Professor honoured for services to education and Māori

02 June 2015
Professor Elizabeth McKinley

Professor Elizabeth McKinley has been made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to education and Māori.

Professor McKinley was Director of Starpath for seven years before she took up a position in Australia where she was invited to set up a Centre for Indigenous Education at the University of Melbourne.

Professor McKinley, who is of Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Ngāi Tahu descent, said she found out she was receiving the honour about three months ago when Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet wrote to her offering her the appointment. She’s had to keep it a secret ever since.

“I didn’t tell a soul. It was interesting to see who read the list in the paper and then contacted me. I have fielded a lot of phone calls, emails and Facebook messages in the last couple of days.”

“I feel very privileged that someone thought I was worthy of such an honour and took the time to nominate me. I am sure it involved a lot of form filling. I have no idea who nominated me but I thank them for it.”

Professor McKinley has not only an extensive knowledge of Māori education in New Zealand but of the challenges inherent in reaching students who are falling behind.

She has an ability to interpret and deliver in plain language the complexities of NCEA and how New Zealand’s social fabric and education system intertwine.

Prior to departing Starpath, she worked alongside two other leading Māori academics to establish Kia Eke Panuku - the Building on Success project. Its aim is to raise the achievement of Māori secondary school students by incorporating the best elements from Starpath and other achievement programmes, such as Te Kotahitanga and He Kākano.

“The honour does help to reaffirm my work and that of others who have helped me achieve this honour,” Professor McKinley says.

“Over the years there have been many people who have supported my work in many ways. In particular, I want to acknowledge the work of the Starpath Project team who have worked hard to achieve the success that the project has enjoyed and that enabled me to have a profile in NZ.

“That profile in education has brought me to the attention of the people who nominated me for the honour.”

Professor McKinley is now based at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE) at the University of Melbourne. The MGSE is committed to building an international research centre for Indigenous Studies in Education. Her role is to establish and consolidate this new strand of work.

She has found some similarities in the challenges facing Australia’s indigenous peoples as she did in New Zealand.

“I find there are lots of similarities in the challenges but the contexts in which they can occur are very different. For example, there is no NZ equivalent to schools in small remote settlements in Australia.”

“The achievement profile of Australian Indigenous students is very similar to that for Māori in New Zealand.”

But she is still finding time to enjoy her new city.

“The university is well placed in relation to the city centre which means you can pop into town easily or go to the Queen Victoria Markets to get fresh produce and baked goods to take home for dinner.”

Dean of Education and Social Work Professor Graeme Aitken says the award is a reflection on Professor McKinley’s great work.

“I am very pleased to hear that Liz has received this honour. She has served the education sector, particularly Māori, with great distinction over several decades.

“Her major leadership contribution as the long-serving director of the University's Starpath programme has helped improve the pathway to tertiary study for many Māori and Pacific students."