Thursday 11 June 2020 12:34pm
The lawn outside the University of Otago Central Library and The Link.
Just a few weeks since it was launched, the University of Otago student financial relief fund Pūtea Tautoko has provided NZD$659,156 in grants to support students facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this time the fund has also received a major boost from alumni, friends, staff, current students and parents, who have responded to the needs of the student community by donating more than NZD$270,000.
Created as a way for the University community to support students facing hardship due to the pandemic, the University has committed an initial investment of NZD$1.5 million to the fund, making it the largest hardship initiative in its history.
Together with substantial hardship funding provided to the University by the Government in follow-up to its May budget announcements, this means that the Pūtea Tautoko fund now stands at more than NZD$3 million in total.
During the lockdown, many students lost their part-time jobs, which they relied on for vital income, while others face greatly reduced financial support from their families.
Applications to Pūtea Tautoko opened on 14 May, and by Thursday 4 June 345 grants had been made, with a total of NZD$659,156 paid so far. Grant recipients have come from across the University, and range from first-year undergraduates to senior postgraduates, and include both domestic and international students.
The fund is helping students cover their 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.
“The pandemic has created unprecedented levels of hardship within our student community and Pūtea Tautoko is a critical part of Otago’s response to support students through this challenging time,” says Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne.
“The situations facing students in the most severe cases are quite harrowing, and the chairs of the assessment panels considering applications have noted the importance of the feedback provided by the independent referees that applicants are required to nominate.
“Unfortunately, the need we are seeing now is only likely to grow over the coming months as the reality of further job losses and pressure on businesses continues to play out.”
Professor Hayne says the response to the hardship fund from the University community has been extraordinary, and heart-warming. More than 300 donations have come from first-time donors to the University.
“We are extremely grateful for the generosity shown by our alumni and friends, staff, students and parents. The way they have reached out to help makes it possible for so many of our most vulnerable students to receive the support they need.”
Many donors have attached notes to their donations, explaining why they have chosen to support the fund. Alumna Nicole Warren says, “I don’t want students who have worked so hard to be at university, or were given a life-changing opportunity to attend university, to have that taken away from them by factors outside their control.”
In return, students have expressed their thanks. Master’s student Charlotte Bruce Kells received a two-month extension to her scholarship, which she can take whenever she is ready to return to study after maternity leave.
“The hardship fund has made a massive difference to me and my family. It has relieved a huge amount of stress in the lead up to the birth of my baby, as well as ensured that one way or another I will get this thesis done.
“My family and I could not have afforded another semester worth of fees, so without this fund I would not have been able to extend my due date.”
All students are eligible to apply to the fund, whether they are New Zealand or International students, full-time or part-time, undergraduate or postgraduate.
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.