Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Message to alumni and friends from Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne

Friday 27 March 2020 8:34am

Kia ora

Harlene Hayne image 2019
Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne

As we work to provide the best possible care for our students and staff during these unprecedented times, our thoughts are also with our global community of alumni, donors, friends and families. I would like to update you on Otago’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and also share with you the contribution our academics are making towards understanding and combatting the Covid-19 virus.


Caring for our students and staff

Otago’s number one priority is to keep its students, staff and communities safe and well. We are following Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education advice, and in line with the Government’s announcement on 23 March raising the country’s Covid-19 Alert system to Level 3 and soon after to Level 4, the University has closed its campuses.

In preparation for such an event, we had already begun to move a portion of courses to online delivery. Planning for the roll-out has taken place over the past two weeks and positions the University to quickly move as close as possible to full online delivery. There will obviously be bumps along the way but our staff are rising to the challenge of teaching and supporting our students in a very different way.

The University will still be teaching and operating at all levels of the Alert system. Our students, wherever they are located, should be able to continue their learning. Our academic staff will be showing understanding and flexibility appropriate to these exceptional times and students can be reassured that we have their best interests at the heart of everything that we do. The irony here is that “boomer” generation has been asked to support the “zoomer” generation to learn online. I am sure that both groups will learn more about the other in the process; our students will teach us as much as we teach them under these unprecedented conditions.

Residential Colleges will remain open while teaching is delivered online, and colleges continue to take all appropriate health and safety measures to ensure the safety of their students. Staff will continue to provide pastoral care and academic support, as well as ensuring that college residents are kept well-fed, warm, entertained, safe and healthy while they are here. As the isolation period unfolds, we will continue to share news of how our staff and students are finding ways to stay connected and happy.

The University’s academic and professional staff who are not involved in critical services have moved to working from home, and those involved in critical services will be working from home if they are able to. Staff are currently working from home offices, the dining room or kitchen table, or any space they can find in their house. We have already learned a lot more about each other as our pets, partners and children appear unannounced through our Zoom meetings. Extensive information and resources have been provided on managing the move to working from home, including looking after your mental health and well-being, and an HR Covid-19 contact centre has been established.


Alumni and Friends events

While we value the opportunity to meet with you face-to-face, and always look forward to meeting with you at alumni and friends events, we have decided to postpone our events for the foreseeable future. This means events planned for Australia, Wellington and Auckland are postponed. We will update you with information about events planned for June onwards as soon as we are able. This decision has been made to protect the well-being of our extended alumni and friends community and we look forward to seeing you again once it is safe to do so. In the meantime your health and that of your loved ones are our utmost priority.


Staying connected

In these times of restricted face-to-face contact it is important to continue with our social engagement and connection. We will continue to use online channels to communicate with you. We will be sending this year’s first edition of @Otago for 2020 in the coming week and I would encourage you to read the stories about our amazing alumni and friends around the world. As well as the quarterly @Otago, and the first edition of the Otago Magazine which will be available shortly online, please keep an eye out for our other updates via email. If you don’t already receive our online updates and @Otago and would like to, please send your email address to We also invite you to follow our Facebook page and LinkedIn accounts. We would love to hear from you via these platforms, so please feel free to comment and share our content.


Otago’s research contribution to Covid-19

Many of Otago’s academics and alumni around the world are making vital contributions to the scientific understanding of the virus and the efforts to combat it. They have also been key figures in advising and helping formulate the public health response. Some of their contributions are included here:

  • Professor David Murdoch on the lockdown:

  • Professor Miguel Quinones-Mateu and Associate Professor James Ussher have adapted overseas technology to help develop a powerful coronavirus test:

  • Professor Philip Hill and Associate Professor James Ussher received wide coverage of their work looking at whether Covid-19 has an Achilles heel:

  • Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman and Professor Michael Baker react to the New Zealand government’s relief package:

  • Professor Michael Baker on the lockdown:

  • Otago alumnus and Melbourne’s Doherty Institute Deputy Director Dr Mike Catton was part of the first group of scientists to grow and share the coronavirus:

  • Infectious diseases specialist Dr Ayesha Verrall on the need for more community testing:


Supporting each other

We are so grateful for the support of our alumni and friends in all areas of the University. Thank you for the many good wishes that we have received for our staff and students. It is heartening to know that the Otago spirit is as strong as ever. We appreciate you continuing to make contact and support us.

In this extraordinary time many Otago students in flats, who rely on part-time and casual work to get by, are facing financial hardship as retail and hospitality close for the foreseeable future. We have a Student Hardship Fund to help our students cover expenses such as rent, power and increased wifi to access online teaching.

This year, the need is particularly great. If you are in a position to support students at this difficult and unprecedented time, please visit our website for more information about our student hardship fund. You may also like to consider contributing to our research on Covid-19 by donating online.

Here at the University of Otago, we are thinking of you as you and your whānau face this unprecedented challenge. Please, keep in touch with us and with each other, and I look forward very much to seeing you in the future. Stay safe, stay strong and be kind.

Ngā mihi nui

Harlene signature

Professor Harlene Hayne
University of Otago.