Education Minister Chris Hipkins has announced changes to the law which could see universities fined up to $100,000 for failing to take care of students in their halls.
The announcement comes after University of Canterbury student Mason Pendorous died in Sonoda Halls earlier this year. His body went undiscovered by the hall’s staff and caregivers for almost a month, until concerned students asked the hall’s management to investigate.
Chris Hipkins says the delay in the discovery of the body is unacceptable, and that it revealed the need for greater regulation of university halls. “The recent death at a student hall of residence in Christchurch exposed the limitations of our current system,” Hipkins told Stuff, “There is no consistent approach to the welfare and pastoral care of domestic tertiary students and we needed to change that swiftly.” Hipkins believes the best way to regulate accommodation providers is to enforce a new set of mandatory rules which bind them.
The proposed changes to the law will see the Education Act 1989 amended to grant the Minister of Education the power to issue a ‘Code of Practice’ to providers of university accommodation. This code will be mandatory, unlike the current code, and will include provisions explicitly detailing what ‘pastoral care’ (an ambiguous term several hall of residences across the country use in their marketing) entails.
Hipkins says he is hopeful the changes will mean a better standard of care for students. “Halls and hostels charge a premium for their accommodation and parents have every right to expect a high level of care for their sons and daughters,” Hipkins says. “Students should also be assured when they choose to live in a hall or hostel that there are minimum standards of safety and that there is support available to them if they need it.”
Anthony Holland, Pendrous’ step-father, says the family is “pleased and grateful” for the proposed changes. “It is [the family’s] hope that this will achieve that no other student dies alone and neglected by those paid to care for them and ensure no other family experiences the pain arising from such circumstances ever again.”