Donations saving students

A generous pool of donations has poured into a fund helping struggling students.

Job losses for University of Otago students are not slowing down, as the reality of a post-Covid-19 world continues to sink in.

It was a trend also noted at Otago Polytechnic, where the number of students requiring financial assistance in June doubled compared with all of last year.

The Putea Tautoko fund, set up a few weeks ago, has already given $659,156 to University of Otago students.

Between the university, its community and the Government, $3million is available in the fund, helping to cover electricity bills, accommodation costs, travel costs back to campus, essential groceries and toiletries.

Postgraduate research students had also received tuition fees rebates and scholarship extensions.

University vice-chancellor professor Harlene Hayne said the fund was critical.

“The situations facing students in the most severe cases are quite harrowing."

Need for the fund was likely to grow, as more job losses for students were expected for months, she said.

On top of Government funding, the university added $1.5million and a $270,000 boost came from alumni, friends, staff, current students and parents.

About 300 donations from first-time donors to the university was "extraordinary and heart-warming", and did not go unnoticed by stressed students.

University of Otago master’s student Charlotte Bruce Kells received a two-month extension to her scholarship, which she could use when she was ready to return to study after maternity leave.

“It has relieved a huge amount of stress in the lead up to the birth of my baby, as well as ensured that one way or another I will get this thesis done."

She said her family would not have been able to afford another semester’s fees.

Otago Polytechnic had a significant increase in students needing help.

Its financial assistance packages total more than $500,000, providing technical assistance, international and domestic student assistance, and accommodation rebates.

"The level of demand for assistance has increased by around 50%, compared to all of 2019," an Otago Polytechnic spokesman said.

Director of learner services Brayden Murray said many students lost jobs they depended on, and in other cases, a student’s partner had lost their income, meaning the couple or family could not pay bills, or paid them only to be left with little or no money for food.

He said the polytechnic was working with its Maori support team Te Punaka Owheo, Student Success and the Otago Polytechnic Student Association to provide academic and pastoral care.

“Each learner requires a tailored, individualised response ... In some instances, this has required our teams to facilitate all-important connections to wider community support networks and Government agencies.”

A $12,000 contribution was made from the Otago Polytechnic Students’ Association to help cover some student’s food and other living expenses.

The Government had also provided the polytechnic with $200,000.

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