The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed its first New Zealand educational scalp - a Napier language school.

New Horizon College, Hawke's Bay's only stand-alone English language school, will close on May 29 after 32 years.

Ewen Mackenzie-Bowie, director of the Auckland-based ICL Education Group which bought the college in 2012, said student numbers had been declining even before the virus from about 50 to around 20 or 30.

"We have been agonising over it for quite a long time because the numbers were steadily dropping over the past two years and we just felt it was no longer sustainable," he said.

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"With the additional pressure of the virus we could see it was going to change business everywhere. That was what pushed us over the edge."

However, New Zealand has so far avoided the mass layoffs in private educational institutions that have already started overseas.

Feroz Ali (left) and Michele Whitecliffe co-own the Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design in Parnell. Photo / Supplied
Feroz Ali (left) and Michele Whitecliffe co-own the Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design in Parnell. Photo / Supplied

Feroz Ali, who owns schools in Canada as well as Skill NZ and Auckland's Whitecliffe art school, said his Vancouver school had taken in several hundred students from other schools that have collapsed.

"We have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of schools laying off staff in Canada and across the globe," he said.

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New Zealand's biggest private tertiary provider, Up Education (formerly ACG's tertiary arm), said only "a few" of its 1200 staff have been made redundant.

Mark Rushworth of Up Education has made a few staff redundant and cut staff to 80 per cent of their normal pay for 80 per cent of normal hours. Photo / Supplied
Mark Rushworth of Up Education has made a few staff redundant and cut staff to 80 per cent of their normal pay for 80 per cent of normal hours. Photo / Supplied

"There are front reception staff, there is no work they can do, we can't redeploy them, and there are some campuses where we could decide actually maybe we don't reopen if this goes on for a sustained period of time," Up chief executive Mark Rushworth said.

He said the number of redundancies was more than 10, but declined to give a precise number.

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Up Education has also put all staff on 80 per cent of their normal salaries and 80 per cent of normal hours.

"Our tutors do typically 20 hours of teaching and 20 hours of class preparation and marking," Rushworth said.

"We have asked them to do 20 hours of teaching and 12 hours of marking and class preparation."

All teaching has been moved online. The company has lent computers and paid for home internet for 200 of its 5000 students who didn't have their own devices and internet, paying for mobile data plans for students to "hot-spot" internet access off their mobile phones.

Yoobee Colleges creative design students are studying online via Zoom. Photo / Supplied
Yoobee Colleges creative design students are studying online via Zoom. Photo / Supplied

Surprisingly, the move online has produced a 25 per cent spike in inquiries from students wanting to enrol in Up's Yoobee Colleges of creative design from regions where there are no physical campuses, so Rushworth said lectures would continue to be livestreamed for those remote students even when the campuses reopen.

"In the longer term that means we are going to see a fundamental shift in the way education is delivered," he said.

All private tertiary providers who spoke to the Herald said the NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has fast-tracked approvals for online delivery to NZ-based students.

However, those that have applied to deliver courses to students offshore are still waiting for approval, as NZQA considers the issues involved.

"We have 58 students in China studying online with us, and when the borders do open they will come down to NZ," Rushworth said.

"But it's hard to recruit a student and teach offshore when it's unclear when the borders are going to reopen and what happens to post-study work rights in that environment."

Paul Chalmers of Auckland's Newton College of Business and Technology has proposed that students who do, say, the first six months of their study online overseas, and then complete their course in NZ, should be able to count those six months offshore towards their work rights after graduating.

Darren Conway of Languages International said language schools would be "wiped out" if the borders stay closed, but he believes overseas students would still come even if they have to be quarantined for the first two weeks.

"Figuring out a model for controlled reopening of the border is important for everybody," he said.

Craig Musson of National Trade Academy is still receiving applications from the Philippines for his agricultural trades courses. Photo / Supplied
Craig Musson of National Trade Academy is still receiving applications from the Philippines for his agricultural trades courses. Photo / Supplied

Craig Musson of Christchurch-based National Trade Academy said he was still receiving applications from the Philippines for courses which train workers for dairy farms.

Brijesh Sethi of the NZ School of Education, who chairs the sector group Quality Tertiary Institutions, said many institutes planned to switch teaching from international students to domestic students, whose numbers usually swell in times of high unemployment.

'"We are looking at transitioning more staff to IT courses," he said. "PTEs [private training establishments] are much more flexible and quick in responding to the market."

Quality Tertiary Institutions chair Brijesh Sethi says many institutes are moving staff out of courses for international students into courses for domestic students. Photo / Supplied
Quality Tertiary Institutions chair Brijesh Sethi says many institutes are moving staff out of courses for international students into courses for domestic students. Photo / Supplied

Mackenzie-Bowie of ICL said foreign students who enrolled in English language courses as a pathway to further academic study would be willing to be quarantined for two weeks.

But he said a quarantine period would drive away students who enrol in short four- to eight-week English courses combined with seeing the country - a mainstay of many schools such as New Horizon College.

"They are going to be in dire straits very quickly and we worry for their future," he said.

Learning Hawke's Bay, which markets 20 Hawke's Bay schools to international students, said it hoped New Horizon's five staff would find new jobs in other schools.

• Official advice: covid19.govt.nz.