As MPs and government officials continue to debate the ongoing travel ban in response to COVID-19 (coronavirus), disruption continues for staff and students in the tertiary education sector.

With students unable to enrol in study, two universities announcing a hiring freeze, and another threatening redundancies, TEU continues to call for a meeting to discuss the development of a plan to minimise the impact of the travel ban on our staff, students and tertiary education institutions.

With around 6000 students unable to make it to New Zealand for the start of class, and the window now closed for students enroling in trimester one, tertiary education providers across the country are predicting substantial financial losses from the drop in enrolments. In response to these losses, pressures seem likely to be passed over to staff and students through cuts and redundancies that will impact working people, and the quality and diversity of tertiary education in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, the Tertiary Education Commission has written directly to tertiary education institutions  advising them that they are not required to to achieve a 3% surplus in abnormal situations - and COVID-19 is exactly such a situation. TEC has announced it expects institutions to use the full range of financial options available to them in responding to the COVID-19 travel ban, including utilising surpluses builts up in previous years.

The TEU welcomes recent advice from TEC that a 3% surplus is not an expectation this year and that it is seeking to ensure that any short or medium term financial impacts on tertiary institutions are “managed appropriately”, especially with regard to speculation about potential staff cuts.

As both Auckland and Victoria universities have announced a staff hiring freeze, TEU continues to call for a sector-wide meeting of all affected parties representing government, sector leaders, unions, staff, students and their communities, to develop a national response to COVID-19 and a way foward that doesn’t simply pass pressures onto staff and students in addressing financial impacts.

TEU Tumu Whakarae | national president Michael Gilchrist says it is vital staff and students are included in high-level decisions in response to COVID-19 in order to minimise any impacts of measures put in place, both in the long and short-term,

“The fact that so many of the sector’s current and potential students have been unable to enrol or attend their studies in trimester one has always been a concern for those of us who value the role education plays in our social and economic lives. We all lose when students are unable to attend their place of study.

Gilchrist continued, “But now we see measures put in place and being considered by tertiary education providers that will continue to impact staff and students long-term. Dropping any requirement for institutions to show a 3% surplus as an important first step in the development of a response that also protects teaching and learning in New Zealand and recognises any likely impacts on staff and students, not just institutions’ bottom-line”.