Wellington Scoop

Chris Hipkins gets it right on VUW


by Barrie Saunders
Education Minister Chris Hipkins made the right decision to reject the Victoria University of Wellington’s Council request to change its name to the University of Wellington.

The VUW Council put out a very sensible statement in response saying it would consider the issue at its first meeting next year. But the Vice Chancellor Grant Guilford was not reticent when approached by the media, saying they had several options including a judicial review and also just changing the operational name while leaving the statutory name intact. This may be technically possible but would likely set off political and or legal action seeking to block that course.

The Council itself should reflect seriously on how it got into this very unfortunate situation. My take is that:

Firstly it did not develop a quality case first and then present it to staff, students and alumni for genuine feedback.

Instead it made a provisional decision and then attempted to sell it to relevant stakeholders as both worthy and inevitable. When that produced a largely hostile reaction from far too many for comfort, it released a 50 page paper on July 27 giving people a couple of weeks to comment. When the voices against further increased, it extended the deadline.

Reading the September Council paper, it is clear their lawyers got heavily involved and the result was a a very carefully written paper designed to head off a Minister who might not be convinced. It did not work and congratulations to Chris Hipkins for rejecting it.

Those Council members (all but two) who voted in favour should now back up the truck and make some rational decisions. They should accept the case for change was weak with modest upsides, and a lot of downside, particularly with students and alumni. It seems academic staff, who were not properly surveyed by VUW, are divided with possibly a majority being opposed to the name change.

To the extent there is confusion with some potential overseas students or staff, this can be dealt with by clever marketing. Something simple like making the full name – Victoria University of Wellington – in the same sized type instead of Victoria being much larger.

This whole saga is to me part of a larger problem with many boards of directors. Too many accept management proposals (supported of course by consultants commissioned by management) to undertake investments or changes of direction, which often don’t stack up. For example Fletcher Building buying Formica in the USA when it didn’t have a comparative advantage. Now being sold. Tranzrail moving its head office to Auckland’s North Shore where there are no trains and when its main operational base was well south. That suited some individuals but not the company.

Directors are there for real independent judgement, not to tick the boxes on management’s proposals. Its now time for the VUW Council to step up, accept the rejection from Hipkins and thousands of other stakeholders, restrain the VC, and move on. With good management the University has a great future.

In respect of overseas students, it is handicapped by the lack of direct flights from Asia and the cost of living for students. It can do something about the latter and its attention should be on that and all the normal stuff that makes for a great university.

First published yesterday on Barrie Saunders’ blog.


  1. N Douglas, 21. December 2018, 7:07

    I’ve come around to Grant Guilford’s vision. There are too many Universities named Victoria this and Victoria that. What is wrong with the much simpler ‘University of Wellington’? I guess change is difficult to stomach in conservative Wellington. We needed a visionary King Edward VII who allowed Leeds University alongside Manchester and Liverpool to drop ‘Victoria’ and become independent universities under their own city names.

  2. Helene Ritchie, 21. December 2018, 8:39

    So..Neil..and all you other change managers and P.R. branding supremos:
    I used to go to “Vic” as in “I went to Vic.”
    Change the name to University of Wellington, and I used to go where?
    “ I used to go to Wellington”? ? as in “ I went to Wellington”

  3. Tony Jansen, 21. December 2018, 10:44

    Just can’t keep a good deputy mayor down….thanks Helene for nipping that in the bud.
    VUW Council and the VC in particular display all the symptoms that plague many management structures today: overpaid, under worked, arrogant and a total loss as to who they are really accountable to (if anyone).
    After a generation of continual restructuring, exhortations to work harder, longer, more efficiently, and ironically constantly being told the customer is king (lol), most of us are probably worse off with regards to our real standard of living.
    If there was ever a case for limiting not only the powers but also top management remuneration, Grant Guilford among others (read GWRC, WCC) have made our case for us.

  4. N Douglas, 21. December 2018, 10:49

    PR Branding supremos and University of Wellington? It is what it is. It’s where it is and everyone will get used to it – given time – even you (perhaps). Just like those who now go to the University of Leeds, Manchester University, Liverpool University. Do you think the thousands who go to these Universities care a hoot that that their predecessors went to a Victoria University? I think not.

  5. Michael Gibson, 21. December 2018, 12:15

    Relevant to the excellent comments of the former Deputy Mayor is Vic’s woefully inadequate comment on the subject shown in the 102 pages which the Minister has released (“proactively”) relating to his equally excellent decision on the subject viz.
    “Many submitters expressed their personal connections to the shortened name ‘Vic’ (as well as ‘VUW’) and their concerns about any replacement acronym associated with the new name. We acknowledge these concerns and the connections people feel to these terms. While ‘Vic’ is not a term officially used by the University, any abbreviation associated with University of Wellington would need to be considered during implementation. It may need to be reflected in shortened web urls, email addresses and in other ways, to ensure it is consistent”.
    As pathetic really as the whole approach adopted by our visitor from Auckland, the present VUW Vice-Chancellor.

  6. TrevorH, 21. December 2018, 18:06

    @ N Douglas: which University of Wellington are you referring to?

  7. Graduate, 21. December 2018, 19:58

    And Neil which Wellington of the at least 39 in the world?

  8. aom, 21. December 2018, 22:51

    Perhaps N. Douglas has acquired Guilford Syndrome – an inability to use four words as a descriptor when three words could be substituted for no practical purpose. One shudders to think how such an affliction, that might have transmission similarities to Kauri die back disease (big feet stomping in the wrong places), might be transmitted.

  9. Katy Mansfield, 22. December 2018, 6:05

    TrevorH and Graduate – it’s good to see Neil is willing to change. Why don’t you like the nice and simple name ‘Wellington University’ (or ‘University of Wellington’)? If our city’s University had been called this from the start, would you want to insert a Victoria into it?

  10. TrevorH, 22. December 2018, 7:06

    The desire to abolish the name “Victoria” has in reality little to do with helping geography-challenged overseas students find their way or upping the university’s ratings for academic excellence. It’s about “decolonization” which is the currently fashionable ethnic cleansing of the history and culture of many New Zealanders. It disregards however the essential role of Queen Victoria in authorizing the process which culminated in the Treaty of Waitangi. The name of this monarch accordingly has a special significance for New Zealand and its seat of government.

  11. Cecil Roads, 22. December 2018, 10:09

    TrevorH – but by deleting the name Victoria, more attention would be given to Irishman Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, a defensively minded army man who defeated Napolean with the help of the Prussians and who later opposed the Reform Act as Prime Minister. Surely you’d be in favour of giving our own Duke more prominence in our University’s name, wouldn’t you?

  12. Morris Oxford, 22. December 2018, 12:50

    To Cecil, Arthur was the chap who gave his name to the Wellesley Club. It is a more memorable name than Wellington and fewer other places are named Wellesley.
    Surely the VUW Council could have recognised this and changed VUW’s name to Wellesley instead of the posh titled name Wellington. Yet another thing they got wrong.

  13. Graduate, 22. December 2018, 13:06

    Anyway Neil why would we want to replace a woman (Queen Victoria) with a man Duke of Wellington. Same old same old….Not very P.C.
    Just saying…

  14. Mel G., 23. December 2018, 6:41

    Grant Guilford is sensibly not proposing the replacement of a Queen with a Duke in our University’s name, just the deletion of the superfluous ‘Victoria’. He has also proposed the change in the Maori name. Has anybody got a problem with the change in the Maori name?

  15. Mike Mellor, 23. December 2018, 12:10

    Neil Douglas: as a graduate of the Victoria University of Manchester* I’ve never particularly given a hoot about the Victoria bit, except to point out to locals that I went to Victoria too.

    But a major point of difference is that Manchester university was, at least in living memory, not known as Victoria – the trading name was different from the official name. As the dunderheads here only just seem to appreciate, that same approach could perhaps have been (and may still be) taken here without all the time, money, energy etc. that has been wasted on a legalistic approach.

    I thought that universities were here to research and support best practice, but sadly VUW doesn’t seem to have that competence in this respect.

    *The Victoria bit has since disappeared with the creation of a new University of Manchester combining the university and UMIST – the only Mancunian Victoria is now the railway station/tram stop.

  16. Marack Moambra, 23. December 2018, 19:14

    Mike – in living memory? Somebody has to have the vision to change things. Many Universities have had their name changed. Change seems to be very painful for some but people do get over it and the next generation simply won’t care at all. Good on Grant Guilford for having the vision to simplify things for the next generation.

  17. Tony Jansen, 24. December 2018, 10:54

    As a professor of Veterinary Science, perhaps Grant Guilford could get together with David Seymour? Then we could put this idea to sleep once and for all.

  18. Brian B., 24. December 2018, 19:04

    Both Victoria and the Duke of Wellington are long gone and would not care one iota about a name change. And as several posts have said, neither will people in 10 years time. They will be happy with a University named after the town it’s in.