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Universities eye $400 million hole if borders remain closed to international students

Universities say they are prepared to quarantine international students, as the sector eyes a $400 million fall out if borders are to remain closed.

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The Education Minister has made it clear our borders remain closed to non-citizens. Source: Seven Sharp

Many universities were gearing up to welcome students back this coming semester, but the Education Minister has made it clear the country’s borders are to remain closed to non-citizens and residents as the threat of Covid-19 still looms large.

A $5 billion sector that is now struggling to survive, universities say they're prepared for the students to arrive and have some ideas on how to manage.

“We’ve been putting some ideas to Government. Ultimately it's going to be their call to say what is going to meet the required standards,” says Universities New Zealand director Chris Whelan.

“We’re talking about using our halls of residence, having Government officials monitoring adherence of quarantine and basically just making sure that we’re able to put students in spaces that are safe, comfortable, healthy, where we can do some teaching while they wait out their two weeks of quarantine.”

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Mr Whelan says if international students aren't allowed back anytime soon it won’t just be universities that are affected.

“It’s going to create some challenges for us, not the least financially,” says Mr Whelan.

“We’ll have about a $400 million hole next year but more than that, for the wider New Zealand economy it’s about $5 billion. It’s about 45,000 jobs for New Zealanders, so it's got some pretty major implications but we only want to restart it when we can do so safely.”

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He says the goal is to ensure there is no realistic risk of Covid-19 spreading.

“We have some pretty good options on being able to do that.

“If we run a really good quarantine, we have the Government actually supervising it and we have the threat of deportation for students that don’t take it seriously, we've got a pretty good chance of making that work."