O-week: Students crave posh digs

Influx of students brings campus back to life

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 11:21 26/02/2014
Andrew Oliver, Waikato Uni
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ Zoom
NEW START: Yesterday was moving-in day for hundreds of University of Waikato students including Andrew Oliver, pictured in College Hall.

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Hardship grants up, says Waikato student union

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As university students flock back to Hamilton for a new academic year, a place to live is top of the to-do list.

University halls of residence were a hive of activity as first-year students arrived to fill them yesterday, and a local rental agency has been opening extra hours since early January to meet demand.

Many new university hall residents arrived with family in tow, but one took a more relaxed approach.

"I just drove myself here, car loaded up," 19-year-old Andrew Oliver said. "I managed to keep it down . . . to what I really needed."

Mr Oliver took a gap year after school to work on a dairy farm in Galatea in the Bay of Plenty but will now switch to studying for a Bachelor of Science, and plans to major in maths.

And he had his "small but spacious" room in College Hall set up before lunch yesterday.

The hall was first on his list of accommodation preferences - he was sold when he read "fully catered".

And as the university celebrates its 50th anniversary, a look back at previous hall residents shows the basic ingredients of the rooms haven't changed much - single bed, desk, and shelves - but the hairstyles and clothes have.

While Mr Oliver's desk has plenty of power outlets for the gadgets of the modern student, the one in a photo from the 70s is used as a seat for a long-haired guitarist.

The arrival of this year's students made for a busy day for group manager of student services Bethea Weir, but she enjoyed the atmosphere as around 800 first-years moved in across the three catered hostels.

"What's really great is to have students back on campus in those numbers," she said. "It just bring the place to life."

More than 1000 students can live in the university's four on-campus halls of residence: College Hall, Bryant Hall, Orchard Park, and Student Village.

Last year there was a "dramatic increase" in students opting to live in a "substance-free" area, Ms Weir said.

While numbers were slightly down this year, there was still interest.

And yesterday the vibe among students was "wonderful exhilaration and excitement and with a little bit of ‘oh, this is a bit scary'," she said.

Ahead of them lay an orientation programme including whanau information sessions, a powhiri, top town races and even a pool party, she said.

Meanwhile, students looking for a private flat have kept Lodge City Rentals busy since early January, general manager David Kneebone said.

They have run extended hours since the start of the year, and called in an extra worker to help with appointments.

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And after filling more than 200 properties in February and a similar amount in January they were at about 98 per cent occupancy, he said.

Properties snapped up by students ranged from studio apartments to 4-5 bedroom flats, but he said students had higher standards these days. "They like more bathrooms, they like nice, secure, insulated homes. The days of the grotty big old student flat are fast diminishing."

Demand for furnished studio apartments with ensuites had also been increasing over the past few years, especially among international students.

And while there was less choice for accommodation seekers still looking in the "late flurry", Mr Kneebone said he didn't think anyone would be stuck without a place to live.

"It's pretty well catered for here. Owners end up filling their properties and students find properties."

HARDSHIP GRANTS UP, SAY STUDENT UNION

The amount of hardship grants being handed out to Waikato University students has doubled in a year, the student union says.

Students are beginning to descend on Hamilton as O-Week gets set to kick into full gear next week. The Waikato Student Union has planned an array of events to welcome the newcomers.

Elected union president for a second term, Aaron Letcher said orientation was the beginning of a big year for the organisation which had committed itself to a series of targets aimed at improving its service to students.

"We will be expanding our advocacy service and include budgeting advice because the amount we have been giving out in hardship grants has doubled to about $10,000 a year.

"Part of the reason is that our funding has increased so we have been better able to meet the demand.

"By the time students come to us they're usually pretty desperate."

They would also provide free legal clinics and will be putting a strong focus on student welfare. "The way students live their lives has a big impact on their ability to study.

"When their lives get out of kilter they tend to drop out of study."

Mr Letcher said some additional funding from the university and the student union's own resources had been applied to boost the advocacy, budgeting and legal advice services.

Another target for 2014 would be the development of a food bank for students. "It will be for emergencies. When students come in and they haven't eaten we will be able to give them a voucher or have something immediately on hand.

"We want to be able to run some 'bring a can' promotions with some of our events," Mr Letcher said. "It's about helping students to help themselves. New students often find they suddenly have to balance a budget. We find through our advocacy work that people's root problem is budgeting."

Officially titled ORI2014, the two-week period is a huge undertaking for the university and the union. This week until Friday comprises academic introductions and tours of the campus and its facilities. Next week is put on by the student union and the annual pool party starts the celebrations.

For more information on O-week, visit waikato.ac.nz.

To learn more about the Waikato Students' Union ORI2014, visit the website, wsu.org.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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