Education Minister Chris Hipkins speaks to reporters on Wednesday in Wellington, New Zealand. Nick Perry/ AP
New Zealand’s education minister called on Wednesday for an investigation after reports that a student’s body lay undiscovered in a university dorm room for nearly eight weeks.
Authorities have released few details of the incident at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.
But Education Minister Chris Hipkins told The Associated Press that it was a horrific situation for the family and nobody should be left in a dorm room for so long.
“If you’re going into a hall of residence or a hostel, you are paying top dollar for not just a roof over your head but also the pastoral care that goes with that,” Hipkins said. “And I think clearly that’s not been present in this case.”
He said the university needs to conduct a thorough investigation.
“We’ll be looking very closely at the regulatory and legal arrangements around the halls of residence and hostels to make sure they are as strong as they need to be,” he said. “But clearly I’m really concerned about this case.”
News organization Stuff reported that the student’s body lay undiscovered in his room for almost two months before other students noticed a smell.
University Vice Chancellor Cheryl de la Rey said in a statement that it was “inconceivable to imagine how these circumstances could have occurred.”
She said the university has an extensive well-being program and that residential assistants also support students in dorms. She said the university would commission an independent investigation.
The dorm is run by Australian company Campus Living Villages, which also operates dorms in the US and Britain. The company said it was saddened by the death but wouldn’t be commenting on the circumstances after the student’s family requested privacy.
The university had been hosting its normal lecture schedule after the second semester began in mid-July. New Zealand universities typically take their summer breaks in December and January.
Police said they were finishing up a scene examination Wednesday after the student’s body was found late Monday and an autopsy conducted Tuesday. They said specialist teams had been called in to formally identify the body.
Such teams are typically called in on a case-by-case basis, including when decomposition makes routine identification difficult.
Police declined to identify the student, say how long he’d been missing or specify a cause of death. Detective Senior Sgt. Craig Johnson said they were continuing to investigate the case.
Student President Sam Brosnahan told the AP that the incident was distressing for other students, who were saddened to hear of the death of one of their own. He said their thoughts and prayers were with the family.
He said he didn’t yet have all the facts, but that the reports of the length of time the body lay unfound were “very concerning.”
He said annual surveys found most students viewed the university favorably.
“It’s generally well regarded by students as a safe place to learn, study and live,” he said.
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