University of Wellington

In September, the University Council voted to recommend to the Minister of Education that the legal name of the University be changed to University of Wellington.

The Council also backed the adoption of a new Māori name, Te Herenga Waka, and made a commitment to the ongoing use of the word 'Victoria' to ensure the University's heritage is honoured and maintained.

Chancellor Neil Paviour-Smith says the decision was a challenging one for the Council and he acknowledged the significance of the name Victoria to alumni, students, and staff. “After careful consideration, the Council is satisfied that the name change is in the best interests of the University and is an important next step in achieving the University’s vision and long-term prosperity.”

The Council’s decision follows well over a year of research, advice from experts, and discussion with staff, students, alumni, and stakeholders, including a consultation period during which close to 2,500 submissions were received.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford acknowledges that there is a “very understandable deeply personal connection to the name Victoria among many alumni.”

“Unfortunately, however, the external context in which the University operates has changed very significantly and our current name of Victoria University of Wellington is no longer working well for us.”

The rationale for the Council’s decision crystallised around a number of key points: the proposed change of name to University of Wellington emphasises the word ‘Wellington’, which enhances the University’s differentiation as New Zealand’s globally ranked capital city university; it allows the achievements of the University to build the global reputation of the city and vice versa; and it creates a common destiny and enduring sense of partnership between the University and Wellington.

Grant says a vibrant and successful Wellington offering an enhanced student experience and exceptional liveability for staff is critical to the University’s future. “Similarly, a world-class university in Wellington is vital for the city and region to flourish.”

While the word Victoria has great personal significance to many alumni, he says, it is problematic in many other respects.

“It is used prominently in the names of at least seven other tertiary educational institutions and, to some, the word Victoria evokes misleading or adverse associations such as with Victoria in Australia; with colonisation, dispossession, and discrimination; and with the staid nature of Victorian society rather than the creativity of Wellington.

“Others have noted the incongruity of naming a university after a monarch, given that monarchies symbolise heredity, stability, and power, whereas universities symbolise meritocracy, innovation, and speaking truth to power.”

Grant says the name change fits into a wider programme of work to build the University’s international reputation, which is not yet in keeping with the teaching and research excellence of the University.

“Realising our ambitions in an increasingly competitive and financially challenging sector requires the University to have a name that is both better aligned to Wellington and more distinctive internationally.”

Welcoming all waka

The recommended new Māori name—Te Herenga Waka—is also the name of the University’s marae, and means the mooring place of canoes.Te Herenga Waka has been at the heart of the University community for more than three decades and the name signifies that all people are welcome on the marae.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori) Professor Rawinia Higgins says, “In using Te Herenga Waka for the whole University, we are saying that people from around the rohe, all around the country, and beyond, can tether their metaphorical canoes and find shelter here. Once people have finished at the University they can head off on their journey, while still maintaining a deep connection to Te Herenga Waka.

“The name also reflects the idea of coming to the city through the harbour, and being anchored and firmly placed here.”