NEW ZEALAND: Quake-hit universities prepare to reopen

The University of Canterbury is trying to hang on to its students while it prepares to reopen after the earthquake that devastated parts of Christchurch on 22 February. Some students do not want to return, some are enrolling in other institutions, and some international students have returned home.

Vice-chancellor Rod Carr said the university would reopen progressively from 14 March and would be able to fit a full year's teaching into the remainder of the calendar year.

And he said other universities should not be too quick to enrol Canterbury students.

"It's less than 200 hours since the earthquake and to be making what are once-in-a-lifetime decisions, I think it's important we just give them a bit of breathing time before they cancel their enrolment with one institution and sign up with the other one," he said.

Carr said if students did enrol at other unviersities, he would prefer if it were only for this year's first semester, which has just started. They could then return to Canterbury in the second semester.

But the Union of Students' Associations said some students genuinely do not want to return to Christchurch, and it should be easier for them to transfer to other institutions.

"Some of these students need and want to move away and try to start to get on with their lives and studies...The government needs to step in and ensure tertiary institutions are supported to take a coordinated national approach and that they will make room on their campuses for those students who need to transfer," said the association's co-president, Max Hardy.

Hardy said other institutions did not want to be seen as poaching Canterbury students.

Meanwhile, the University of Adelaide offered to take up to 500 Canterbury students for the first half of the year. Vice-chancellor James McWha has close ties with New Zealand, having worked in its universities for many years and having led Massey University.

He said the Canterbury students would not be charged any fee for attending Adelaide, and discounted accommodation would be available.

Rod Carr said the University of Canterbury would pay for the students' travel costs and was arranging a special flight for them this weekend.

He said some of the university's 1,400 international students had returned to their home countries, although he understood some would come back to Canterbury to complete their
studies. Other New Zealand universities had offered to take Canterbury's international students for the first semester.

Carr said the university's buildings did not appear to be structurally damaged by the earthquake, which devastated buildings in the city's central business district.

However, he said some buildings would need refurbishment and some staff and students might be unwilling to return to classes in the university's tower blocks. Because of those issues, the university had decided to construct 8,000 square metres of temporary teaching space, which would be complete within eight weeks.

Although the university was relatively unharmed by the quake on Tuesday 22 February, many buildings in the central business district and some homes in the city's suburbs were badly damaged. By Thursday morning the death toll from the quake was 160, many of them people caught in the collapse of two inner-city buildings.

All of the city's educational institutions have been closed since the quake, but some schools were expected to reopen in the north and west of the city from 7 March.

Lincoln University, which is about 20 kilometres outside Christchurch, has also been closed. Vice-chancellor Roger Field said the university was in a sound condition and functional, but needed to close because of the impacts of the earthquake on its staff, off-campus students and the extended community.

The university will reopen on Monday 14 March.