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Minister launches $20m fund to boost online access for students


NZ government provides support for computer equipment and internet connections during pandemic

New Zealand’s education minister Chris Hipkins has announced a $20 million relief fund to help tertiary students continue studies that have been disrupted by Covid-19 closures and restrictions.

The fund aims to provide computer equipment and secure home internet connections that will allow university and vocational training students to access online courses.

Hipkins said that in addition to the fund, the government had already temporarily increased the student loan amount available for course-related costs for full-time students from $1,000 to $2,000.

“The government wants to make sure that students in need can access support for distance learning so they can continue their studies,” he said.

The initiative follows a recent survey by Auckland University of Technology that found that more than 5,500 of its domestic students did not have a home internet connection or computer equipment to access online courses.

In April, AUT launched a programme to provide up to 1,500 laptops and more than 4,000 internet connection packages for students as part of a programme to improve digital equity.

Hipkins said a recent survey by the Tertiary Education Commission and the NZ Qualifications Authority showed that “at least 11,150 learners do not have the right devices to engage in distance learning and at least 11,350 learners do not have access to broadband internet at home”.

He said the $20m fund would be available for eligible students at universities, industry training institutes, private vocational education colleges and Māori education institutions.

The NZ Institute of Skills and Technology will distribute funding to its 16 industry training centres. The institute was set up on 1 April as part of reforms to NZ’s vocational education system.

“Many programmes are being delivered online in response to Covid-19, including courses like carpentry that are traditionally delivered on the job. As we rebuild the economy, we need a skilled workforce to keep our sectors such as construction moving forward,” Hipkins said.

“Tertiary providers are best placed to work with their learners to identify those who are most in need during this time. Learners should contact their tertiary provider to discuss what kind of support they require.”