Government announces $100k fine for universities whose code breaches result in student harm or death

The Education Minister has announced a raft of urgent law changes to improve the safety and wellbeing of students living in halls of residence.

A new mandatory Code of Practice will come into effect in 2021, and will establish the duty of pastoral care tertiary education providers have for their students.

Chris Hipkins says the discovery of a student's body in a Christchurch hall after his absence had gone unnoticed for a month exposed the flaws of the current system. 

"Halls and hostels charge a premium for their accommodation and parents have every right to expect a high level of care for their children," he says. 

"Students should also be assured that 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."

Hipkins says at present, there is a lack of consistency in the approach to tertiary pastoral care, and the Education Act must change to provide greater clarity about what students can expect from their tertiary education providers. A voluntary code was created in 2004, but Hipkins says self-regulation has failed to maintain adequate standards of student wellbeing.

The Government will also create a new offence in which providers can be fined up to $100,000 if any breaches of the code result in the serious harm or death of a student. This will apply to both tertiary and international codes. 

In the interim, a code setting out the Government's expectations around pastoral care will be put in place in time for the beginning of the 2020 academic year. 

"For international students, there's already a high level of pastoral care and support required as set out in the Code for Pastoral Care of International Students," Hipkins says.

"We are putting safeguards in place to prevent another tragedy like the one at the Sonoda student accommodation."

Last week the University of Canterbury announced Sonoda Village will not be used for first-year students next year. Mason Pendrous, a 19-year-old student, was discovered dead in his room on September 23. His body is believed to have been there for a number of weeks.