The boss of Campus Living Villages says the family of a dead student are owed answers after his body lay in his room for up to eight weeks without anyone noticing.

The body of the student - named by Stuff as 19-year-old Mason Pendrous - was found on Monday night at the University of Canterbury's Sonoda Christchurch Campus accommodation, after fellow students noticed an odour.

Police are investigating the cause of death and wider circumstances, while the university is launching an independent investigation into the death and has promised to act on its recommendations.

About two thirds of the university's on-site students live in accommodation managed by Campus Living Villages. The multinational company has more than 45,000 students in its care internationally including at Massey and Victoria universities.

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Campus Living's managing director John Schroder said he was haunted by the question "How did we miss him?"

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"We owe it to our young student and his family to make sure that we an determine what actually happened and determine where there could have been a failure in process and indeed what we can do about it into the future," he said.

"Unfortunately we don't know enough facts yet to be able to characterise where we fell short."

The company was fully cooperating with both investigations and looking at its processes as well.

"The thing that haunts me ... is how did we miss him?"

It was not yet clear how Pendrous had died or how long his body had gone unnoticed, he said.

Sonoda was designed to give students "maximum independence" and allow students their privacy, Schroder said. Campus Living ran programmes and offered meals but students had to opt in.

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He compared it to the level of engagement an elderly person might expect in an independent living situation in a retirement village, as opposed to aged care.

"We have to be very conscious of privacy and balancing the wishes and rights of the young adults and at the same time providing a community for them."

There was also a process for parents, the university or friends to highlight that they had concerns for a student, in which case they would be checked on regularly. However to Schroder's knowledge the student who had died had not been flagged in that system.

Campus Living has had some form of contract with the university since 2005 and has about 27 years remaining.

He promised the company would do everything it could to determine what had happened and correct its processes.

"I don't believe that this will necessarily lead to a conclusion where we're not here."

He did not know if there had been a dereliction of duty and would not know until the investigation was complete.

If the student had been deceased for as long as reported, "to the extent that it's proven to be a timeframe that we would not tolerate, I would say that is a failing on our part. and we have to adjust our processes and systems."

The other four students living in the apartment had been moved into other accommodation.

The university's vice chancellor, Professor Cheryl de la Rey, said today she deeply regretted what had happened and had apologised to the student's family. Authorities including the university and police have not named him.

The terms of reference of the independent investigation would be shared in coming days, she said.

She promised the university would abide by the recommendations of the investigation, and do everything in its power to make sure such an incident never happened again.

De la Rey did not rule out ending the university's contract with Campus Living when asked by media.

"I anticipate that the investigations, both by the police and the independent investigators, will provide recommendations. As I've indicated we will take those reocmmendations extremely seriously."

The family had asked that the media respect their privacy, she said, and she was keeping in close contact with them.

"That it's happened, we are extremely sad, we find it devastating ... my heart is with the family."

In an earlier statement, de la Rey said it was "inconceivable" to imagine how the circumstances could have occurred despite the pastoral care programmes in place.

Pendrous was a former Scots College student from Wellington.

The school's headmaster, Graeme Yule, said the college was saddened to receive the news and the incident was tragic is so many ways.

"Our focus has been on caring for the affected members of the students family and our wider college family," Yule said.

The headmaster said at times like this it makes you aware of the importance of family and community and the support that we can provide for each other.

"Pastoral care staff at the college were briefed on Tuesday and have been providing support to staff and both current and ex-students since then.

"We have been in contact with ex-students and their families that we know may be directly affected and our senior school principal will visit Christchurch on Friday to offer his support and connect with recent old-boys," Yule said.

The circumstances surrounding Pendrous' death remain unclear, however a police disaster identification team (DVI) was called in to investigate.

DVIs examine human remains for fingerprints, DNA and dental records to confirm an identity.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Chris Hipkins called for a "thorough investigation" following the discovery.

A student at the university told Newstalk ZB broadcaster Chris Lynch she could see how some people can slip through the cracks.

Kelly, who did not want to give her last name, said while the death of the student was shocking - in retrospect it was not surprising how it could happen.

Students are meant to sign a contract saying they are supposed to tell their residential assistants when they go away but she was told they don't follow that procedure, Kelly said.

She hopes the tragedy will see the halls toughen up on their procedures.

De la Rey said within the Sonoda accommodation, two residential assistants were employed, with a duty manager, to support residents.

Social spaces and bathrooms are cleaned twice a week and Campus Living Villages meets with the university fortnightly to discuss students of concern.