The sun never set on Queen Victoria’s British empire. But it is about to set on another of her universities, after New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington decided to dispense with her name.
The university’s council confirmed on 24 September its intention to rebadge the institution as the University of Wellington, brushing off opposition from students and alumni. Chancellor Neil Paviour-Smith said that the decision would help realise the institution’s “unreservedly ambitious” goal of defining itself as “one of the great global-civic universities”.
“The name University of Wellington contributes to that vision by helping to differentiate us internationally from all the other tertiary institutions with Victoria in their name. It also firmly aligns our destiny with that of Wellington and highlights our role as New Zealand’s globally ranked capital city university,” he said.
The name change has long been proposed in order to avoid confusion with institutions in the UK, Australia, Canada, Uganda and Bangladesh. Three previous attempts in 1955, 1972 and 1992 failed to win support.
A council briefing explaining the decision says that the proposal had been opposed by 81 per cent of the alumni and 92 per cent of the students who provided feedback, along with a change.org petition that attracted more than 6,000 signatories. The main bone of contention was that the name change would rob the university of prestige, international recognition and “point of difference”.
“We agree that Victoria (like Wellington) has distinguishing characteristics in the New Zealand market,” the document says. “However, a number of other universities also use Victoria prominently in their name and our analysis shows that the name ‘Victoria’ has not distinguished the university from others globally.”
It adds that submissions had been provided by “only a small minority of the total potential pool of staff, students and alumni”.
The council’s decision includes a commitment to maintain the heritage of the word Victoria “in a meaningful way” through the ongoing use of the term. While it offers no details about this pledge, previous documents have suggested that the term could be applied to publications, facilities, clubs, halls of residence, symposia and awards.
The name change still needs to be approved by education minister Chris Hipkins. But this appears to be a formality, because legislative provisions require him to respect institutional autonomy. The university is likely to write to him in the next few days seeking his endorsement.