Collaborating to increase Māori participation in engineering

He Toki hui

Ngāi Tahu, Otago Polytechnic and Ara collaborated on a project to increase the number of Māori engineering graduates through transforming educational pathways.

The He Toki Iwi Industry Māori Engineering Workforce Partnership (He Toki) was an Engineering e2e-funded collaboration between *Tokona Te Raki (a Ngāi Tahu initiative), Ara Institute of Canterbury and Otago Polytechnic. It aimed to increase the number of Māori engineering graduates at each institution.

Planning for change

The partners worked together to implement a variety of initiatives, including:

  • Workshops on cultural responsiveness for engineering tutors
  • Establishing a Table of Champions
  • Redesigning advertising campaigns
  • Introduced fees-free Level 3/4 bridging programmes for Māori students
  • Outreach programmes for kura kaupapa (Māori language schools)
  • Information evenings for whanau and students
  • Attending Māori and Pasifika in Construction events

Increasing Māori NZDE/BEngTech enrolments

Māori are underrepresented in engineering and overrepresented in low-skilled jobs, including many likely to be automated in the future.

During the 12-month project, the partners considered recruitment, content and delivery of engineering courses; their goal to more than double the number of Māori students graduating with a New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) or Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) by 2021.

The focus on transforming education and training pathways involved included looking at how to connect Māori to the jobs of the future, create learning environments which reflect their cultural perspectives, and build an integrated careers system to boost Māori outcomes.

Workshops for engineering tutors

Tokona Te Raki ran professional learning and development (PLD) workshops at Ara and Otago for engineering tutors. They covered Māori cultural perspectives and needs, and looked at how these could be addressed in course content and teaching practice.

Both institutions are looking at including more bicultural content into engineering course curricula, building stronger relationships with iwi, Māori and the local community, and engaging more Māori students in outreach programmes.

Fees-free bridging courses

One of the barriers to Māori enrolling in NZDE and BEngTech programmes is a lack of NCEA credits in prerequisite subjects. In response to this, both tertiary partners introduced fees-free enrolment for Māori students in Level 3 and 4 bridging courses.

Table of Champions

The Table of Champions at each institution was a key project outcome. In addition to engineering tutors, the Tables had representatives from marketing, student learning, outreach, kaiarahi Māori (Māori leadership) and iwi. Those involved recommended that students, employers and more teaching staff join to add their perspectives.

In its final report, Te Hoki notes “These Tables of Champions…… have been instrumental in advocating for and implementing significant change across the e2e project.”

Developing closer relationships with industry

The Tables of Champions identified the opportunity to work with local employers to address a ‘gap’ – where employers and/or employees feel disconnected to education/training at institutions in their local area, and/or are unsure on how to connect.

Members agreed that employers should be invited to collaborate on developing short courses or micro-credentials aimed at upskilling staff in the industry. They noted the potential for each institution to offer ‘taster’ courses for employers wanting to build cultural knowledge to develop better work cultures.  

Challenges to overcome

Ara and Otago are enthusiastic about continuing these initiatives. There has been an increase in the number of Māori students enrolling in Otago’s 2019 Level 3 bridging programme, and steady progression in the number of NZDE and BEngTech enrolments at both institutions.

While the goal of more than doubling the number of NZDE/BEngTech graduates by 2021 has not been achieved, the report notes that this was a lofty goal for a short-term project.

“Our efforts show there is no ‘silver bullet’ to shifting outcomes for Māori.  Barriers facing Māori are historic, systemic and embedded within structures, practices and mind-sets all of which cumulatively contributes to an unbalanced pipeline limiting the numbers of Māori engaging in an engineering career.”

He Toki identified a number of ongoing challenges, such as the need for: ongoing and deeper PLD; more student input for a better understanding of the learner-centred pathway; development of mentoring programmes; greater connection to schools; and reaching students who don’t consider themselves eligible to study engineering.


Given the multi-faceted challenges which require long-term solutions, Te Hoki recommended:

  • More staff be employed for outreach programmes
  • Investment in understanding the Māori learner journey, including study experiences
  • Cultural responsiveness PLD be continued
  • Reinvigorating Māori mentoring programmes, including links to industry mentors
  • Developing more bi-cultural curriculum material
  • Tailoring traditional marketing to Māori
  • Continuing/growing collaboration, including with industry and whanau

*Tokona Te Raki was set up in 2018 to replace Te Tapuae o Rehua, the Ngāi Tahu organisation originally involved in the partnership.
See Tokona Te Raki website

Our thanks to Ariana Te Whetu for her time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

May 2019