Canterbury University and Lincoln campuses and halls of residence will be closed for a week while quake damage is repaired.
The Vice-Chancellor of Canterbury University, Rod Carr, says the damage is likely to cost millions of dollars, with cracks in buildings, snapped-off stairwells, collapsed bookshelves and chemical spills that will need specialist clean-up.
Dr Carr says, however, that he's grateful the quake hit when few people were on campus due to holidays and no one was injured.
He says students and staff should stay away unless contacted by management.
The Vice-Chancellor of Lincoln, Professor Roger Field, says some buildings, including the administration block, are completely off-limits because of the danger of falling masonry and broken glass.
He says students and staff will be updated within a couple of days when the extent of the damage is known.
Both Canterbury and Lincoln plan to reopen on Monday 13 September.