A survey suggests budget cuts and restructuring in the tertiary sector is causing increased stress levels for staff who say they are under immense pressure.
The Tertiary Education Union says its own survey of more than 1000 people shows stress levels of staff at universities, polytechnics and wānanga are much higher than 10 years ago.
National president Sandra Grey said a lot of the respondents, from 25 institutions, said they felt they had no job security and were not being listened to by their employer.
"The survey shows a system under absolute pressure," she said.
"Even since 2013, what we are are seeing are increasing stress levels for staff in the system and in turn this means they are really worried about the quality of teaching and learning and support services on campus because stressed staff really struggle to provide good quality education to do their jobs well."
The union received 2334 written responses from 1006 respondents for the survey and Dr Grey said they told the real story of what was going on in the sector.
"We had one talking about student support services being cut because of budgets.
"They had a suicidal student and when they went to student support they said 'come back tomorrow, we don't have anyone here who can help you because we don't have the staff.'," Dr Grey said.
"You can't do that when it comes to suicidal students. We have got real on-the-ground harm being done in our institutions by underfunding."
She said one of the contributing factors was the growing student-to-staff ratio and despite drops in enrolments in recent years, there were still fewer staff compared to students.
"Tertiary institutions are cutting staff numbers because they need to make savings, they just don't have the money. The government is underfunding the sector by more than a million dollars, and that means institutions need to make savings and the savings are in staff."