It’s big, so plan!.

With 260,000 learners and 30,000 staff all converging on campuses over the next few weeks, we need leaders of the tertiary education system to stand up and put people first.

This means getting the balance right between teaching face-to-face (we know that’s best for many, many students) and trying to do our bit as a sector to slow the spread of Omicron.

Some institutional leaders are doing well and saying, ‘only head to the campus for things that can’t be done from home’.

Our members thrive in the room with learners. Teaching and learning is a very human interaction. But they understand the need to be cautious and protect the vulnerable.

Other employers are demanding almost double the workload from their staff, wanting both in-person and online teaching as well as student support provided by staff.

Just a reminder that in this moment, living with a global pandemic, moving a class that was supposed to be in a room into zoom isn’t easy. And what is happening in zoom for most teaching staff is emergency remote teaching.  

Similarly, if you’re there to support students through their journey, that support is not the same when provided through a computer screen, it’s emergency remote support.

And yes, we need to do those things, but it’s not as simple as many think. Drop out rates are higher when provision and support services move online.

Too many leaders and managers – even a number of vice chancellors – are saying ‘its business as usual, get back to campus’.

Not only are they saying its business as usual, they have very scant plans of how they are going to cope with the very likely spread of Omicron and the resulting staff absences this will cause on the campuses they are responsible for.

It’s not good enough. It’s time for all leaders of the sector to make sure they are working with staff, listening to their expert opinions to put together clear plans. The best way to get through this together.

Tertiary education staff have played a range of important roles during the last two COVID years. They’ve kept training much needed nurses, builders, teachers, social workers and more. They’ve been providing amazing, expert public commentary on what we need to do as a country to get through this moment. They’ve been supporting 260,000 learners so they can get the education needed to transform lives and communities. Right now, they want to keep their sector running. But that can’t happen unless we think and act responsibly.

That means empowering and enabling staff to work safely from home, then to go onto campuses for critical tasks that can’t be done remotely. You can plan a lesson at home, but you can’t teach a chemistry lab from home. You can write correspondence at home, but in some cases need to be face-to-face with a learner to talk about their next steps in their PhD journey.

And when we do go on campus, we need to know that rooms are well ventilated; vaccine passes have been checked; and, that we’ve got the right employer-provided masks.

It doesn’t seem too much to ask to keep us, learners, whanau, and communities safe.