New Zealand’s universities say they face a massive financial hit from coronavirus, with more than 6500 Chinese students who are enrolled to study here this year still stuck at home.

Sector group Universities New Zealand said just over half of the 12,700 Chinese students which were due to study at one of its eight members had been unable to come to New Zealand due to the travel ban.

Universities New Zealand’s chief executive Chris Whelan said the potential lost fees would be enough to almost wipe out the combined surplus of the entire sector.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins described the comments as “alarmist” but said the situation was being monitored closely and steps were being taken to lessen the impact.

New Zealand is one of a number of countries which has put a ban on travellers from mainland China in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

While the ban is being reviewed every 48 hours, it is not clear when it will come to an end.

Whelan said the situation was a “perfect storm scenario” for the university sector because it struck just as the academic year was about to begin.

“It’s at probably the worst possible time of year because it’s when students are due to be travelling to arrive at campuses”, for study this year.

“Even if the travel ban was lifted, let’s say this weekend, there’s still a ton of flights that have been disrupted and a ton of students that will have a challenge making their way to New Zealand.”

Students were putting their lives on hold while they waited to learn when they could study

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