26 Sep 2019

Vice Chancellor: 'We are extremely sad, we find it devastating'

6:56 pm on 26 September 2019

Campus Living Villages and the University of Canterbury have fronted media, three days after discovering the death of a student on their watch.

Sonoda Village, where the body of a University of Canterbury student was found after several weeks.

Sonoda Village, where the body of a University of Canterbury student was found after several weeks. Photo: RNZ / Eleisha Foon

The New Zealand man was dead for a number of weeks before being found at the Sonoda Village in Ilam, Christchurch, on Monday.

The University said it will re-consider the contract it has with the hostel provider - who provides beds for about 2000 students at the university.

The heat was on group managing director John Schroder this afternoon, as he fronted questions about exactly what happened to the man at Sonoda, like when he was last checked on.

Those were details he couldn't confirm, but he said his company was working with the university to investigate the "loss of a young life in heart-rending circumstances".

He gave assurances that if something needed to change once investigations were complete, then it would.

"I give you my commitment and I'm sitting here with open arms that we will do everything we possibly can to not only determine what happened to this young man but correct it from a process and system perspective," he said.

Mr Schroder said providing first year accommodation was a balancing act.

"We have to be very conscious of balancing the wishes and rights of our young adults and at the same time providing a community for them."

But at a separate media conference a short time prior, the University said it would be considering the contract it has with Campus Living Villages, as they carry out a full independent investigation into the death.

Vice Chancellor Professor Cheryl de la Rey said the company was obliged to provide pastoral care for students under the contact.

But there were other questions about what happened, including when the student was last seen attending university.

"We undertake to abide by the recommendations of that investigation and to do everything that we can to ensure that no question is left unanswered - and that we do everything in our power to make sure this never happens again," she said.

"That it's happened, we are extremely sad, we find it devastating."

The appearance of the University and Campus Living Villages came after a prompt from Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

At parliament today, he confirmed he'd spoken with the university and it was pulling out all the stops to identify what happened.

But he said staff needed to front up to the media.

"I do have confidence in the Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor of Canterbury University and the way they're handling the situation," Mr Hipkins said.

"I think clearly there are some questions to be answered around the firm that was running this hostel and whether they had the right safeguards in place," he said.

"I am confident that University of Canterbury are taking all of the steps they need to to get to the bottom of that."

Meanwhile the reverberations of what happened were still being felt at the University of Canterbury today.

Students Association president Sam Brosnahan said there was a sombre mood in the university community.

"It has been quite sad for a lot of students involved but then also just for students hearing the news come through.

"My take of UC is that we're pretty tight knit," Mr Brosnahan said.

"Most students study on the same campus, most students live close to campus, most students are part of the student run club here at UC. So it wasn't just sadness that met the news but also kind of surprise."

A spokesperson for the police said officers were still piecing together information by talking to people and making inquiries.

As the formal ID process was still ongoing, they said they were still unable to confirm the man's name.

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