By Lucy Craymer
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand will provide NZ$128 million ($79.18 million) in extra funding to its universities over the next two years, it said on Tuesday, as a number of institutions struggle with growing deficits and falling student numbers.
New Zealand’s globally ranked universities are struggling financially as the number of foreign students remains below pre-COVID-19 levels and domestic student numbers fall due to a strong labour market and fewer teenagers graduating high school.
Two universities have announced hundreds of job cuts and plans to scrap academic programmes, raising concerns among academics that expertise in everything from chemistry and physics to Asian Studies could suffer.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said an additional NZ$128 million would be invested in the tertiary sector, which will increase tuition subsidies at degree-level and above by a further 4% in 2024 and 2025.
This is in addition to a 5% increase provided in the 2023 budget.
Robertson said efforts would be made to ensure that recent cuts and changes would not impact the capability or provision of programmes.
Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said that the money would help but some universities would still have to deal with big deficits.
Whelan said the outlook was expected to improve in two to four years but in the short term, universities would face fewer domestic and international students, after COVID-related border closures, and high inflation.
"It's going to take us time to rebuild our pipeline,” he said, referring to admissions.
($1 = 1.6166 New Zealand dollars)
(Reporting by Lucy Craymer; editing by Robert Birsel)