Food for thought

Imagine trying to complete any activity on an empty stomach…  A gurgling tummy, headaches, tiredness, lethargy, dizziness, lack of concentration and nausea.  Not very pleasant, huh?

Yesterday, a NZ Herald article highlighted the financial challenges many Unitec students are facing during their studies.

A survey answered by almost 2000 of its students has found that 17 per cent agree that they “regularly go without food or other necessities because I can’t afford them”.   

Half of all students, including two-thirds of Maori students, said their income was not enough to cover their living costs at some stage in the past year.

At Unitec, I manage an amazing team that actively provides financial assistance, study grants, budgeting advice and referral support for students.  The Student Support team have noticed a spike in students requiring assistance over the past year, often citing rising costs relating to rent, transportation, and food.  Whilst we are limited with what we can provide, the ability to alleviate some of the pressure is vital to keeping the student engaged and thriving in their study.

Student Support team 2017
The Unitec Student Support team:  I salute you!

What warms my heart is that there are many staff across Unitec who are also playing key roles in tending to these student needs.  I have heard of many great stories where departments and teams are offering breakfasts for students, sharing donated items, and making referring to support services if required.

I remember a few years ago when I had a career guidance session with a mature student.  She was looking to make a career change, sacrificing a lot to focus on her studies.  She came to see me so I could help her prepare for an interview that day, but she seemed tired and said she couldn’t afford any lunch.  How could she possibly present her best self at the interview on an empty stomach??  Without hesitation I bought some lunch for her.

There are some people out there who will argue that students should be prepared for the realities and challenges of study.  They should be held accountable for their actions and choices.

Yes, this is true, but I want people to understand that undertaking tertiary study can be an overwhelming experience for those who have less access to resources or role models, or are using study to create uplift for them, and their family’s life.

Basic needs come first.  Maslow’s model shows that having access to food, shelter and security are fundamental for allowing a person to grow and seek higher level needs.  When these basic needs are compromised, then this has a negative flow-on effect on the student’s study journey – priorities shift and they may dis-engage from their course.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs   (source:

The current environment is challenging and costs are at an all time high.  I don’t see it getting easier anytime soon.  Now is the time for us to work together to support, encourage and empower people where we can.  Genuine, caring, humanitarian-focussed efforts need to be endorsed and supported.   The struggle is real.

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