The Government has changed the law to improve student safety and welfare in university halls of residence and other student accommodation.

The Education (Pastoral Care) Amendment Bill passed its third reading this afternoon and details of an interim Code of Practice setting out the Government’s expectations of tertiary providers have also been released.

“The recent tragedy at Sonoda student accommodation in Christchurch exposed the limits of the old system of self-regulation. It was based on a voluntary code and failed to maintain adequate standards at tertiary providers around the country,” Chris Hipkins said.

“We have moved quickly to change the Education Act so there are better protections in place for students from next year.

“We’ve created a Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of domestic tertiary students which providers must comply with.”

The Code is interim and will be in place for the start of 2020.

Tertiary providers with student accommodation will be expected to provide pastoral care that supports the safety and wellbeing of their students. It also sets out a general duty of pastoral care for tertiary providers, covering physical safety, access to advice and support services, physical and mental health support, freedom from discrimination and racism, support for transition to tertiary study, and the opportunity to take part in decision making on support services.

The interim Code is flexible, so that providers can identify and respond to the needs of their students.

In 2020, the Government’s focus is on tertiary education providers understanding and meeting their responsibilities under the Code, particularly their student accommodation obligations. Providers will be encouraged to review their internal systems, informed by guidelines that NZQA will release in early 2020, and followed by workshops in the first half of 2020.

The law change creates a new offence so the Crown can take legal action if any breaches of the Code result in serious harm or the death of a student. The offence will carry penalties of up to $100,000.

“We will work with students, families and the sector next year on a long-term Code for 2021.

“I would like to acknowledge the cross-party support we’ve had for the Code, including Dr Shane Reti of the National Party. This has helped us get the new Code in place for next year and provide certainty for students and their families,” Chris Hipkins said.