Victoria faces defeat as council supports name change

The long-reigning monarch’s name faces removal from another of the world’s universities

July 30, 2018
Law school of the Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, 2017

The council of New Zealand’s capital city university has endorsed a name change to prevent it being mistaken for institutions in Australia, Canada, Uganda and Bangladesh.

But alumni still have a fortnight to change the council’s mind before it formally approves the title change from Victoria University of Wellington to University of Wellington.

Under a draft decision announced on 27 July, the council agreed to change the university’s legal name and end confusion with institutions in Melbourne, Kampala and Dhaka – all called Victoria University – and British Columbia’s University of Victoria.

In a statement, chancellor Neil Paviour-Smith said that the draft decision had not been taken lightly. “It will allow the university to better align with the city, support our commitment to being a global-civic university and – over time – help improve our international reputation through better clarity and recognition of the name,” he said.

In explanatory notes on its website, the university says that other institutions have grappled with similar problems and ended up retiring “Victoria” from their names – most recently the Victoria University of Manchester, which excised “Victoria” from its name during a merger that created the University of Manchester in 2004.

Paraphrasing Manchester research, the notes say: “Two words are better than three and one of those two words must be ‘university’. The best choice for the second word is your city. Any additional words reduce the perception that a university is the leading university in its city.”

The council is expected to make a final decision about the university’s name at its 27 August meeting. Any change will require approval from education minister Chris Hipkins, although this appears to be a formality.

The proposal represents the fourth attempt to adopt the name University of Wellington after failed bids in 1955, 1972 and 1992.

Mr Paviour-Smith acknowledged the importance of heritage and signalled that the word Victoria would still play an “active role” in the university’s future. Vice-chancellor Grant Guilford said that the word could be retained in the names of publications, facilities, clubs, halls of residence, symposia and awards.

The university also proposes to adopt a simplified Maori name of Te Herenga Waka – the title of the university’s marae or Maori meeting ground, adapted from a term meaning “the mooring post of canoes”.

It would replace the 24-year-old moniker Te Whare Wānanga o te Ūpoko o te Ika a Māui – an amalgam of phrases meaning “house of higher learning” and “at the head of the fish of Māui”. The latter part is a reference to a creation myth whereby New Zealand’s North Island was hauled from the seafloor by an explorer using a magic fishhook.

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