focus group interviews is presented with one chapter for each group entitled as follows: successful students, partial achievers, non-participants and community perspectives.

Part D, Navigating Futures, includes a chapter which highlights the key issues arising from the research, and a final chapter which makes recommendations.

Contact Us

For more information about the content on this webpage, please email the:  Tertiary Mailbox