Auckland University backtracks on controversial move to return to campus

Thousands of students rejected the idea to return to campus.
Thousands of students rejected the idea to return to campus. Photo credit: Getty

Auckland University has announced its backtracking on plans to have students return to campus next week.

On Monday the university's Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater emailed students informing them all lectures with under 300 people would resume in person and all exams and tests would be completed on campus.

But there was strong backlash to the idea with thousands of students pleading with the university to keep lectures online. A former tutor told Newshub it sounded like "a breeding ground for COVID-19".

During Wednesday's COVID-19 update, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield clarified that lectures and classes involving more than 10 students were not permitted while Auckland was at alert level 2.5.

The next time Government could consider changing the alert levels is September 21, and it would come into effect from Wednesday, September 23 - two days after the university returns to in-person learning.

On Thursday Freshwater said their plans for teaching to occur on campus had been in line with the Ministry of Education's guidelines, which say universities and other Tertiary Education Organisations (TEO) are exempt from rules about gathering sizes for education-related activities.

"However, yesterday's comment from the Director-General of Health indicates a view that the TEO exemption does not apply under the current alert level for Auckland.

"This obviously has immediate implications for the university's plans to resume on-campus teaching after the mid-Semester break."

She said Dr Bloomfield's comment had "created a degree of confusion among our students and staff, adding somewhat to the level of anxiety, which I would like to address".

"To ensure certainty and predictability for our students and staff, and to help manage the confusion and anxiety that has clearly been signalled to me, we have made the decision to continue in online learning mode for a two-week period from Monday, September 21 to Friday, October 2, regardless of alert levels."

Freshwater said the university will be seeking clarification regarding the rules for universities at the alert levels and will continue to follow the Government's advice.

"I am hopeful that this next two-week review period will provide the opportunity to prepare our response and to communicate as early as possible our intentions for the period beyond October 2," she said.