Auckland University will admit students without University Entrance next year if they've been badly affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns but their teachers believe they can cope with university study.
University vice-chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater has written to Auckland high-school principals, reassuring them that good students can still go to university despite losing almost nine weeks of classes in the region's two lockdowns this year.
Principals and final-year school students are relieved at the gesture.
Luke Orbell, head boy of Manurewa High School where only 58 per cent of students have returned after the latest lockdown, said he was unable to submit any work in two of his subjects during heightened restrictions.
"I think it will relieve a lot of stress for people. It definitely relieves stress for me."
Secondary Principals Association president Deidre Shea said it was "heartening" that universities understood the problems students faced this year.
"They will be listening to us if we say this particular person may or may not achieve the required grades, but we recommend them as being ready and appropriate for this course," she said.
Some South Auckland principals have called for scrapping the external exams for the National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in Auckland this year and allowing teachers to "derive" grades from students' previous work.
Auckland Secondary Schools Principals Association president Steve Hargreaves wants to keep the exams but says Auckland students should be allowed up to four extra "bonus" credits on top of up to eight bonus credits available for all students sitting NCEA Levels 2 and 3 this year after the national lockdown between March and May.
Asked about the principals' calls, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said: "We are constantly looking at that ... we are always getting feedback."
The University of Auckland announced after the first lockdown that it would "place a stronger emphasis on Year 12 results than in the past" and would no longer require NCEA "rank scores" for entry to specific courses.
All NZ universities also agreed that for 2021 they would not enforce the normal rule that students who do at least six months in Year 13 cannot apply for "discretionary entrance" based on their Year 12 results.
Freshwater told principals that "these changes, along with NZQA's change to the University Entrance requirement, will enable students on a track to access university study in 2021, to do so, despite Covid-19-related disruptions".
"But we are also aware that there may be a small number of students whose programme of study has been so severely impacted by Covid-19 that they are unlikely to meet even these modified requirements for 2021," she wrote.
"For these students we are open to considering a recommendation from you as to their suitability for university study."
She said the university would soon announce preparatory programmes for students to take over the summer if they have not achieved University Entrance (UE) or the specific requirements for their chosen courses.
Janny Jones, another Manurewa High School Year 13 student who wants to study engineering at Auckland University next year, said she was not sure if she could achieve all the prerequisites.
"I need to put the time in," she said. "I personally have that time but I know, speaking for my school, a lot of people don't."
Florence Folasa, also in Year 13 at Manurewa, wants to study social work next year but said the lockdowns had undermined her confidence.
"We have lost the self-belief in ourselves. We are all doubting ourselves, that we might not make it to get on our chosen pathways."
Luke Orbell, who wants to go to acting school at Unitec or in Wellington, said he had been unable to submit any assessment work in two of his subjects, drama and media studies, all year.
"Those subjects are hands-on, you need access to the equipment, and you need to work with people, so it's been incredibly difficult," he said.
But he said teachers were offering after-school tutorials, and he plans to work through the coming school holidays rehearsing a drama performance with other students for which he stands to get 10 credits in the first week of next term.
"I definitely have a good relationship with my teachers as well because they work hard for you," he said.
"I feel it's important you do have good relationships with your teachers because they know that if you work hard you deserve to go to university."
Wellington's Victoria University also removed rank score requirements after the first lockdown.
Waikato University deputy vice-chancellor Professor Robyn Longhurst said students who do not achieve University Entrance this year "should certainly get in touch with our admissions team who will be able to offer advice and support on study options, including discretionary entrance, depending on their circumstances".
"We also offer a bridging programme, Jump tart, which is a summer course that helps students get ahead in their studies or get extra support," she said.
Massey University said 2020 "has been a tough year for students at all levels, and particularly those studying NCEA in Auckland schools forced to close twice so far this year. We feel strongly that this shouldn't impact a student's ability to enter into tertiary study."
Canterbury University said it could also provide discretionary entrance on the basis of NCEA Level 2 results or provisional admission with the opportunity to complete catch-up NCEA credits.