Duncan Coutts, Lucy, and Victoria Sugrue.
As of today, 694 alumni, friends, staff, parents and students have donated an extremely generous $357,000 to the Pūtea Tautoko student financial relief fund.
The fund was created to support students facing hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the University committing an initial $1.5 million, while further funding was received from the Government. Together with the contributions from donors, the funding received now totals close to $3.5 million.
“ “It made it a lot easier at a very stressful time, especially when we have a wee one to care for as well,” Duncan Coutts.
So far, more than $2 million has been allocated to more than 1,000 students.
For postgraduate students Duncan Coutts and Victoria Sugrue, the financial support they have received from the fund has meant Duncan has been able to continue with his MSc in Anatomy and they have been able pay the bills over winter.
Duncan received a two-month extension for his scholarship stipend, while the couple, who have a one-year-old daughter Lucy and are expecting another baby at New Year, also received a contribution towards living costs.
“With both of us living off our scholarship stipends, knowing that the fund was there, that there was somewhere we could go to for support, took a lot of stress off the immediate worry of would we be able to pay our rent, our power, food,” says Duncan. “It made it a lot easier at a very stressful time, especially when we have a wee one to care for as well.”
During lockdown, with no day care for Lucy and no access to their labs, their ability to study was limited.
“Really with both of us at home trying to take care of Lucy, it put things on hold pretty much. We got a little bit of work done but nowhere near as much as during a normal study period,” says Duncan.
Victoria, who is studying for a PhD in Anatomy (the couple met in an undergraduate Biological Anthropology class) says the biggest help was receiving the extension to Duncan's stipend, because if he had needed to extend his study without getting any funding it would have been very stressful, and he may have had to finish up and find a job to pay the bills.
Victoria is in her second year of studying for her PhD, and will take six months off at the start of next year. She aims to finish her PhD at the end of 2022, and understands she may be able to apply for help from the fund at a later date if needed.
She says they hear about students in other countries who have “been left to deal with it” on their own, while in contrast they have felt very supported by Otago.
Students from right across the University community are being supported by the fund – from International students, to first year undergraduates to final year PhD students. They include students cut off from financial support from home, and domestic students whose part-time work or wider family finances have been hit hard by the pandemic.
The fund is helping cover utility and electricity bills, accommodation costs, travel costs back to campus, essential groceries and toiletries. Postgraduate research students have received tuition fees rebates and scholarship extensions.
Significant ongoing demand is expected for 2020, and the fund will continue to operate in 2021 as well.
All students are eligible to apply to the fund. Applications are considered by several panels, all including student representation. The panels robustly assess hardship, using tools the University already has to assess applications for existing hardship funds, and for needs-based scholarships.