3 Nov 2011

Leaders reject call to bail out quake-affected university

11:58 am on 3 November 2011

Main party leaders John Key and Phil Goff have reacted negatively to calls to bail out a university badly affected by the Canterbury earthquake.

The University of Canterbury expects to lose thousands of students due to damage incurred in the quakes.

The university forecasts a loss of 19,400 students over nine years which will reduce revenue by $346 million,

But speaking at Wednesday night's leader debate in Christchurch, National Party leader John Key indicates only limited support for the help sought by vice-chancellor Rod Carr.

"I don't think either Rod or the chancellor are unrealistic about some of the changes they might need to make. They're not expecting the Government to do everything to help them through that - they're prepared to do some things themselves and they're working with the minister."

Canterbury University is offering to save $134 million and borrow more, but is asking for $25 million in capital support, an extra unspecified sum, and $130 million in operating support. But John Key says no.

"They're not going to get everything on the wishlist, so no is the answer to the $130 million. Like everybody who presents the Government with a wishlist, if the answer is yes to everything, the deficit would be considerably larger than it is."

Labour Party leader Phil Goff was also unable to give the university what it wants.

"I can't give you the comprehensive guarantee that you might prefer because it wouldn't be honest. Picking up this Government, I'd be facing an $18 billion deficit.

"It's a really important university; we'd need to sit down and talk with them, we'd need to prioritise. We can provide some help, but we can't put things back to where it was."

Canterbury University has not yet responded.