An Auckland institute with more than 300 Chinese students plans to issue free face masks to students who come to class after returning or arriving from China.

The Mt Albert-based Auckland Institute of Studies (AIS) has emailed its students asking them to stay away for 14 days after arriving or returning from China, in line with advice from the Ministry of Education.

Institute president Dr Julia Hennessy said about 60 per cent of the institute's 600 students were from China, including 65 new students who are due to start their orientation this Thursday.

"Each one of those will be screened," she said.

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"If they have been to China, we have a form to fill in, and if they do not want to take the voluntary stand-down period, we have face masks and hand sanitisers available. We will be very, very strongly encouraging them to wear the face masks."

Dr Julia Hennessy says AIS will provide face masks to anyone attending class after being in China recently. Photo / Supplied
Dr Julia Hennessy says AIS will provide face masks to anyone attending class after being in China recently. Photo / Supplied

Pharmacists report that they are selling out of face masks almost as soon as stocks arrive as people panic about the coronavirus which has now killed 106 people in China.

Although no cases have been reported in New Zealand yet, the Ministry of Education sent the same message to tertiary institutes and early childhood centres today that it sent to schools on Monday: "For anyone who may be at high risk of exposure because they have recently been to China or have been in close contact with someone confirmed with the virus, I encourage you to ask that the staff member or student delay the start of their study year for 14 days and voluntarily stay away."

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About 35,000 Chinese students are studying in New Zealand, accounting for about a third of all international students in polytechnics and private institutes, and more than 40 per cent of those in schools and universities.

But their numbers were already declining, with Chinese first-time student visas down by a quarter from 10,524 in the year to June 2017, to 7953 in the year to last November due to tightening post-study work restrictions here and improving tertiary education options at home in China.

National Trade Academy director Craig Musson (left) with agriculture graduate Zane Billingsley and tutors Penny Mossman and Dave Denham. Photo / File
National Trade Academy director Craig Musson (left) with agriculture graduate Zane Billingsley and tutors Penny Mossman and Dave Denham. Photo / File

National Trade Academy director Craig Musson, who heads the sector group Independent Tertiary Education NZ (Itenz), said most providers would survive any further hit from the coronavirus.

"It's certainly something we didn't need, but in the education sector you have got to be resilient," he said.

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"It certainly will affect some providers across the board from the universities right through to primary schools, it's going to affect everything.

"To what degree will depend on their percentage of Chinese students. A lot of providers have learnt not to have all students from one country - to diversify. Anyone that runs good business practice will have diversified."

University of Auckland communications manager Lisa Finucane said it was too early to see any impact on the university's 4000 students from China.

She said the university was following the official advice, asking all students and staff who have been in China to stay away for 14 days after they return.

"If anyone is held up by that, we will ensure our students are not disadvantaged," she said.

Musson said the education sector was also still struggling with delays in visa processing caused by an Immigration NZ decision to centralise processing for students from most countries in Mumbai. At July 30 last year, 7707 students were waiting for their applications to be processed.

Although that queue shortened to 4470 by October, Musson said it was still difficult to prove that students had adequate funds if they came from cash-based countries such as India, the Philippines and South America.

"We are continuing to work with Immigration NZ on those issues," he said.

First-time student visas approved for Indian students jumped from 3030 in the five months July to November 2018 to 4831 in the same months of 2019 as the processing backlog was cleared.

Chinese first-time student visas fell in the same period from 3431 to 3075, but total first-time visas from all countries increased from 17,092 to 20,032.

The biggest increase apart from India was from South Africa, up from 1003 to 1880.