The University of Canterbury campus where a student lay dead for up to 8 weeks needs more support staff on site for students, the country's student support body says.
Mason Pendrous was found in his unit at the Sodona Christchurch Campus by a staff member on Monday evening after fellow students noticed an odour.
Both police and the university are carrying out their own investigations while Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the incident was a failure of both the university and the Campus Living Villages, the company that runs the hostel.
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.
Campus Living's managing director John Schroder told media yesterday they owed it to the student and his family to find out what happened.
"Unfortunately we don't know enough facts yet to be able to characterise where we fell short."
The New Zealand Union of Students' Associations (NZUSA) acting president Caitlin Barlow-Groome said she'd never heard of anything happening like it before and said changes need to be made.
"Some students don't always find themselves in the best situation at a hall, it's not for everyone, but I've never seen or heard of anything like this before."
She said it was easy for an accommodation provider or tertiary institution to offer "pastoral care" but wondered what that meant.
"I think it's easy to say pastoral care is provided but at the moment, what does that mean?
"Everywhere is so different, every hall is so different. I went to one in Otago and we had lots of support, there were lots of activities for different people, there was sports activities and puzzle competitions, there was some sort of way for someone to get involved if they wanted to get involved."
However, she was critical of Sonoda's apparent lack of residential assistants [RA], with just two on board to cater for the 108 students.
"[At Otago] there was one RA for about 17 people, rather than one RA for about 54 people at that [Sonoda] hall.
"If you're already looking to restructure people out.. how much responsibility can you put on one student. An RA is there for that peer-to-peer support around what it's like to be a student, where to go, how to find your way around, not there for the frontline support service."
She also wanted to see a nationwide minimum set of standards set so that students and their families knew what they were getting and tertiary institutions knew their obligations.
"I think that's one way to ensure that people know what to expect and if they get better that's amazing, if they get the bare minimum then they're getting the bare minimum and they know what to expect.
"[Need] more of an explanation around what services are provided for students and for parents as well. I'm sure there are a lot of worried parents out there that have their kids in a first year hall now."
She said if any student was concerned she urged them contact their institute straight away, while any prospective student was worried they should also contact them and double check what they're offered before signing a contract.
As for exactly what pastoral care meant, she said it did depend on the size of the residence, but either it should include some form of mental health support, along with a counsellor who visited weekly or fortnightly.
She added there could also be swipe card monitoring access of students, not in a "big brother" way, but even if it monitored their eating activity, they would know who was around.
"That's a simple way to keep an eye on them I guess. You don't want big brother but there needs to be support."
THE BALANCING ACT OF INDEPENDENCE
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.
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.
The other four students living in the apartment with Pendrous had been moved into other accommodation.
The university's vice-chancellor, Professor Cheryl de la Rey, 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 recommendations extremely seriously."
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.