Wellington Scoop

VUW’s name change that isn’t a name change


by Hugh Rennie
A year ago this week, the Minister of Education Chris Hipkins announced his rejection of VUW’s request for a change of name. Here again is the main part of the Minister’s public statement:

“I have considered the University’s recommendation and supporting information along with advice received from officials. The Council identified benefits that it considered would follow a name change and its consultation process which, although the subject of some criticism, brought out a wide range of views. The Council’s consultation showed that staff were divided on the name change, and there was significant opposition from alumni and students who responded. This opposition is also reflected in surveys conducted by the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association and the VUW Law Students’ Society, and to a lesser extent one from the Tertiary Education Union.

“I also received more than 450 pieces of correspondence on the name change question from students, alumni and others mostly opposed to the name change. Many of these referred to a change.org petition with more than 10,000 signatories listed as opposing the name change. While Victoria University of Wellington, like other universities, has significant autonomy in making academic, operational and management decisions, it is accountable to its community and the groups that make up the University.

“I am not convinced that the University engaged sufficiently with the views of those stakeholders who should have their views considered. Given the level of opposition to the University’s recommendation, including by its own staff, students and alumni, I am not persuaded that the recommendation is consistent with the demands of accountability and the national interest.”

Many benefits were claimed by VUW management for its “Grand Plan”, including increased international recognition, a rise up the “rankings” listings of one or two of the many international ranking agencies, and so on.

But as we all know, very few were persuaded. Alumni, staff, students, and the community (in their thousands) were opposed.

Then, this year, Parliament unanimously put the outcome beyond doubt. It amended the law to require a resolution of Parliament to approve a change of name.

VUW had appeared to accept this, somewhat sullenly – and with continuing disregard for our views.

But over the last few weeks it has initiated what it calls a “brand refresh”. Asked by the Dominion Post to comment, I described this as “managerial vandalism” of VUW’s academic tradition and history. Its currently incomplete state certainly shows that.

One feature of this “name change that isn’t a name change” is the adoption of a phrase “Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington”. This new and different “brand” meets none of the specifications or objectives originally claimed for this adventure in ego of a small management group.

So, as Christmas and 2020 come upon us, our much loved university drifts on, spending large sums on this failing vanity project while claiming to be under financial pressure and beseeching alumni to donate. In some areas enrolments have fallen. In some of the ranking lists VUW has already suffered. It has, for example, fallen out of the world’s top 500 universities in the 2020 Times Higher Education listings (In 2019 it was in the 401-500 band; in 2020 the 501-600 band. AUT Auckland meanwhile moved to the 251-300 band this year, just behind Otago and with Auckland rising to =179 in the world).

Fortunately our individual actions have achieved several positive outcomes for VUW. First, we have retained the identity of our university, and so its reputation, and its traditions. Second, on the authority of our Parliament, there has been no name change. We can all continue to call our university by its real name and identity. Third, there can now be a salvage of this situation when VUW Council acts, as it has had to in the past and will need to again, to rescue our university from managerial excesses and failures.


Here are ten ways to help make sure VUW remains Victoria University of Wellington.

Always refer to our university as “Victoria”, “Vic”, VUW, or “Victoria University of Wellington”. After all, that is its name!

Always list your degree(s) as being from “Vic” or “VUW”. It’s your degree and you have the right to describe it that way.

If you are a member of one of the many university clubs and associations which told the VUW Council they did not want a name change, join with your club in keeping that name and using it.

Tell your local councillor and MP that you object to hundreds of thousands of dollars from taxpayers and students being wasted on management’s vanities – at a time when its student rents are being forced up, student health services under major pressure, many student scholarships are needed, and VUW management is saying it faces financial stress.

If you are asked by VUW management to give money tell them you won’t subsidise their waste. There are plenty of ways of helping through other avenues – the Students Association’s help to students in hardship for one; specific funds and trusts for individual faculties are others.

If you have provided in your will or trust for monies for VUW, get your lawyer to make it a condition of your gift that your monies are used ONLY for academic work at and in the name of VUW. Consider specifying a Faculty. Although there are intending donors who have withdrawn or suspended donations and legacies, we don’t agree with that. We are saving the university from the destroyers, not destroying it.

Give your personal support to the academic staff, who have made major personal commitments and even sacrifices for our university. The current situation is a management (and University Council) failure, not a Faculty failure.

Ask the Minister of Education to appoint Council members who understand the principles, purposes, freedoms and objectives of a university. He can appoint 4 members – 3 of them are due for appointment by him shortly.

Support ALL of Wellington’s universities and tertiary institutions – our outstanding and internationally known Wellington School of Medicine (Otago Wellington); the innovative and important campus of Massey Wellington; VUW; Weltec/Whitireia; wananga and specialist colleges. Only a little over half of tertiary students in Wellington go to VUW – VUW is in Wellington but it is not all of Wellington.

And for number 10 – Your own idea, and share it now.


  1. Helene Ritchie, 20. December 2019, 12:42

    Thanks Hugh. I want my/our University to be the VUW entity that focuses on education, research and spirited intellectual and intelligent debate and discourse….instead of what it seems to have become – a property developer (just look around at its land banking, property development, property sales.) and this ridiculous 1980’s backward looking costly branding diversion. Vic leadership seems to have lost what it means to be a University.

  2. Joe Pope, 20. December 2019, 18:07

    What surprised and disappointed me was the lack of good process in the approach to the existing brand. The first step in reviewing a brand is a brand valuation so that you know what is good and bad about your brand. It appears that this was never conducted. Also the talented marketing staff and former staff didn’t appear in the debate.
    I have continuously questioned the process without response.
    As I’ve said before the effort would be lucky to receive a “D”.

  3. Kon, 21. December 2019, 9:43

    Who are these invisible people who are so determined to have their way? Surely they need identifying, so as to be counted against in public forums. Retain the name VUW.

  4. Neil Douglas, 21. December 2019, 10:57

    I support the change in name to Wellington University.

  5. Ross McComish, 21. December 2019, 12:54

    The original proposal was to call Vic ‘University of Wellington’ (or maybe ‘The University of Wellington’) partly on the grounds that ‘Victoria University of Wellington’ was too long and partly because having ‘Victoria’ in the name was confusing to people in other countries. Now that the Minister, supported by the House of Representatives, has determined that the name will not be changed, the managers of VUW have decided to call Vic ‘Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington’ and to give most of the faculties new names that don’t include ‘Victoria’ or ‘Te Herenga Waka’.
    I’m almost (but not quite) inclined to agree that ‘Wellington University’ might be better than the dog’s breakfast that the Vice-Chancellor has concocted.

  6. Robert M, 23. December 2019, 10:56

    Most people, possibly even most 20th century VUW History and Political Science graduates, would be mystified as to why the VUW council considers Wellington (University) a name less redolent of anachronistic British and Colonial connection, than Victoria (University), Victoria in modern geography being small islands off Hong Kong and Vancouver and capital of the Canadian province of British Columbia. And of course Queen Victoria, the Queen of the UK and indeed New Zealand from 1837 to 1901 (182 to 118 years ago). You would have to be the Chinese Government obsessed over HK and British relations with China in the nineteenth century to see Victoria as more the definition of British Empire Imperialism than Wellington. Surely it was Wellington who led the British Army to victory over Napoleon in the Peninsular Wars and at Trafalgar at Waterloo in 1815. And surely there is the small matter of Wellington public school a very high rated public school, one of the top 20 in Britain. Motor racing champion James Hunt went there like his father and brothers, all head boys actually.

  7. BHS, 27. December 2019, 6:33

    Excuse me Robert but you have forgotten the state of Victoria in Australia where the real confusion lies. They have a Victoria University which is more akin a yesteryear polytechnic but which attracts a lot of students, many of whom are foreign. I think this is the latter day institution causing the problems of nomenclature with our own university and which Vice Chancellor Grant Guilford wants to put down with a name change.

  8. greenwelly, 27. December 2019, 9:48

    @BHS. but that’s because VUW went on a branding exercise over the 2000s to simply call the place “Victoria” and now see where it has got them …. Calling the place Victoria University of Wellington is the solution, just as everyone calls Trinity College in Dublin, “Trinity College Dublin” to distinguish it from Trinity College, Cambridge, or the number of other places.

  9. Russel C., 27. December 2019, 12:14

    I say consign Victoria to the history books. It was an epoch of enlightenment, adventure and one that cemented Britain as ‘Great’ but can we all move on and call Wellington’s university Wellington University?

  10. Staff, 27. December 2019, 22:43

    The plain, simple, real reason behind the name change is because Grant Guilford got introduced, at some place overseas, as being the Vice Chancellor of Victoria, Australia. And that irked him.