Educational research and the NZARE in Aotearoa New Zealand: A report for the British Educational Research Association

Dr Ruth Boyask, AUT – Auckland University of Technology

This article was published in BERA’s quarterly newsletter Research Intelligence in May 2022. It is one of a series on the state of the discipline in different national jurisdictions. It was written after attending the NZARE conference 2021.

The New Zealand Association for Research in Education (NZARE) conducts its business in some ways different from educational research associations in other jurisdictions. New Zealand has shown points of difference from other nations in its humanistic response to the global pandemic. The response that prioritises public health and welfare was held up as a model by some overseas, suggesting differences in the way New Zealand organises other social structures and institutions may also be of interest.

The position of NZARE president is held by two people as a matter of principle. There is no full presidential address at conference beyond the report to the Annual General Meeting. Co-presidents 2021, Mere Berryman and Fuapepe Rimoni, tell me that NZARE places a lot of importance upon sharing power – that is sharing power between colleagues and between the organisation and other institutions where their members are based. For example, the hosting institution plays a critical role in annual conferences, with an organising committee drawn primarily from NZARE members within the locality and supported by the NZARE executive officer, Kelly Te Paa. Co-editor of the NZARE journal New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies – Te Hautaka Mātai Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Georgina Stewart, says that while NZARE takes an interest in governance matters, the editors have considerable editorial autonomy. NZARE Council receives an annual report from the chair of the editorial board, and endorses decisions such as board membership, but the journal’s operations function independently from NZARE as an organisation.

The pandemic has affected the two most recent conferences. In 2020 the conference was cancelled, and the 2021 conference hurriedly switched to online in response to government changes to Covid-19 assembly rules. Talking with the co-presidents soon after the 2021 conference, they identify significant changes in the culture of NZARE conferences since they first started attending. The presentations and participants have changed. There are more participants from Pacific and Māori communities, more knowledge is shared through open discussion such as kōrero and talanoa instead of transmission of knowledge through presentation, postgraduate and early career researchers feature more visibly, and the research discussed has changed so that the voice of the academy is not only white and framed by a Western epistemology. The colonial voice that dominated is still present but has become quieter and voices that were marginalised have taken centre stage. Research published in the journal also reflects more diversity in research. NZARE seen in this light is a post-colonial project where indigenous researchers and their allies have moved into an established institution and used it to create a place of safety and development for indigenous research.

There are changes within broader New Zealand society that parallel changes within NZARE. It is now common to find terminology from te reo Māori (indigenous Māori language) represented in all forms of educational or public debate. New Zealand in 2021 is referred to variously as New Zealand, Aotearoa, or Aotearoa New Zealand. While New Zealand presently is the official name, Aotearoa New Zealand represents the fraught bicultural relations between the indigenous and other population that were codified through the 1840 signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi or Treaty of Waitangi (a contested treaty between some but not all Māori and the British Crown).

Considering the humanist and post-colonial discourses circulating in New Zealand’s public life, it is pertinent and of potential interest for educational researchers outside of New Zealand to ask what influence they have on the working conditions of educational researchers within it. NZARE as an organisation has not sought to examine and map the state of educational research in the same way as BERA and the Australian Association for Research in Education have done (e.g. see Wyse, 2020; Brennan, 20211). Yet just like in these other jurisdictions the work conditions of educational researchers in New Zealand are organised by policy, institutional and global discourses, including those favouring economic over human development and a market economy in research. There has been no formal investigation of the conditions of educational research by NZARE, yet they are of interest to some of its members.

At the 2021 conference, Cathy Wylie, one of the chief researchers at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER; a research organisation that is tied to but at arm’s length from government), presented recent research that asks, ‘Is educational research in Aotearoa in good shape?’. Looking at external indicators she concluded that educational research is facing resourcing pressures that challenge the continuance of good research and capacity within the field. The distribution of the tertiary education Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) is decided through a national Quality Evaluation, like the UK’s Research Excellence Framework, yet it centres on assessment of an accumulation of evidence rather than judicious selection. Quantity of research appears to be healthy in this environment, with measured increases in publications. Yet Wylie is concerned that there is a narrowing of opportunities for researchers in respect of funding and utilisation of research that likely will negatively affect Māori and Pacific educational research. For instance, New Zealand’s Ministry of Education funds fewer studies and evaluations and has narrowed what it values as evidence for policymaking, following global trends in preference for quantitative research. This overlooks the value of educational research methodologies NZARE is working to support, or its members propose are more appropriate for the local cultural conditions. For instance, Carrie Van der Zwaag’s conference presentation proposed a need for resolving tensions between the different agendas of researchers and practitioners, evident in increased difficulties for researchers negotiating access to participants and research settings. Her solution was an interrelational framework, where agendas and processes are formed collaboratively. Research created through interrelationships and collaboration is difficult to do at scale. Some try to achieve it, however, such as the government funded study of children’s early development, A Better Start: E Tipu E Rea, that designs qualitative and quantitative questionnaires based on a ngākau approach that ‘values collaboration and partnership’, ‘protects wellbeing and mana’ and ‘fosters engagement and participation’ (Derby & Macfarlane, 2021).

In 2021 a PBRF Sector Reference Group was established by government’s Tertiary Education Commission to evaluate past PBRF evaluations and provide advice and recommendations for the next PBRF evaluation in 2025. While they are still deliberating, their most recent consultation paper recommends a more holistic approach that recognises greater diversity in research production, especially new recognition of Māori and Pacific knowledges. The policy discourses in the recommendations for PBRF are moving closer to those of NZARE and its researchers, yet it is still to be seen how they will be taken up by government or enacted in the institutions where researchers work. This is where an ongoing observation of the state of the discipline in Aotearoa New Zealand may be useful work for NZARE.

1 Brennan, M. (2021). The view from Australia. Research Intelligence, 146, 24–25.

Dr Ruth Boyask is a Senior Lecturer in Education at AUT – Auckland University of Technology. Her research interests centre on public education and the associated principles of participation, equality and social justice. Her work has included exploration of market-driven education, democracy in educational reform, children’s reading as a public education issue, and how school governance contributes to equitable systems of schooling. Ruth has a long involvement with the British Educational Research Association and until recently was an elected member of the BERA Council.

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