Francesca Rudkin: Universities are crucial to revive the economy

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Sun, 26 Jul 2020, 9:47AM
Photo / Mark Mitchell

Francesca Rudkin: Universities are crucial to revive the economy

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Sun, 26 Jul 2020, 9:47AM

On July 13th, Auckland City Councillor Desley Simpson and Chair of the Finance and Performance Committee, wrote an open letter on The Spinoff to the government, and in particular the Prime Minister, pleading for someone to contact them regarding shovel ready project funding.

With less than a week until Council had to vote on their emergency budget, knowing whether the government would commit to shovel ready projects in Auckland would have a massive impact on the budget – about $98 million worth.

Simpson, after several attempts to get an answer out of central government, called their silence on this matter bewildering.

56 days out from the General Election, and with every party telling us they are most suited to the challenge of leading the country through this post-covid crisis, it seems that communicating a plan for how you were going to do this - as opposed to the tit for tat electioneering and deflections we’ve seen over the last few weeks - would be more helpful in making the case you’re up to the job.

This week it was reported, again, that New Zealand universities are expected to forgo about $200 million in revenue for 2020, with that figure to rise to $400 million in 2021. Collectively the loss of spending in the community by international students is expected to be around $700 million a year.

With borders shut indefinitely, Universities have little choice but to rely on government handouts. The government has already announced initiatives in the budget to fund enrolments, training and apprenticeships and maintain quality of learning opportunities, with more about to be announced for those impacted by the loss of international students.

But there needs to be a long term plan in action – Universities need some assurance they will be able to host international students, preferably from the beginning of 2021.

Failure to do this will see New Zealand students pay the price for that lack of income – and nobody wants a fee increase, especially if the services provided by a University are reduced due to budget cuts.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has said New Zealand doesn’t have the capacity to quarantine all international students. So, how would you feel if Universities offered their own quarantine facilities?

Obviously international students would have to pay for their quarantine, and Universities would have to tick all the boxes when it comes to providing managed isolation facilities with procedures, testing and security that met government specifications.

We don’t need to let them all in at once – but even if a percentage of students were allowed to return to New Zealand from countries in a similar situation to ours – surely being open for business sends a positive message to the global student market.

While I firmly believe protecting our borders is paramount - we still need to be brave and innovative and find ways of getting the economy moving again, without putting New Zealanders at risk.

Covid 19 is accelerating globally, a vaccine is goodness knows how far away.

Considering the total international education sector is worth $5 billion a year to NZ, I would have thought good strong communication between the sector and the government to come up with a plan, would be a priority, and signal an understanding of what is required to guide New Zealand through the difficult years’ ahead.