The Government has blocked Victoria University of Wellington’s bid to change its name.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he had declined Victoria University of Wellington Council’s application for a legal name change, citing significant opposition to the change.
The council formally made an application to change the institution’s name to the University of Wellington in September, and while it was immediately clear there was substantial opposition – including a petition signed by 10,000 people – the minister slowly went through a process of considering the application before making a ruling.
There was also a specific criteria created to assess such a recommendation from a council, in an effort to follow an airtight process. This would likely help the government avoid legal action from the university, in what was always looking likely to be an unfavourable outcome for the council.
The application to change the name to University of Wellington, and adopt a new Māori name of Te Herenga Waka, was made in an effort to help the university differentiate itself from other universities around the world with the name “Victoria”.
On Tuesday, Hipkins said he was not convinced the university engaged sufficiently with the views of those stakeholders who should have their views considered – including staff, alumni and students.
“Given the level of opposition to the university’s recommendation, 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.”
While universities, including Victoria, had significant autonomy in making academic, operational and management decisions, it was accountable to its community and the groups that made up the university, he said.
Hundreds of letters
In the decision-making process, Hipkins received more than 450 pieces of correspondence on the name change issue from students, alumni and others mostly opposed to the name change.
Hipkins’ decision did not affect any proposed change to Victoria University of Wellington’s Māori name. The Minister’s approval is required only for the university to change its legal name, which is in English.
University chancellor Neil Paviour-Smith released a brief statement, saying the council would consider the letter received from the minister before any comment was made, and before any discussion of next steps.
National’s Wellington Central-based list MP Nicola Willis said she welcomed the decision to decline the name change.
“This is a fantastic outcome for the thousands of students, alumni and staff who opposed the change,” Willis said.
“Victoria University of Wellington must now put the name change proposal behind it.
“It’s time to move forward and focus on the opportunities and challenges that are before it. Students, Wellingtonians and taxpayers would not want to see further money spent in court on this issue,” she said.
Hipkins would not comment on the cost of the process, or whether heads should roll over the saga, referring questions to the university’s council, which is not commenting at this stage.
The university said it had spent about $370,000 so far on the name-change process.
This figure included some legal costs, mainly around trademarking in case the new name was approved, as well as the cost of public notices and public information as part of the consultation process and some funds around the new look of the proposed name and logo.