Advice for tertiary providers/whare wānanga

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

Alert Levels

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)

Alert System overview

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

The number one priority at each Alert Level is the welfare of staff and students, and ensuring that they remain safe and well. The Ministry of Health website contains a useful range of mental health and wellbeing resources your staff might need for themselves or to assist students:

COVID-19 mental health resources – Ministry of Health(external link)

More useful resources

Health and wellbeing support for tertiary students

Posters – Unite Against COVID(external link)

Travel advice across alert levels – NZ Transport(external link)

COVID-19 Q&As – Ministry of Health(external link)

Assessment and testing for COVID-19 – Ministry of Health

Guidance for TEOs on examinations at different Alert Levels

TEOs should have plans worked out for how they will run exams at different Alert Levels. 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 ‘at risk’ (or live with others who are ‘at risk’), and alternative arrangements for these individuals may be needed.

The number one priority remains the welfare of staff and students and ensuring that they remain safe and well through the examination period. 

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

On-site tertiary-level exams are able to 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 Alert Level 3), though capacity must be managed 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 were placed under Alert Level 4, exams will not be able to go ahead in those regions as TEOs must close their facilities.

Rules 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.
  • Those 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 would be ideal).
  • High touch surfaces should be cleaned regularly - before each exam session is recommended.
  • If operating exams at Alert Level 2 or 3, TEOs should ensure there is a gap of 1.5 metres between students in all directions.
  • 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 a face covering should be supported to do so.
  • Use 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 some additional requirements for any on-site exams to proceed – these can be found here:

Requirements for on-site tertiary exams at Alert Level 3

For 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.

What happens if there is a confirmed 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 (Public health unit contacts(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 2 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: Close contacts are 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 2 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.

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 do not need to self-isolate but as we all are asked to do, will need to monitor for symptoms and get tested if recommended to do so.

Household contacts: Anyone living in the same household as a case e.g. immediate and extended family members (including children in shared care arrangements), boarders, flatmates, visitors.

The Ministry of Health has further information on their website about contact tracing:

Contact tracing for COVID-19 – Ministry of Health(external link)

International Students remaining in New Zealand over Summer 2020/2021

Under current border settings, 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.

For more details see International Students remaining in New Zealand over summer 2020/2021

Pastoral care codes of practice

Extending the Interim Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of Domestic Students

The Minister of Education is proposing extending the Interim Code of Practice (Pastoral Care of Domestic Tertiary Students) by one year, to January 2022. In the interim, tertiary providers would continue implementing the Interim Code which aims to improve the wellbeing of students.

This extension would be done by making changes to the Education and Training Bill to allow for full consultation on a long-term Code of Pastoral Care, including a dispute resolution scheme.

If this becomes law, the current Interim Code could remain in place for another year. In the meantime, a new provision will allow the Minister to make minor and technical changes where needed.

The extension is because tertiary education providers, learners and those who work in the sector have had to focus their immediate energy into responding to COVID-19.

More information about the pastoral care codes of practice

Much of the advice and information detailed below relates to requirements in the Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016 or the Education (Pastoral Care of Domestic Tertiary Students) Interim Code of Practice 2019, which are administered by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).

While there are some differences in the specific requirements set out in the two codes, 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.

For more information on the Codes, visit:

(Pastoral Care of Domestic Tertiary Students) Interim Code of Practice 2019 – NZQA(external link)

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

Temporary assistance for foreign nationals programme

  • The Assistance to Foreign Nationals Impacted by COVID-19 Programme opened 1 July 2020.
  • Any foreign national in New Zealand – including international students – may apply for this support if they are experiencing temporary hardship due to the effects of COVID-19. More information here(external link) 

Advice to an unwell student or staff member

If you have a particular concern about a student or staff member, ask the student or staff member to call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMS).

Healthline has translators and interpreters available 24/7 in 150 languages.

There are concerns some students may avoid going to a hospital for fear of cost. As COVID-19 is now a notifiable infectious disease, treatment for people who have, or who are suspected of having, COVID-19 is publicly funded under the infectious disease exception, to the extent appropriate in the circumstances to manage risks to other persons. This covers anyone 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.

For more information visit:

People receiving treatment for infectious diseases – Ministry of Health(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 GP) for health care.

Providers must comply with the requirements in the pastoral care codes of practice. These include requirements to support all students with information and oversight of students at risk, as well as the more detailed requirements for domestic and international students in accommodation arranged by the provider.

How can providers support student wellbeing?

Emotional and mental health is important. Students may be feeling stressed or lonely, especially if they are self-isolating or are worried about family and friends overseas.

Providers should encourage students to reach out to their usual supports, like family and friends, and to talk about how they feel.

Under the international Code, providers must ensure that appropriate measures are put in place to address the needs and issues of international students as risk or with special needs.

Helpful advice for working out what measures may be appropriate can be found in NZQA’s international Code guidelines under Clause 25:

(Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016: 25. Process: international students at risk or with special needs – NZQA(external link)

The Interim Code also requires providers to assist all domestic tertiary students to manage their physical and mental health. This includes promoting awareness of wellbeing and mental health and practices that support good mental health and providing information about accessing health services themselves. Providers must also identify students at risk and ensure that there are effective pathways for assisting those students to access health services.

More advice for managing mental wellbeing regarding COVID-19 is available on the Ministry of Health website:

Managing your mental wellbeing – Ministry of Health(external link)

The Ministry of Health also offers a 24-hour ‘Need to talk?’ helpline staffed by mental health professionals. This is a free number or call or text at 1737 at any time:

Need to talk? Free phone or text 1737 – Ministry of Health(external link)

There is also an NZ Government COVID-19 support factsheet, and more information on wellbeing:

COVD-19 support factsheet – NZ Government(external link)

COVID-19 and wellbeing

What are the options for accommodation when self-isolating?

Self-isolation requires that someone has accommodation that is stable and limits their contact with any other people living in the same dwelling; e.g. a separate room and, if possible, separate bathroom.

A private home/flat is preferred over shared living arrangements such as hostels, boarding houses, residential halls, or even hotels.

In all cases, accommodation for international 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:

(Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016: 26. Process: accommodation – NZQA(external link)

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

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

For domestic students in student accommodation (which has an exemption under the Residential Tenancies Act) who are required to self-isolate, outcomes 7 and 8 in the Interim Code require providers (and their contracted accommodation services) to provide peer support, information and advice on self-care and positive well-being, what action to take in an emergency and how to report health and safety concerns.

Under both codes, providers should also ensure that they regularly check on the welfare of students in self-isolation.

What if the student is in shared accommodation?

Students can still share accommodation while self-isolating, so long as they follow the appropriate self-isolation procedures.

As much as possible, students should limit contact with people other than the family members/companions they travelled with. They should avoid having visitors, but it is okay for friends, family or delivery drivers to drop off food.

If students are in a home where the other residents have not travelled (e.g., home / flat, a homestay, student accommodation), they should minimise close contact with the other residents by avoiding situations where they may have face-to-face contact closer than 1 metre for more than 15 minutes. The other household residents do not need to self-isolate provided these precautions are followed.

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

Self-isolation – Ministry of Health(external link)

Student requests to defer their study

All education providers should apply the principles of fairness to ensure students are not disadvantaged from the current situation through no fault of their own. Providers should advise affected students about arrangements if they want to defer, including 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.

If providers have concerns about how changes may affect a student’s visa, contact Immigration New Zealand or check their website for general information about student visas relating to COVID-19: 

Travel and visa advice for students – Immigration New Zealand(external link)

COVID-19 – Immigration New Zealand(external link)

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

Student change notification form – Immigration New Zealand(external link)

Managing attendance records for students

If students are following New Zealand Ministry of Health guidelines for self-isolation and cannot participate, attendance records should note that the absence is due to genuine circumstances.

If providers have concerns about how changes may affect a student’s visa, contact Immigration New Zealand or check their website for general information about student visas relating to COVID-19:

Travel and visa advice for students – Immigration New Zealand(external link)

COVID-19 – Immigration New Zealand(external link)
(external link)

Visa-related questions

Border restrictions are currently in place for travel to New Zealand to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Only a small number of people can travel to New Zealand, such as New Zealand citizens and people with a critical purpose to travel. Border exceptions for PhD and postgraduate students have recently been introduced. Check Immigration New Zealand’s website for updates on border exceptions:

Travel and visa advice for students – Immigration New Zealand(external link)

Financial assistance for the costs of changes to travel, fees, and accommodation for students

There is no direct government support available for costs incurred in relation to COVID-19. However, 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.  

Pandemic planning

If you would like to review your pandemic plan, the Ministry of Education guidance will assist you through that process:

Review your pandemic plan

Emergency Management planning (includes advice for pandemics)

If you would like to review your pandemic plan, the Ministry of Education 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: 

COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) guidance – Ministry of Health(external link)

Information about the four-level alert system(external link)

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