University of Waikato continues to alleviate student hardship in Covid times

26 January 2021

Thanks to generous donations from staff, alumni and the community, students facing hardship during Covid-19 were able to access the support they needed.

There is no doubt students were impacted considerably during Covid-19. The implications of New Zealand's lockdown meant many students were unable to rely on part-time jobs to fund studies and living costs, and many were left struggling to pay rent or buy groceries.

The University initially held a small Alumni and Friends appeal, raising funds for the Waikato Students' Union (WSU) to help them support domestic students affected by the financial implications of Covid-19. The WSU has traditionally always helped students in need, and also had access to additional funding to distribute to students in need. The Development Office, which looks after the University of Waikato Foundation - Te Pou Taunaki (the University's charity arm), gave about $8000 to the WSU to support domestic students.

This support helped students such as Angela*, a domestic student studying for her masters degree who lost her part-time job during lockdown and was struggling to pay rent and other bills. WSU helped her approach StudyLink and accommodation providers to find a sustainable solution, and provided her with a food grant for instant relief.

University staff answer the call for help

Staff were asked to consider donating for students via payroll giving, resulting in about 90 staff signing up to pay into a fund for students affected by the financial fallout of Covid-19. Alongside enhanced pastoral care and support, funds from payroll giving helped specifically address international student hardship, which emerged as a significant need during lockdown.

The international student services team worked hard to help each student's individual circumstance and regularly met with students face-to-face. The team received 172 applications for help from international students already at Waikato, and met with 121 of those individually. By December, 104 students had been helped with food vouchers and a further 17 received help with rent and utility bills, and the team will review the situation with international students early in 2021.

This approach was of great help to students such as Padma*, from India, who arrived in New Zealand early 2020 to do her masters degree. Travelling alone, she intended for her husband to join her later. The lockdown and border closures put immense stress on her, and she was without the support of her husband in a foreign country. Working closely with other offices at the University, the student services team was able to place Padma in University accommodation at a reduced rate where could interact with other students.

Director of Development Peta Goldsworthy thanks staff who immediately responded to the idea of payroll giving from Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley. "Although everyone had their own issues in what was a very unsettling time, these staff acted quickly and gave generously to support students in hardship, and I think that says a lot about our University family."

Ms Goldsworthy says the Foundation's trustees (who have financial responsibility for the Foundation's donations) have also congratulated staff for their efforts. "The trustees were impressed with the level of donations and they quickly agreed we needed to help international students who were already in New Zealand but struggling to cope with the financial implications of Covid."

Several staff are still making payroll donations for the Covid fund, but in the future, payroll giving might include advancing key research, breaking down barriers to education through scholarships, creating long-term support through the Endowment Fund, or supporting other important projects.

*Not their real names.

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