Otago Polytechnic
CORP staff ChrisWilliamson 012

Relationships key to student success

New research from Otago Polytechnic's School of Social Services and Head of School, Chris Williamson, investigating how to improve Maori academic success.

Chris Williamson

A commitment to Māori student success has led staff at the School of Social Services on a journey of learning that has resulted in a major improvement in Māori achievement rates.

“The statistics were pretty clear – our Māori students were not succeeding at the same rate as other students,” explains the Head of School, Chris Williamson. “We all wanted our Māori students to succeed as well as anybody else. It’s an equity issue and a social justice issue.”

The School’s challenge was to identify and implement meaningful, effective changes. To facilitate this, tau iwi staff members were guided through a series of workshops and hui, consulting with the Polytechnic’s Kaitohutohu Office and undertaking the Certificate in Mata ā Ao Maori courses.

“We learned there is a critical difference between the standard Western approach to working, and approaches that work for Māori,” explains Chris. “One thing we changed was a stronger focus on building relationships with all of our students before beginning the content delivery.”

This was fostered, in part, through an overnight camp attended by staff and new students, at which students develop relationships with their peers, and lecturers. Year Two students run workshops at the camp and talk to the new students about their experiences.

The results of such changes have been remarkable, with Māori student success rates climbing dramatically – there is now no significant difference between the Māori student success rates and those of non-Maori.

“There’s still more we can do,” acknowledges Chris, “and we are committed to working with the Kaitohutohu Office to continue this journey.”


Williamson, C. (2013) Developing a staff training package to support tau iwi engaging with a Maori Strategic Framework. Paper presented at the New Zealand Association of Counsellors Annual Conference, Napier. May 23-24, 2013