Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Greedy universities want to kill us

Coronavirus is now a pandemic in all but name. If it spreads, it could infect two thirds of the world's population. The fatality rate is somewhere between one and three percent. And in the face of this, New Zealand universities are pleading for border controls to be lifted to allow foreign students into the country from infected areas:

Universities are scrambling to convince officials they can safely manage an influx of students from China if the Covid-19 travel ban is relaxed - and they insist a full-scale quarantine is not required. New Zealand's borders are currently closed to all foreign travellers coming from mainland China, but universities want an exemption for tertiary students.


Speaking to RNZ, Victoria University vice-chancellor Grant Guilford said he had "no doubt" the universities could manage the risk.

"We are very confident we've got this one. We've got the protocols in place and can manage it all."

Guilford - who spearheads the Universities NZ committee on international policy - said the sector was proposing that foreign students be treated in the same way as returning New Zealand citizens and be required to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival.

These are the same universities who let Mason Pendrous rot in his room for a month, and they say they can get thousands of people to observe a strict quarantine. Yeah, right. What they're really proposing is that we should potentially let this disease into New Zealand and allow it to spread. As for why, they're refreshingly honest: "hundreds of millions of dollars [are] on the line for the country" (and particularly for universities, who rely on foreign students as a cash-cow). But what's also on the line is tens of thousands of lives: between 30K and 90K dead in New Zealand, depending on where that fatality rate falls. To pick a random example, VUW has ~2300 staff and ~21,000 students. And Guilford is willing to risk the lives of 15 - 45 of his staff, and 140 - 420 students so his institution doesn't suffer financial stress.

That's sociopathic. And I am struggling to see how it can possibly be consistent with his personal duty of care for his staff, students and the public under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. But it is perhaps a very good illustration of the ethics of our management class: that they're willing to risk this sort of devastation - a March 15 for the staff, and eight more for the students, just to avoid the balance sheet looking bad.