Auckland University has advised its doctoral students to "take a holiday from your academic work" - and go fruit picking.
The email, sent to all PhD students in the university's School of Cultures, Languages and Linguistics, has drawn astonished and sarcastic comments from students.
"As we near the end of the year, some of you may be wondering about whether to take a holiday from your academic work schedule," the email says.
"If it is possible for you to take a break, we really recommend that you do so. It has been a very difficult year, and most of us have not left Auckland at all. A break out of the city doing a very different activities [sic] can refresh the mind and body and help you have a productive year in 2021.
"Academic staff will also try to take a break over this period, and Auckland will become very quiet as people leave to take holiday.
"If you don't know what to do, or if you don't have a budget to take a holiday, remember you could also try a working holiday.
"In New Zealand, November through to February is the fruit picking season, and this year there is a desperate shortage of workers. It is possible to get work anywhere around the country immediately. The employer also offers accommodation (usually in a local hostel).
"While physical work may be very demanding at first, after a couple of weeks your muscles will adapt. You will be stronger and healthier when you return to Auckland (and a bit richer)."
The email ends with a link to a backpackers' website offering fruit-picking jobs and advice to discuss taking time off with the students' academic supervisors.
NZ International Students' Association spokesman Ryan Wei said students should "be aware that you could be potentially exploited and you can get help if that happens".
"I think they are a bit worried about potentially not being paid the minimum wage and working a bit over hours and accommodation," he said.
Students told each other sarcastically on Facebook: "Go work underpaid in the beating sun and 'have a holiday.'"
"Years in academia just to fruit pick. Oh how bright our future is," one student said.
"This is what an extra five years at university gets you," another said.
But another said it was "good to know there are plenty of job opportunities".
And another said: "Don't knock manual labour jobs. The reasons y'all enjoy fresh fruit and veg is because of the work of pickers so while it may seem 'beneath' you, it's actually a crucial role."
A doctoral student in politics at the university, Luke Oldfield, said he was concerned that foreign doctoral students would feel pressured to work far from Auckland at minimum wages less expenses.
"You have a university actively encouraging already vulnerable students into a system of further exploitation," he said.
"It's like okay, who do they really want for fruit picking? They use immigrant labour, and they don't have immigrant labour available at the moment, so who's the next possible group for exploitation? It's going to be fairly desperate international students."
Last year 1485 of the university's 3095 doctoral students were from overseas.
A spokesperson from Auckland University said the email was sent to "a small number of PhD students by a member of the University. It was certainly not intended to offend any student, and we are sorry if this was the case".
NZ Kiwifruit Growers communications manager Mike Murphy confirmed that the industry "does have outreach to tertiary education providers to encourage students to get involved in the kiwifruit industry" - although not in this case.
"At the moment we require people for summer work on orchards. Girdling and bud thinning continues in November and December and more people are required for the pruning of vines and thinning of fruit."
The adult minimum wage is $18.90 an hour.