New Zealand is known for its beautiful beaches, rivers and lakes, and many visitors come to Aotearoa to take advantage of our waterways. But swimming and water sports also present hidden dangers. International students are a particularly high risk group for water injuries, and tragically, at least ten international students have lost their lives to accidental drowning in New Zealand since 2013.

The University of Waikato is determined to change these statistics, and in 2019 will be partnering with Water Safety New Zealand to offer a targeted water safety programme for international students.

Water Safety NZ CEO Jonty Mills says immigrants and visitors to New Zealand are often unfamiliar with the hazards of our water environment and are less able to identify the risks and interpret warning signs.

“Many visitors to New Zealand have had little or no instruction in swimming and water safety in their home country. While our beaches, lakes and rivers look inviting, our water is cold and many of our aquatic environments are high risk.”

The University’s programme, Water Safe Waikato, is being funded in 2019 by the Ministry of Education as part of the International Student Wellbeing Strategy. Water Safe Waikato will be delivered to 80 students over the year – 40 in each of the two main teaching semesters – but the benefits will be much further reaching. As well as the targeted programme led by water skills training provider Global Swim, Waikato will be running “dry” water safety modules during Orientation, open to all students, and sharing information and resources with international students throughout the year.

Part of the funding will also be used for a research project, supervised by human movement psychologist Professor Rich Masters. Findings from this study will be published, shared with Water Safety New Zealand, and made available to other tertiary institutions, providing long-term benefits for water safety across the country.

International Student Services Manager Huy Vu is excited about the programme. "The highest-risk students will be identified through a survey we’ll send to all our international students, with questions relating to their knowledge of and attitude towards water safety,” he says. "Drawing on research expertise from within the Faculty of Health Sport and Human Performance and our delivery partner Global Swim, the programme will be tailored to meet the cultural, linguistic and learning needs of the students participating."

Mills is delighted to be working with the University of Waikato on this programme and says it’s a fantastic way to get important water safety education to a hard to reach group.

“Too often international students have featured in our drowning statistics. This will give visitors studying here the tools they need to enjoy New Zealand’s waterways safely. We hope one day it will be used by tertiary providers across the country.”

Possibly the first programme of its kind to be offered in New Zealand, the research findings, information and resources will be used to develop an in-house training programme for future years, as part of the University of Waikato's ongoing commitment to the safety and wellbeing of its students.

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