Victoria reigns on as minister snubs Wellington name change

New Zealand university ‘did not consult enough’ on new identity

December 18, 2018
Victoria University of Wellington

New Zealand’s capital city university appears to have lost its bid to redefine itself, after education minister Chris Hipkins declined its application for a formal name change.

Mr Hipkins blocked the request by Victoria University of Wellington to rename itself the University of Wellington, after his office was bombarded with letters from critics.

The university’s council had sought a new moniker to tie the institution more closely to its region, and to avoid confusion with similarly named universities in Australia, Canada, Uganda and Bangladesh.

But Mr Hipkins said that most of the 450-plus pieces of correspondence received by his office had been against the change. He said considerable opposition had also been expressed in surveys of the students’ association, the law students’ society and the tertiary education union, as well as a petition with more than 10,000 signatories.

Mr Hipkins said that while the university has “significant autonomy”, it is also accountable to its community. “I am not convinced that the university engaged sufficiently with the views of stakeholders who should have their views considered,” he said.

“Given the level of opposition, 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.”

The university said that the council would be “considering the decision” before discussing its next steps, but stressed the efforts it had made to obtain feedback.

“The council’s decision followed well over a year of research, seeking advice from experts and discussion with staff, students, alumni and stakeholders, including a consultation period during which close to 2,500 submissions were received,” it said.

It is not clear what the university can do to get Mr Hipkins’ decision overturned, other than prevailing on him to change his mind.

Even if it can achieve that, it is not clear that the proposal will proceed. New Zealand news website Stuff has reported speculation that ministerial sign-off may not be enough, with a formal name change requiring parliamentary approval – something it may struggle to obtain, with most MPs thought to oppose the change.

In a briefing, the education ministry advised Mr Hipkins that the name change proposal appeared consistent with the university’s purpose and the national interest. But the ministry was not convinced that the proposal met “the demands of accountability”.

“The university’s consultation process showed that staff are divided on the matter and there is significant opposition from students and alumni,” the document said. “You could form a view that…the university has not done enough to adequately explain the benefits.”

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