Home > News > Archive > 22nd February 2005

Wananga comes under fire

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier

By Grant Johnston

Te Awamutu based Te Wananga o Aotearoa has hit the national news over the past week, with accusations of nepotism and lack of accountability.

It is not the first time the Wananga has been in the firing line from politicians. Two years ago John Tamihere, Labour MP and Youth Affairs Minister at the time, launched a stinging attack on the Wananga. Mr Tamihere went on the offensive against the Wananga, releasing a media statement in which he accused it of providing courses that lacked relevance and quality. Ironically, Mr Tamihere found himself in strife last year over taxation anomalies.

The Te Awamutu-based Maori tertiary institution was established by (current chief executive) Dr Rongo Wetere in 1984. It now has 10 North Island campuses.

At a function at the Wananga shortly after Mr Tamihere’s attack, Dr Wetere said he believed the success of the Wananga and its explosive growth may have resulted in a ‘tall poppy syndrome’.

“The Wananga was never supposed to outperform major universities in some areas,” Dr Wetere said. He said it had succeeded in training Maori ignored by other tertiary providers and was a stepping stone for Maori hoping to move into higher learning.

Mr Tamihere said he had concerns about course quality, assessment procedures and the relevance of Wananga courses.
Dr Wetere said the Wananga had frequently been under close scrutiny and its answer had been to ensure it was providing quality ‘across the board’.

The difference with the latest attacks is that they focus on the financial dealings of the Wananga. The Auditor-General’s office was already investigating conflict-of-interest claims against the Wananga, when Act MP Ken Shirley made allegations in Parliament last week involving a car grooming firm contracted by the institution.

Mr Shirley said the contract to groom the Wananga’s fleet went untendered to a company owned by the partner of the Wananga’s administration manager. In Parliament, he alleged that is was one of a series of rorts by the institute’s executives
through connections between them and outside companies. He attacked the long-distance Mahi Ora education scheme for migrants, which he said was developed by staff member Susan Cullen - Dr Wetere’s daughter - and sold to the Wananga for $7 million.

The Tertiary Education Commission has questioned Dr Wetere about three reported inducement offers to students - including one where students from Queensland were allegedly offered free flights and accommodation to enrol in security guard courses.

Dr Wetere has stated that there is no substance to the commission’s claim that the Wananga breached funding policies by offering students inducements to enrol.

A local businessman who did not wish to be named, but who had a long association with the Wananga, via its council, said Dr Wetere was a man of integrity. He said during recent years on the council, when issues arose concerning Dr Wetere personally, he generally withdrew himself from the discussion. “I believe that a lot of what has been said in the media is not correct.”