Wellington Scoop

VUW – a name change by stealth


by Hugh Rennie
If you feel that VUW’s Council and Vice Chancellor are the gift that keeps on giving, read on…

When, on 3 June 2018, I responded to the urging of a family member to set out to VUW the risks of its rebranding scheme, I did not expect to be writing about it – still – thirteen months later.

I did not expect to be providing – still – one of the ways in which information travels between the many groups which have each taken action to defend and protect our university.

I did not expect that certain of the university management would claim I was a central actor in an alt-right plot, a smear campaign, politically motivated, and connected to persons who were racists and sexist. (Yes, that has been going on – that smear campaign started early and ripples on still, but if there is anyone who believed it I have yet to find them.)

I did not expect problems with compliance by VUW with official information law (an Ombudsman’s investigation is still current); or to have to support academic staff bullied and attacked when they dissented.

But I was very confident that those who were driving this were wrong, and muddle-headed, and without significant support. And so it has proved.

I have never met most of the people who worked on their own initiative to save VUW. This has been the most remarkable, widespread, “grass roots” initiative I have ever experienced. When Parliament unanimously passed amending legislation – let’s say that again: unanimously – I thought and hoped that the next stage would be a coming together and a rebuilding of our VUW – alumni, staff, students and all.

But after an initial meeting with the Chancellor and Pro-Chancellor, at which I was assured that there would be no name change by stealth, they stopped responding to contact. Now we find that some are back at their old game.

What they call a “brand refresh” is underway. That is – maximise the use of “Wellington”, minimise the use of the university’s name.

This is done in the naïve idea that VUW would have more students if those overseas saw a different brand name to respond to – Wellington.

A brand name known to be a negative in most parts of this country, let alone overseas.

You can find these latest events on the “Stick with Vic” Facebook page.

One example – our prestigious, internationally known, Victoria Business School is to be forced to drop “Victoria” and feature “Wellington”.

Wellington Business School? In the last 16 years Wellington has had 3 companies of that name, each of which failed and went out of business. A name which does not reference a university connected to it, a name which does not identify the country in and from which it operates? A name which (contrary to the claimed results from research) does not contain the words which every other major university in NZ knows to be essential for overseas success. Yes “New Zealand” is what cuts through and gets the results, as I have been told privately by sadly mirthful staff at other universities, who all use it..

At least VUW is now asking for views. Perhaps you have some…


  1. Brendan, 4. July 2019, 10:15

    Wellington University needs to move with the times and putting Queen Victoria to sleep in the history department should be supported.

  2. David Mackenzie, 4. July 2019, 10:43

    I am speechless at the sedulous duplicity of the Vice Chancellor, in continuing down his doomed path to pointlessness. However, I am glad that you, Hugh, continue to speak so pointedly.

  3. Marion Leader, 4. July 2019, 10:50

    Is VUW going to “consult” its alumni on this one?
    It has previously failed to “consult” any graduates who had failed to inform them of an email address. In other words, they tried to slew the “consultation” in favour of younger people who possibly had less experience and loyalty to the name of VUW. I look forward to being “consulted” on this ridiculous attempt at face-saving.

  4. michael, 4. July 2019, 11:01

    Clearly VUW’s Council and Vice Chancellor have far too much money to spend, and a lot of spare time to spend on stupid non-academic issues.

  5. Mequil, 4. July 2019, 12:14

    I disagree with “Wellington” as being a negative brand domestically let alone internationally. Everyone I talk with holds Wellington in high regard, they enjoy the city when they visit it and identify positively with its uniqueness. Internationally, there are clearly positives in many overseas countries for being a capital city – which tend to have a more cosmopolitan population and would be the ideal location to study subjects relating to public policy. Wellington’s reputation as an innovator within the film and IT industries is also recognised.

    I think it is a good compromise to keep the VUW name but accentuate the UW (the V just doesnt mean anything – and yes I studied there as well)

  6. Hugh Rennie QC, 4. July 2019, 12:51

    Wellington City (and region) has a positive image as a place of arts, film, culture, (and to some extent sport).
    For a Business School, the core needs are not about lifestyle but about the commercial and finance reputation of the city.
    Within NZ, “the dead hand of Wellington” is the often commented-on image of our bureaucracy; “I’m from Wellington and I’m here to help you” is the standard (Tui billboard-type) joke. John Key repented of calling it “dying” but in a business sense it is at least seriously ill.
    In the 1980-90s Wellington had head offices of all the banks, most insurance companies, many major investment groups, and much more – now almost none are left. Crown regulators like the Commerce Commission and the FMA have joined that move and now have their main operations in Auckland. CEOs of major Wellington bodies like ACC (and yes, VUW!) live in Auckland and commute.
    In my 45 years as a chair and/or director on many boards, almost every one was based in Wellington when I started, and in Auckland or overseas before I left.
    Our VUW Business School needs to hold national and international status – which it won’t do by adopting the name of a 3-times failed private training establishment, or the name of a very small city with illusions of its status. It needs “Victoria” to be unique, and “New Zealand” to capture its country-wide relevance.

  7. Mequil, 4. July 2019, 22:33

    Why is “Victoria” unique? There are many institutions around the world named after Queen Victoria. And until you mentioned those failed “Wellington”-named institutions, I had never heard of them (and I live in Wellington) as I would imagine would be the same for most if not all potential international students. I just don’t get this fascination of retaining Victoria apart from historic sentimental reasons. Almost all the other universities in new zealand are named for their location which is their uniqueness. Lincoln was originally part of Canterbury and so retained its name when it split, and Massey is named after a former PM which is unique. Auckland, Waikato, Canterbury, Otago all named geographically only.
    Wellington is a very appealing place to live particularly with the younger generation which is presumably who the university is looking to target.

  8. David Mackenzie, 5. July 2019, 9:41

    Mequil, “historic[,] sentimental reasons” may be very good ones. We are animals of sentiment. Being sentimental goes along with being social. I have no objection to the use of Wellington in VUW’s title. Having graduated with three different degrees and diplomas from the university, I am reluctant to have the diplomas become historic curiosities rather than being associated with a living institution.

  9. Hugh Rennie QC, 5. July 2019, 12:31

    University reputations are built up over decades and even centuries as the work of each alumni adds one more small contribution to the total achievement. You only change your name if you want to forget all that and start again with a new identity.

  10. Gwynn Compton, 6. July 2019, 9:57

    Are you paying attention Grant Guilford? Have you even bothered to read to VicUniWgtn’s own consultation or the 13,000 people who signed opposing the name change? We spent a year fighting you on this in our spare time with no money. We’ll do it all over again. [via twitter]

  11. Anna Radich, 6. July 2019, 9:58

    Hey VicUniWgtn: don’t send me an alumni appeal request and then try and do a sneaky unofficial name change that most alumni don’t want. [via twitter]

  12. PMS, 6. July 2019, 13:16


  13. Dougal McNeill, 7. July 2019, 9:15

    Students are not customers; education is not a product; universities are not “brands”. Each step in this embarrassing dance reveals another assumption antithetical to public education and intellectual exploration in the community. [via twitter]

  14. Andrew, 7. July 2019, 9:36

    My wife received that appeal request as well. If you cannot afford to award scholarships, don’t award them! Except in this case i feel they can afford it but the money is being used elsewhere.

  15. Daniel de Silva, 7. July 2019, 17:41

    While I am not in favour of the name change, I find the public hysteria to be an example of modern day entitlement (and clearly not just from millenials 🙂 ). Especially from Alumni – you worked hard, got your degree and moved on. The degree does not come with an permanent entitlement for consultation. The fact that this is a publicly funded institution does not give everyone the right to being part of a decision making process. If you want a real voice, get yourself onto the Board of Trustees.

    [As an aside, if there really is confusion between VUW and Vic Melbourne by international students, then this *is* a serious problem, given the importance of rankings to prospective international students]

  16. Taylor Hughson, 10. July 2019, 13:59

    I cannot believe that after all this time and effort this is what they’re going with: “Wellington Victoria University of Wellington”. How they think this image, spread hither & thither, is going to suddenly bring in big international student $$ is beyond me. [via twitter]

  17. Brett Hudson, 11. July 2019, 8:26

    Given the lack of any dissenting voices from the University Council, we can only deduce that each of them agree completely with his petulant response to not getting his way and believe that this is the most appropriate leadership behaviour. [via twitter]

  18. greenwelly, 11. July 2019, 10:48

    @Brett, I suspect the Uni is doing this as an “operational issue” rather than one of governance and therefore avoiding the council.
    Changing the name formally required an application to the Minister, so the council were needed to sign it off,