‘It’s money, class and priv­i­lege’

Univer­sity stats show big in­take gap be­tween high and low decile schools

Weekend Herald - - Front Page - Kirsty John­ston in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Want to be rich? Don’t be born poor. Only one in 100 en­trants to our elite univer­sity cour­ses come from the most deprived homes, a Weekend Her­ald in­ves­ti­ga­tion has found.

One univer­sity took only a sin­gle decile one en­trant — out of more than

2000 — into its engi­neer­ing pro­gramme in five years. At the same time, it took more than 500 decile 10 stu­dents.

Ad­mis­sion rates to law and medicine were sim­i­larly dire, with only a hand­ful of poor stu­dents in each in­take, data un­cov­ered by the Weekend Her­ald shows.

Crit­ics say the fig­ures raise fears ed­u­ca­tion can no longer ful­fil its role as so­ci­ety’s “great lev­eller” — as gaps be­tween rich and poor are so en­trenched they are al­most im­pos­si­ble to over­come.

De­spite its egal­i­tar­ian be­gin­nings, New Zealand is now the eighth most un­equal so­ci­ety in the OECD — worse than the United King­dom, economist Brian Eas­ton says.

“What would its found­ing 19th cen­tury mi­grants have thought about the fact that New Zealand is now more un­equal than the coun­tries they left?” he said.

Achieve­ment gaps be­tween rich and poor ex­ist through­out the school sys­tem, but are widest at ter­tiary level. For ex­am­ple, at NCEA Level 2 there is a seven per­cent­age point lag be­tween the pass rates of low- and high-decile stu­dents. By the time pupils take Univer­sity En­trance, that grows to 44 points.

Sim­i­larly, while only 17 per cent of low-decile stu­dents go to univer­sity,

50 per cent of high-decile stu­dents do.

The largest chasm, how­ever, is in sec­ond-year univer­sity cour­ses with lim­ited num­bers and high en­try thresh­olds — de­grees which also lead to the high­est salaries.

Data sourced from six uni­ver­si­ties shows while 60 per cent of the al­most

16,000 stu­dents ac­cepted into pro­fes­sional law, medicine and engi­neer­ing in the past five years came from the rich­est third of homes, just

6 per cent came from the poor­est third. If you only in­clude decile one schools — the most dis­ad­van­taged — that fig­ure drops to just 1 per cent.

For ex­am­ple, Vic­to­ria law school took just eight decile one stu­dents. Otago law took three. And of 2000 to­tal en­trants, Can­ter­bury engi­neer­ing took just a sin­gle decile one stu­dent in five years.

“Peo­ple think ed­u­ca­tion is a level play­ing field but this is show­ing that’s not the case,” Univer­sity of Auck­land so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Alan France said.

“We talk about in­creas­ing Ma¯ori and Pa­cific par­tic­i­pa­tion at univer­sity, but ac­tu­ally the un­der­ly­ing is­sue is so­cio-eco­nomics. It’s money. It’s class. It’s priv­i­lege.”

He said be­cause it was un­com­fort­able for the mid­dle class to ac­knowl­edge they had an in­her­ent ad­van­tage over the poor, New Zealand had largely ig­nored its in­equal­ity is­sues.

How­ever, he warned it did so at its peril. Lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties for the poor was both morally and so­cially wrong. With an in­creas­ingly di­verse so­ci­ety it was im­por­tant to have pro­fes­sion­als who rep­re­sented so­ci­ety, he said.

Uni­ver­si­ties New Zealand data showed it was also good for the tax­payer to en­cour­age ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion. Ter­tiary grad­u­ates earned an av­er­age $1.4 mil­lion ex­tra across their life­times, and had bet­ter health and hous­ing out­comes.

The uni­ver­si­ties told the Weekend Her­ald the main rea­son they didn’t ac­cept more poor stu­dents was be­cause they didn’t get the grades, and low-decile schools in par­tic­u­lar needed to fo­cus on get­ting more stu­dents to Year 13.

Schools said it was un­fair to put all the bur­den on them, and that uni­ver­si­ties needed to do more work to lift eq­uity lev­els, with bet­ter out­reach and tran­si­tion pro­grammes,

Peo­ple think ed­u­ca­tion is a level play­ing field but this is show­ing that’s not the case. Alan France, Univer­sity of Auck­land

and more schol­ar­ships. Otago med­i­cal grad­u­ate Ash­ley Insley agreed, say­ing the only rea­son she was able to be­come a doc­tor after drop­ping out of school at age 14 was be­cause of a Ma¯ori eq­uity schol­ar­ship she came across by ac­ci­dent while work­ing in a cafe in her home town of Te Kaha.

Be­fore then, she’d never met any­one who went to univer­sity, and it wasn’t en­cour­aged by her school.

“It’s hard just to stop be­ing poor, to change your sit­u­a­tion when you’re in it,” she said. “If the uni­ver­si­ties reached out it would en­cour­age more peo­ple to con­sider pro­fes­sional pro­grammes.”

How­ever, sec­tor body Uni­ver­si­ties New Zealand said eq­uity fund­ing was a ma­jor bar­rier.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Chris Whe­lan said uni­ver­si­ties were not en­cour­aged to take more “mar­ginal” stu­dents, and there seemed to be no recog­ni­tion that poverty had more im­pact on achieve­ment than eth­nic­ity.

Whe­lan also crit­i­cised the Gov­ern­ment’s fees free pol­icy as “not putting re­source in the right place”.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Chris Hip­kins said fees free was about chang­ing the pub­lic at­ti­tude to post-school ed­u­ca­tion. He knew there was more work to be done on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween so­cio-eco­nomics and achieve­ment, and had asked the uni­ver­si­ties to con­sider it.

The Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion said its cur­rent goal was fo­cus­ing on Ma¯ori and Pasi­fika par­tic­i­pa­tion. Its other fo­cus was on bet­ter ca­reer ad­vice in schools.

Other eq­uity pro­grammes were up to in­di­vid­ual uni­ver­si­ties, the com­mis­sion said.

Photo / Alan Gib­son

Ash­ley Insley says the only rea­son she was able to be­come a doc­tor was be­cause of a Ma¯ori eq­uity schol­ar­ship she came across by ac­ci­dent.

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