24 Sep 2018

Victoria University council votes in favour of changing name

7:48 pm on 24 September 2018

The Victoria University council has voted to change its name to University of Wellington - dropping the reference to the former monarch.

Victoria University

Victoria University Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The council this afternoon voted 9-2 in favour of the name change.

Victoria University vice-chancellor Grant Guilford recommended the name change to the university's council. He said it would align better with Wellington city, as the connection between the two was lost, and university would have a decent good global brand.

Mr Guilford declared a conflict of interest today and did not place a vote.

It is the fifth time there has been a proposal to change the university's name.

More than 2000 submissions were received, with 75 percent opposing the change.

Vice-Chancellor Grant Guilford

Grant Guilford (centre) declared a conflict of interest and did not cast a vote today. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Alumni and students were strongly against, staff gave mixed feedback and the university stockholders - which includes regional mayors - were predominantly in favour.

There are 15 tertiary providers around the world with Victoria in their name and the name change is an attempt to distinguish the university from them.

In July the council agreed in principle to remove Victoria from its name, also adopting a new Māori name of Te Herenga Waka.

The cost to change it has been estimated at $962,000, with almost a third of that expected to go toward updating the university's online presence.

Victoria University law professor Geoff McLay told the council the consultation process had been inadequate.

"We can see from the submissions this process has been a closed one where privileged people are allowed to have the official view - largely unbacked by evidence - and the views of others are put down or rubbished.

"Several hundred of your staff - 60 percent of respondents in a TEU [Tertiary Education Union] poll said the consultation process has been inadequate, only 29 percent said it had been adequate," he said.

"Frankly the document screws the scrum - it tries to undermine overwhelming opposition, it does the unconscionable of counting submissions not submitters."

Council member Isabella Lenihan-Ikin agreed, but said changing the name was a different issue to the consultation process.

"The discussions that I have had indicate to me that these two issues have become conflated and changing the name has been viewed through the lens of the process.

"If I strip back the multitude of issues that have been raised around the process, around the issues of disconnect between the institution and the student and staff. Changing the name - I am in support.

"We need to unite the name of our university with our city and address the issues of confusion."

Other issues raised via submissions included a concern the process was not genuine and the decision to change the name was a "foregone conclusion", the consultation process was too short and that the mechanisms used by the university to seek people's views were ineffective.

After the meeting Mr Guilford defended the consultation process.

"We went out to 50,000 alumni and in the end we only got engagement from a little over 1500. We used everything we could think of face-to-face, social media and direct mails but in the end only got small engagement.

"I suppose lessons we will take with it is how to improve engagement."

Only 180 of those submissions were from students.

According to the council order paper, all staff were emailed in July about the proposal and four staff forums were held during August.

Almost 40 posts on various social media outlets targeted students, as well messaging on digital display boards around the campus.

Two students forums were held in August.

Mr Guilford said the decision to change the name was not a foregone conclusion.

"We didn't know how today was going to go, but I imagine they had started forming their views only shortly before this meeting."

For the next three years graduates will have the option of having the new name, or the former name on their diplomas.

Those who have already graduated can request a new certificate with the name change.

The final decision now lies with the Education Minister, who has the authority to accept or reject the council's recommendation.