Tue 28 Apr 2015

WITT & Iwi forge closer relationship

Maori leaders from around Taranaki have shown support for Witt's attempts to build better relationships with tangata whenua.

On Monday, a hui  held at New Plymouth's polytech attracted more than 40 Maori leaders from across a range of sectors, including business, education and the social services.

It was an opportunity for the group to discuss ideas about how Witt could work better with Maori, an initiative that had been a long time coming according to Emere Wano, director of Tihi Events Management Ltd.

"I can't recall the last time it happened.  It seems the only news has been bad news, so this is very refreshing," she said.

Witt chief executive Barbara George  acknowledged the problems the institution faced last year with its Maori Performing Arts course but said there was a need now to rebuild the department along with the supports which could be offered to prospective students.

"The hui was a start of doing just that.  Before we put anything in place it's essential we actually talk to the region's Maori leaders about what they would like to see us offer to enhance the offerings to Maori," she said.

In 2014, Witt was forced to repay the Crown $3.7m  after an investigation revealed it had graduated students from two Maori performing arts courses which they probably did not attend.

For South Taranaki District councillor Bonita Bigham, who is also a former Witt tutor, the meeting represented a fresh start for all involved.

"It's a clean slate for Witt as far as I'm concerned.  This is a great start to refocus our future aspirations for Maori education in Taranaki and our relationship with Witt," she said.

Parininihi ki Waitotara chief executive Dion Tuuta agreed with Bigham's positive sentiments and said Witt was "crucially important" to Taranaki.

"It's great to see Maori academic leaders, Maori business leaders  and iwi leaders all in the same room together talking abut the one thing we all definitely have in common - we all want to see our people succeed," he said.