Advice for tertiary providers/whare wānanga

Information for tertiary providers/whare wānanga about COVID-19 (novel coronavirus).

Alert Level guidance for Tertiary Education Organisations

National Alert Level System

The official Unite against COVID-19 website has up-to-date information on the current Alert Levels across New Zealand.

Current Alert Level – Unite against COVID-19 website(external link)

Detailed guidelines for Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs) on how to operate under different Alert Levels

Guidelines for Tertiary Education providers: how to operate under different Alert Levels [PDF, 268 KB]

At every Alert Level, the following principles apply:

  • TEOs should maintain their ability to comprehensively deliver courses remotely and should be in a position to transition to fully remote learning as soon as possible (if required)
  • All TEOs, unless exempt, are required to display the official NZ COVID Tracer QR code posters in a prominent place at or near the main entrances to each of their premises
  • If the Alert Level is lowered, TEOs may choose how best to transition their delivery and operations, as long as they meet the minimum new Alert Level requirements (for example, TEOs may choose to continue with online delivery for an extended period, even if this is not required at the new Alert Level)
  • If the Alert Level is raised, TEOs should transition to the new requirements by the time the new Alert Level comes into effect
  • Any staff or student who feels unwell or exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 should immediately contact the TEO where they work/study/live to let them know, and call
    • Healthline free on 0800 358 5453
    • your doctor, or
    • your iwi health provider
  • Under all Alert Levels, all providers should ensure that appropriate public health control measures specific for TEOs, along with Worksafe guidelines and normal Health and Safety requirements, are in place. These requirements differ depending on the Alert Level and are set out in the guidance above.

Guidance for TEOs on examinations at different Alert Levels

TEOs should have plans to run exams at all Alert Levels. The number one priority remains the welfare of staff and students and ensuring that they remain safe and well through the examination period. 

We encourage TEOs to maintain an open and ongoing dialogue with their students and staff about arrangements for examinations. Particular consideration should be given to students and staff who are considered or live with people 'at risk' and alternative arrangements for these individuals may be needed.

On-site examinations are allowed at Alert Levels 1, 2 and 3

On-site tertiary-level exams may proceed at Alert Levels 2 and 3, though strict physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres must be in place. Because of these physical distancing requirements, there are no restrictions on the number of students attending an examination in a single venue (even at Alert Level 3), though capacity must be managed at Alert Levels 2 and 3 to ensure physical distancing is maintained at all times.

TEOs may decide to conduct some examinations online regardless of Alert Level (where this is possible) to ensure that sufficient space is available for those assessments which can only be conducted on-site.

In the unlikely case that a region or regions are placed under Alert Level 4, exams will not be able to go ahead in those regions – TEOs must close their facilities.

Guidelines for on-site examinations at Alert Levels 1, 2, and 3

  • If a TEO is at the centre of or implicated in an outbreak or cluster and/or has been closed by a Medical Officer of Health, exams will not be able to take place until public health authorities give approval
  • Anyone (students and staff) who is unwell should stay away
  • Students identified as close contacts of a confirmed case should not attend their exam(s)
  • Handwashing before entering the exam room (hand sanitiser at the entrance to the room is recommended)
  • High-touch surfaces should be cleaned regularly – before each exam session is recommended (Ministry of Health – Advice on cleaning and disinfecting(external link))
  • If operating exams at Alert Level 2 or 3, TEOs should ensure there is a gap of 1.5 metres between students
  • Because physical distancing will be in place for all examinations, there are no specific restrictions on the number of students attending an examination in a single venue at Alert Levels 1, 2, and 3, though if operating at Alert Levels 2 or 3, capacity must be managed to ensure physical distancing of 1.5 metres is maintained at all times
  • Students should be observed by staff on arrival checking for symptoms and asking those presenting as unwell to make arrangements to go home
  • A room should be available to isolate a student (or staff member) who may become unwell during the exam
  • Contact tracing systems, including the display of COVID Tracer App QR codes, should be in place
  • Face coverings are not required in any exam setting (unless this is a normal part of that examination). However, individuals who choose to wear face coverings should be supported to do so
  • Exams should be held in rooms where you can ensure good ventilation.

At Alert Level 2, TEOs should give consideration to how they will encourage students to keep a reasonable distance from each other before entering and leaving the exam room.

At Alert Level 3, there are further requirements to ensure any on-site exams are able to proceed safely. 

Requirements for on-site tertiary exams at Alert Level 3

Under normal Alert Level 3 restrictions, TEOs should only be running small classes where remote delivery is not possible, and these class bubbles must be limited up to 20 students and staff, (this size limit was previously 10) and these individuals should not be part of multiple class bubbles.

For more regular teaching and learning activities (other than exams), TEOs should follow the rules set out in the detailed guidelines for TEOs at different Alert Levels above.

Useful resources

Tertiary bulletins

The tertiary bulletin is our central channel for communicating key COVID-19 information to tertiary education providers and students.

COVID-19 bulletins for tertiary education providers and students

What happens if there is a confirmed COVID-19 case linked to a tertiary provider?

If there is a confirmed or probable case linked with a tertiary education or accommodation facility, the provider will be advised of this by the Medical Officer of Health or their local public health authority.

If a tertiary provider becomes aware of a case associated with their education or accommodation facility and they haven’t yet received notification from health authorities, they should immediately contact Gillian Dudgeon or Sandra Ramsay at the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and their local public health unit(external link).

Local public health units(external link)

Upon advice from the local Medical Officer of Health, any educational facilities connected to a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 should close on an individual or group basis, for as long as directed by that Medical Officer of Health.

If the person or persons who are a confirmed or probable case have worked in or attended the education or accommodation facility when they could have been infectious (which could start up to two days prior to having symptoms) these facilities will likely be closed for at least 72 hours to allow time for contact tracing and for cleaning/sanitising, in line with Ministry of Health guidelines.

Types of ‘contacts’ and who needs to self-isolate

Confirmed case: Someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 after returning a positive lab test.

Probable case: Regardless of any test result, someone is considered by the public health service to have COVID-19 if their symptoms and clinical history indicate their illness is more likely to be COVID-19 than anything else.

Close contact: Those that are likely to be at a higher risk of being infected. In other words, someone who has been physically near to a person with COVID-19 for enough time to put them at increased risk of catching the illness. Someone is generally considered a close contact if they have been within two metres of a confirmed or probable case for 15 minutes or longer. 

Close contacts are required to self-isolate and will need to monitor for symptoms.

Close contacts and contact tracing(external link)

Casual contact: The technical definition of a casual contact is “any person with exposure to the case who does not meet the criteria for a close contact”. For example, someone who attended the same venue as a person confirmed with COVID-19, but isn’t considered a close contact. 

Casual contacts and contact tracing(external link)

Household contacts: Anyone living in the same household as a confirmed or probable case during the case’s infectious period, is defined as a close contact and should follow the self-isolation advice for close contacts. For example, immediate and extended family members (including children in shared care arrangements), boarders, flatmates, and visitors.

Close contacts and contact tracing(external link)

Health and wellbeing support for students and staff

The number one priority remains the welfare of students and staff and ensuring that they remain safe and well during this time. To assist you with that, we have compiled a range of health and wellbeing support in one place. This includes support to access essential supplies and other financial assistance, mental health services and wellbeing resources.

Health and wellbeing support for tertiary students

Assistance for students and staff is also available through:

In an emergency(external link) always call 111.

Advice to an unwell student or staff member

If there is a medical emergency, call 111.

If you have a particular concern about the health of a student or staff member, ask the student or staff member to call:

  • Their doctor or nurse practitioner
  • Iwi health provider, or
  • Healthline for free on 0800 358 5453 (or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMS). Healthline has translators and interpreters available 24/7 in 150 languages.

Some people may avoid COVID-19 testing or treatment for fear of cost. COVID-19 is a notifiable infectious disease, which means that treatment for all people who have, or who are suspected of having, COVID-19 is free (publicly funded under the infectious disease exception) to the extent appropriate in the circumstances to manage risks to other persons. This covers everyone in New Zealand, regardless of visa/citizenship status or length of time in the country.

Please note that the services are limited to:

  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment of the person’s infectious or quarantinable disease
  • Follow-up services
  • Contact tracing services
  • Surveillance of persons who are liable to quarantine under the Health Act 1956

Ministry of Health – Guide to p(external link)eople receiving treatment for infectious diseases(external link)

Who is responsible for the care of students who are diagnosed with COVID-19 but do not require hospitalisation?

If a student is diagnosed with COVID-19 but does not require hospitalisation, they will need to follow the advice of the appropriate health professionals (such as their doctor) for health care.

Providers must comply with the requirements in the pastoral care codes of practice. This includes supporting all students with information and ensuring oversight of students who may be at risk, as well as the more detailed requirements for domestic and international students in accommodation arranged by the provider.

Pastoral care codes of practice

Parliament has extended the expiry date of the Interim Code of Practice (Pastoral Care of Domestic Tertiary Students) by one year, to January 2022. In the interim, tertiary providers will continue implementing the Interim Code which aims to improve the wellbeing of domestic students.

This extension has been done through the Education and Training Act 2020. The additional time recognises that tertiary education providers, learners and those who work in the sector have had to focus their immediate energy into responding to COVID-19. It will allow for full consultation on a long-term Code of Pastoral Care, including a dispute resolution scheme. A new provision in the Education and Training Act 2020 allows the Minister to make minor and technical changes to the Interim Code where needed.

While there are some differences in the specific requirements set out in the codes for international and domestic students, the principle informing the outcomes of each code is that students are able to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing and that students who are unwell or at risk are identified and supported to access appropriate help.

More information on the Codes:

Student requests to defer their study

All education providers should apply the principles of fairness to ensure students are not disadvantaged by the impacts of COVID-19 through no fault of their own. Providers should advise affected students of the options available to them, including deferral. This information should include details of how their fees will be protected and how to apply for an updated Confirmation of Study/Offer.

In the event a student decides to withdraw from their programme of study, providers should ensure students are made aware of any potential refunds.

International students

International students that choose to stay in New Zealand over summer 2020/2021

Under current border settings (as of December 2020), tertiary-level international students will need to make careful and informed decisions about their plans for the summer period.

Study providers are asked to ensure they are familiar with their ongoing Code obligations over the summer period and to assist students to understand their options.

More information: International Students remaining in New Zealand over summer 2020/2021

Visa-related questions

Temporary restrictions on travel remain in place as a precautionary measure.

Providers or students with visa-related questions should contact Immigration New Zealand or check their website for general information about student visas relating to COVID-19: 

Use the student change notification form if you need to notify Immigration New Zealand of changes to an international student’s circumstances as a result of COVID-19:

Immigration NZ – student change notification form(external link)

International students and insurance coverage

Code signatories have an important responsibility to ensure students are well informed, safe and properly cared for. This includes ensuring international students have the appropriate insurance in place.

NZQA advises Code signatories and international students to contact their insurance provider directly for up-to-date advice on any possible claims as a result of COVID-19. Providers may also choose to make financial aid available to students, and/or additional provision for students affected by COVID-19 and the related travel restrictions and self-isolation.

Signatories enrolling international students with exclusions on their insurance policies will need to weigh up all factors and the available information. There is an expectation that signatories ensure, as far as practicable, that the risks outlined in Clause 16D of the Code are covered. 

Supporting international students to self-isolate in tertiary accommodation

In all cases, accommodation for tertiary students must comply with the requirements in the Code by:

  • Ensuring that students aged under 18 are living with their parents or a residential caregiver who has been subject to safety checks; and
  • Ensuring that accommodation arranged by the signatory for students aged 18 and over is safe and in acceptable condition and that effective communication is maintained with these students; and
  • Ensuring that other students aged 18 and over are directed to relevant advice and information that will enable the student to understand their rights and obligations as a tenant in New Zealand.

See Clause 26 of the Code for more information: 

Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016 (external link)

Read our advice for schools with international students, including guidance on responding to accommodation issues that arise during the Covid-19 response:

Advice for schools with international students

NZQA’s Code of Practice guidelines can also be used to support compliance:

Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice guidelines(external link)

Managing tertiary accommodation

Tertiary education providers with student accommodation should review the Guidelines for Tertiary Education providers document, which includes specific requirements for tertiary accommodation.

Guidelines for Tertiary Education providers: how to operate under different Alert Levels [PDF, 268 KB]

Information about what happens if a student or staff member test positive for COVID-19 and need to enter managed isolation can be found on the Unite against COVID-19 website:

What to expect if you test positive for COVID-19(external link)

Guidance on self-isolation

People who have been in close contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 will be asked to take a COVID-19 test and will need to self-isolate for 14 days.

The Ministry of Health website confirms who needs to self-isolate(external link) and includes detailed guidance on how to self-isolate,(external link) depending on the home and living arrangements.

Ministry of Health – Guidance on self-isolation(external link)

Self-isolation requires stable accommodation that limits a person’s contact with any other people living in the same dwelling. For example, a separate room and where possible a separate bathroom.  A private home/flat is preferred over shared living arrangements like hostels, boarding houses, residential halls, or even hotels.

What if the student is in shared tertiary accommodation?

Students can still share accommodation while self-isolating, so long as they follow the appropriate self-isolation procedures to separate themselves from the people they live with.

Ministry of Health – Guidance on self-isolation in shared spaces(external link)

Students in self-isolation should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, pillows or other items with other people in the residence. After using these items, they should wash them thoroughly with soap and water, place them in the dishwasher for cleaning or wash them in the washing machine.

Providers should also give consideration to other residents, and support affected students into alternative temporary accommodation as appropriate.

Unite Against COVID-19's guidance on COVID-19 prevention: 

Protect yourself and others from COVID-19(external link).

Providers should also ensure that they regularly check on the welfare of students in self-isolation.

Pandemic planning and response

Pandemic planning

If you would like to review your pandemic plan, we have guidance will assist you through that process:

Review your pandemic plan

Emergency Management planning (includes advice for pandemics)

The Emergency Management Plan template also includes provision for pandemics:

Emergency management plan template
[DOC, 759 KB]

Keep an eye on our website and the Ministry of Health website for updates: 

Recent news

Border exception for returning international tertiary students

On 14 January 2020, the Government approved an exception class for 1,000 (of 2,685) bachelor’s degree level and above tertiary international students to return to New Zealand and continue their studies. These students need to hold or have held a valid visa to study in 2020 and have studied in New Zealand in 2019 towards their current qualification and be returning to study with their current provider.

Read the details of the announcement

Emergency benefit and international students

From 1 December 2020, people on temporary work, student or visitor visas who can’t return home and can’t support themselves may get an Emergency Benefit from the Ministry of Social Development.

Border exceptions for a small number of international students

On 12 October 2020, the Government announced a new border exception category that will allow 250 international PhD and postgraduate students to enter New Zealand.

Read the details of the announcement:

Border exceptions for a small number of international students

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