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The University of Otago has increased to $200 a rebate for students who could not return to colleges of residence during the Covid-19 restrictions, but student leaders are seeking further support.
Thousands of students throughout the country left their tertiary student accommodation when restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were imposed, some returning to family homes.
Parliament’s education and workforce committee announced yesterday a far-reaching inquiry into student accommodation, public submissions to which close on July 2.
Three of the country’s eight universities (Massey, Waikato and Lincoln) decided against charging students for unused rooms, and Victoria University of Wellington later did the same, the committee said.
Otago University Students’ Association president Jack Manning said the association welcomed the inquiry, and would make a submission.
It also welcomed a move by the university last week to increase the residential college rebate to $200 a week, after consultation with the association.
However, the association would continue to raise with the university the point that "students should not have to pay for a service" they were not receiving, he said.
The usual cost at Otago University colleges is about $400 a week.
After inquiries by the Otago Daily Times, university accommodation services director James Lindsay said the university was returning an estimated $3.7million to college students, raising the rebate from $120 a week, and backdating it.
About 2300 students were eligible, and the university had also established a separate student hardship fund.
For each student who had chosen to go home, colleges saved an estimated $80-$90 per week — mainly in food costs, but also in energy use savings.
The difference between the $80-$90 per week and the $200 per week was an extra "goodwill" component, Mr Lindsay said.
The students could remain in Dunedin and receive the support and care offered by the colleges, but it was understandable that some had preferred to head home because of Covid-19 and the stress when the Level 4 lockdown had loomed.
The university had had to keep all colleges operating to meet the needs of the hundreds of students who chose to remain in residence, and had to pay full staff costs.
Individual student rebates were expected to range from $1400 to $2400.
The university was confident that its pastoral care and accommodation services were of a "very high standard", he said.
Students in student accommodation had faced "difficulties and a lack of support" in a sector which was "under-regulated and unfit for purpose", the committee said.
After the death of University of Canterbury student Mason Pendrous last year, all parliamentary parties introduced an Interim Pastoral Care Code for domestic students.
Covid-19 had since further "exposed and exacerbated" accommodation-related issues.