8 May 2020

Secondary school principals angry about lost income from international students

8:51 am on 8 May 2020

Secondary school principals are angry the government is not helping them cover millions of dollars in lost income from international students.

Generic Library / Students

File image. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

They say it is unfair that private schools have been able get just over $9 million from the government wage subsidy, but state funded schools get nothing.

Auckland Secondary Principals' Association president Richard Dykes said the lack of international students meant schools had lost an income stream worth tens, if not, hundreds of millions of dollars nationwide.

Dykes said jobs tied to those students were now at risk.

"Any students who were due to come here - as of the last school holidays for the rest of the year, they're now not coming," he said.

"So therefore there's a significant drop in income. Now most schools that I know are going to carry on those employment but the risk is can we sustain that employment and certainly into next year."

Glendowie College principal Richard Dykes

Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

He said secondary principals were frustrated that private schools could access the wage subsidy, but state schools can't.

"You take a standard secondary school with an international programme. They will have anywhere between five and 30 or 40 teachers who are funded through international students and those jobs this year or next year will be on the line unless there is a wage subsidy."

Macleans College principal Steve Hargreaves said international students contributed $900,000, before expenses, to his school.

He said he was not happy that his school could not access the subsidy.

"I don't think there's a lot of justice in there, on the surface of it yes we're a state-funded school and therefore the Ministry of Education was looking after us and on that basis, I can see why we wouldn't be eligible for funding," Hargreaves said.

"However, all the schools that have an international student market, employ extra staff, just like any private business."

Christchurch's Burnside High School principal Phil Holstein said government funding only provided a portion of the income at many schools.

"Realistically, there is an income generated from international fee paying students and we're set up for that. In light of the pandemic, state schools are going to take a real hit with this," he said.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins looks on during a press conference at Parliament on 21 April  2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Chris Hipkins. Photo: 2020 Getty Images

Education Minister Chris Hipkins was not available for an interview, but said in a statement he was sympathetic to the principals' complaints and had been talking to the Secondary Principals' Association.

"For schools, about 11,000, or nearly nine out of 10, of the main 2020 intake of international students were already in the country when travel restrictions started and many are still here. But we know that some of the bigger schools are more exposed than most," Hipkins said.

He said the government had given schools emergency funding to cover wages, including those usually funded by international students.

But that funding finishes on 20 May and principals want a longer-term solution to help cover their costs.

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