The New Zealand Union of Student Associations – an organisation which sits above and provides support for university-level student unions, such as the Auckland University Student Association – is calling on the government to create a document outlining the minimum standard of care university hostels are required to provide.
The call comes after a university student was found dead in Canterbury University’s Sonoda halls, eight-weeks after they had passed away.
NZUSA acting president Caitlin Barlow-Groome says tragic incidents like this are unacceptable. Too long was taken to discover the body, and something has to change. “We definitely need to see a minimum standard implemented around student accommodation,” she told RNZ, and she wanted to see the government outline what that minimum standard is, as a means of holding universities and hall residences to account. Students should be able to find out “what actually is best care, and what does pastoral care mean when that’s advertised,” Barlow-Groome says.
According to the university’s website, Sonoda hall is unique in that it offers a “smaller close-knit community” with active “pastoral care” for residents. It costs more than $400 a week ($16,400 spread across a 41-week university year) to stay there. The hall is targeted towards students attending university for their first year.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins agrees that in this instance, the university failed to perform its duties as an accommodation provider. “No student should be left for that period of time unattended, uncared for when they’re living in a hall of residence or a hostel,” he says, “There’s a duty of care that goes with operating a hall of residence or a hostel and clearly they haven’t lived up to that in this situation … If you’re going into a hall of residence or hostel you’re paying top dollar for not just a roof over your head but also for the pastoral care that goes with that. I think that clearly that has not been present in this case”.
As of time of writing, Canterbury University and Campus Living – the two organisations responsible for the running of hostel – have not issued media statements. Both groups have refused to grant media access to the university halls, and students claim the pair have advised them not to speak out on the issue.