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University offers support for potential students affected by COVID-19

Both current university students and secondary school students planning to take up tertiary study next year have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The University of Auckland has acknowledged and responded to this with a series of initiatives designed to support current students and assist new students to pathway into university programmes.

The University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater said that all students have been affected but some considerably more than others, and there were real issues of equity to address.

“We know that learning and studying under the conditions of the past few months have posed challenges across the board, but there are definitely people who have been significantly disadvantaged. These range from no access to computers and internet connection or suitable study spaces, the lack of specific support provided to students with disabilities, to the real financial pressures that many families are under as a result of the pandemic and lockdown,” she said.

Consequently, we have looked at how best we can support all students and mitigate this specifically for students and potential students who have been most affected.

Current students have been supported with initiatives such as the upscaling of all grades and a revised aegrotat and compassionate consideration approach for Semester 1, along with the opportunity to re-sit exams. The University has also provided hundreds of laptops for students without them, and made a significantly increased hardship fund available for students.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic, Professor John Morrow, said that the University recognises the disruptions caused to all students’ study in Semester 1 and intends to counteract academic disadvantage resulting from them.

“The University has worked hard to minimise the impact that Covid-19 has had on our students. However, we know that the shift to online teaching and the requirement to be away from the learning environment of the University campuses has been challenging. We commend the work and commitment of students, and the staff who have supported them.”

All students have been affected but some considerably more than others; [there are] real issues of equity to address.

The University said it is trying to focus on the impact of Covid-19 on students intending to study next year and the concerns of prospective students and their families and teachers.

As a result, it has introduced ‘Pae tawhiti – student success’, a series of initiatives centred on students planning study in 2021 and in line with the NZQA decision to adjust the requirements to meet the UE standard.

Professor Morrow said that the intention was to enable access to university pathways for everyone, particularly those who have been disadvantaged most significantly.

“This year the University will place a stronger emphasis on Year 12 results than in the past. The guaranteed entry score (rank score) that we have used previously will not be required to guarantee a student’s place in a programme.

“We anticipate that our changes, along with NZQA’s change to the University Entrance requirement, will enable students who were planning to come to University study in 2021, to do so, despite Covid-19-related disruptions this year,” he said.

Professor Morrow acknowledge in a recent letter to secondary school principals that there are also students whose programme of study had been so severely impacted by Covid-19 that they were unlikely to meet even the modified requirements for 2021.

“In such cases we will work with students and offer pathways such as Foundation Programmes to assist the transition to university of those who have not met UE or specific programme requirements. We are also open to utilising discretionary entry provisions by considering recommendations from principals on individual students’ suitability for university study,” he said.

Pro-Vice Chancellor Māori, Professor Cindy Kiro, said students should be assured that the university sector understands the challenges of the past few months and recognises things have not been easy.

“It is particularly important that Māori and Pacific students, many of whom have been particularly disadvantaged, are not put off attending university as they had planned.

“We are committed to providing sound academic advice and additional support to help them to prepare well for university before and when they join us. This will include support to ensure they have the necessary basics in literacy and numeracy, providing additional preparation through enhanced science and mathematics support drawing on the University’s STEM Online NZ programme, Unibound and the Tertiary Foundation Certificate.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Equity, Trudy McNaughton said the pandemic had exposed and exacerbated existing inequities for student, students and communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“This University is determined that we play our part in addressing these and ensuring that a university education is accessible for all members of our community.”

Story shared with permission from The University of Auckland.

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