Vice-Chancellor reflects on last year and looks to the future

Vice-Chancellor Grant Guilford and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori) Rawinia Higgins recently hosted an alumni reception in Wellington, sharing their thoughts on the last year and updating alumni on plans for the future.

It’s been an eventful 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so it was wonderful for the University community and alumni to be able to gather together in-person to share updates on recent challenges, celebrate successes, and discuss future projects.

Professor Guilford shared how the University has weathered the impacts of COVID 19. While acknowledging the many challenges it delivered, he also talked about the opportunities it has provided. One benefit is that the University reduced its gross carbon emissions by 40% in 2020 and improved the resilience of its operating model. While the University’s financial performance this year is better than expected, this has come at the huge cost of approximately 200 full-time jobs.

While a rapid switch to working remotely had many challenges, Professor Guilford noted the excellent job staff have done in providing dual-delivery teaching. Evidence of this comes from the fact that 96 percent of our teaching staff were assessed by students as good, very good, or excellent in 2020.

Highlights of the year for the University included work done on defining our iho (essence) as a global civic university with our marae at our heart. This incorporates our distinctive focus on Wellington and our position as a capital city university.

Our research continues to flourish, Te Herenga Waka has the highest proportion of quality researchers of all New Zealand universities and our students benefit from cutting-edge knowledge they share in the classroom.

The Vice-Chancellor thanked alumni for their generous support of the University, and its mission-led research, teaching, and engagement, during a very difficult period.

Professor Rawinia Higgins gave an update on the Living Pā, the University’s ambitious redevelopment of the Te Herenga Waka Marae on the Kelburn campus into a world-leading, sustainable, regenerative hub.

When it was established in the 1980s, the vision for the University’s marae was to create a dedicated place on campus for Māori students and staff. The marae was to be a place where students could apply their learning in a culturally safe environment, and practice the language and culture in real life situations.

Professor Higgins says the marae became a haven for many young Māori students, allowing them to discover themselves and to connect with other Māori, creating a whanau-like environment. She says the Living Pā provides us with a vital opportunity to take action that will have a positive impact on the next generation, ensuring we become good ancestors.

The Living Pā is designed to meet the ‘international living building challenge’– the built environment’s most rigorous performance standard in the world. This means the buildings will need to give more than they take, being:

  • Regenerative buildings that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community.
  • Self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site.
  • Create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.

Using wai (water) as an example, this project views water as a precious resource. Rainwater will be filtered and used to deliver healthy drinking water. Grey water will be recycled through the native plant filtration system on the façade, for use in vacuum flushing toilets.

Professor Higgins says the technology and design solutions used in the Living Pā will establish the University as a leader that is able to a lead actual change for the next generation.

View the full presentations by the Vice-Chancellor and Professor Higgins in this video:

Download the slides: