Wellington Scoop

VUW’s wrong priorities


by Hugh Rennie
During last year there were a number of reports from Victoria University of extreme examples of managerial action which were being pushed back by the government, students, and even on one occasion the University Council.

VUW management’s attempt to draw down wage subsidies was rejected by the government; a demand to staff for “voluntary” pay cuts was withdrawn under direction; students defeated VUW’s bizarre and unlawful attempt to charge them for accommodation they could not occupy; and the Council required the withdrawal of a VUW management scheme for radical changes in academic structure.

The professional body for university staff (TEU) became more active in opposition and took constructive actions – it is still doing so.

VUW’s claim to be fully prepared to teach online proved wrong, with initially only one minor topic “live”. Yet in 2019 when the Chancellor was asked about an Australian research paper on the vulnerability of universities to a loss of overseas students he claimed that VUW knew of that risk and had it under management. To be fair, neither that paper nor many other people anticipated a 2020 pandemic. But the paper’s main point proved prophetic.

In 2021, VUW management is again looking to staff for cost reductions. It has not yet abandoned its aim to “save” the Business School through forcing a merger with the Law School, an action which would severely damage the latter and do nothing for the former.

It is continuing its “name change by stealth” strategy, with new signage based on “Wellington” and its self-adopted Maori name (which has displaced the honoured wananga status previously gifted to it by iwi). There have been some absurd results. For example, in the Wellington Yellow Pages, the sole reference to VUW is a single line listing starting with Te Herenga Waka!

Google Translate still struggles with this phrase (it used to offer “car rental agency” – currently it offers “traffic jams”); the more reliable translation from the Maori Online Dictionary “place where a canoe is tied up, mooring, marina” lacks any claim to wananga status.

There are other name initiatives which VUW has started to take.

Its main Facebook page is not accessible and the name “Te Herenga Waka – Wellington University” has started to appear.

Its Twitter account has been renamed Wellington Uni. This has caused both mirth and dismay as it mis-spells University as “Univeristy”.

It applied in December, through an agent, for consents from the Wellington City Council on a non-notified basis to re-name its Business School (Rutherford House) campus.

In relation to the last of these, the City Council may yet require it to be notified for public submissions and Councillor Nicola Young has called for this to be done. Views may vary on how useful this is, but if you wants to support that call you can do so by an immediate email to request to have the consent notified – email planning@wcc.govt.nz and use the reference: #SR-94990.

Making cuts in academic pay and services while spending what must now be millions of dollars on signage and illiterate name changes (in trying to evade Parliament’s unanimous 2019 action to stop this) is plain evidence that VUW’s management has its priorities and its objectives wrong, persistently and seriously so.

The government and Minister hold the power to appoint a Commissioner in place of the University Council, and Parliament has the power to enact new statutes for universities (as it did last year in the technical institute sector). You may consider that the time has come where one or both action is unavoidable if VUW is to be saved. If so, VUW management has brought this on itself.

TEU: No case for staff cuts at VUW


  1. Bleuberry, 29. January 2021, 7:11

    I guess “place where a canoe is tied up” is quite apt as it seems VUW is up the proverbial without a paddle.

  2. Gwynn Compton, 29. January 2021, 10:24

    Absolutely warped priorities from VUW management. When they’re facing massive deficits & are asking staff to take pay cuts and voluntary redundancy, while also threatening job cuts, it’s beyond belief that they’re wasting $$$ on progressing this unnecessary rebrand. [via twitter]

  3. Dougal McNeill, 29. January 2021, 11:14

    Staff & students at VUW are preparing to resist cuts, & jobs are threatened by management austerity plans. What matters more, people or signs? What priorities does this display? What values does this reveal? [via twitter]

  4. Concerned Wellingtonian, 29. January 2021, 11:41

    In answer to Dougall McNeill’s question “What values does this reveal?”:
    Auckland values.

  5. Mutt, 29. January 2021, 14:01

    It sounds like the powers that be at VUW share the same personality traits as the former head of WIAL when they were determined to force the Wellywood sign on us no matter what. The more you pushback the more they want to do it. Very childish. They shouldn’t be in charge of a lemonade stall let alone a university.

  6. Henry Cooke, 29. January 2021, 14:12

    Putting a sign that says “Wellington” on top of a building in Wellington is somehow even more dumb than the wellywood sign. [via twitter]

  7. Ruth, 29. January 2021, 15:30

    This really uncovers the true values of the University as opposed to their espoused values. Sad.

  8. Nicola Willis, 29. January 2021, 17:23

    1) Its legal name is Victoria University of Wellington. A legal name-change requires the support of a majority of MPs.
    2) The University appears to be prioritising this endeavour despite “massive” financial challenges. [via twitter]

  9. D'Esterre, 30. January 2021, 12:05

    Henry Cooke: “Putting a sign that says “Wellington” on top of a building in Wellington is somehow even more dumb than the wellywood sign.” Ha! Indeed. The word “laughingstock” is apposite. VUW is my alma mater. But increasingly, I’m unwilling to own to it. I thank my lucky stars that I graduated long before all of this nonsense began.

  10. michael, 30. January 2021, 13:02

    It is extremely concerning that, at a time of economic pressure, job losses, and housing crisis for many students, the university management seems focussed on wasting money on name changes and signs. One wonders about the wisdom of those who set the direction for the future of the University, and how they can justify government funding unless they get back to their core function of education.

  11. aom, 30. January 2021, 18:06

    The word is that the Vice Chancellor wants to replace senior staff, many of whom are internationally recognised. with a cheap and often inexperienced workforce that won’t have competent support and mentoring. This is all to pay for his overseas student financed real estate aspirations. What happened to academic excellence?

  12. Andrew, 30. January 2021, 20:52

    Guilfird was complaining about lost overseas student revenue and looking at 20% pay cuts for staff. Now he wants to waste $69,000 on a sign promoting a name that isn’t formally approved by govt. The man is clearly managerially irresponsible and following a massive ego-trip.

    Why doesn’t the governing board reign him in?

  13. Paul, 31. January 2021, 21:50

    In the face of incompetence and intransigence, appointment of a commissioner to replace the current leadership seems a necessary step. Many of us have a great affinity for our alma mater and, albeit reluctantly, would support this as a solution.

  14. sasha petrasik, 1. February 2021, 15:28

    Andrew – what percentage of academic salaries at VUW does $69,000 equate to? I suggest we keep the numbers in context.

  15. not at liberty to say, 1. February 2021, 21:31

    Fair criticism for the most part, although a few of you go well overboard. In answer to some of your queries:

    Sasha: $69,000 is about the salary of a junior lecturer, who in most cases will have done a Bachelors, a Masters and a PhD, so will have spent about a minimum of 8 years study for virtually no recompense. Yes, it seems like a huge amount of money – and it is – but on the other hand, many of the buildings and facilities at Victoria are well past their best-by date, and due for replacement. Guilford can rebrand as much as he wants, but it is ironic that the desire to rebrand to attract the fabled “overseas students” has occurred during Covid, when nobody is allowed to travel here. Vic does want to try and attract the best students, wherever they are from. They need to be taught in good quality, modern facilities, with all the most up-to-date gear in order to attract them – and tired, broken old facilities will not achieve that goal.

    Paul and Andrew: While Guilford may not be widely liked by the public, or the staff and students, name me a Pro Vice Chancellor who is liked. There is no guarantee that any appointed Commissioner would be any more competent.

    Aom: the problem of University financing (PBRF) was thrust on all the universities by a government many years ago, and it is hated as much by the universities as it is ignored by the public. It’s a rubbish system which ‘games’ universities against each other and forces them to combat each other for resources, publication records, research agendas etc. Auckland is winning this battle, with millions of dollars heading their way, and a massive building boom going on up there. By comparison, Victoria is having to spend millions of dollars standing still: strengthening existing buildings.