Stick With Vic

New CEOs often come into the job, sack some second level managers thereby eliminating competitors, make many changes some of which are very superficial, and then claim the organisation is restructured and ready to meet the challenges of the new world.

They do this quickly while the board of directors is compliant and supportive because after all they have appointed him or her.  Sadly it often turns out the changes are not so flash and they repent at leisure.

An element of this seems to be the case at Victoria University of Wellington, which has a relatively new Vice Chancellor in Grant Guilford, who wants to drop the word “Victoria” from the name because there are a few other like institutions abroad with Victoria in the names.   So what!!   The same applies to other universities.  Try looking up Trinity University on Google.

The proposed name change is a cop out and a sign of weakness.

I asked VUW under the OIA for material that might provide a strong case for a name change.   Got plenty of words but no real hard data showing that: VUW graduates were short changed when working overseas, that VUW failed to get top academics because of the name and that it failed to get top students because of the name.  In fact VUW is doing very well getting overseas students.

Just prior to getting the OIA material I lodged my submission  which is below.

If you don’t like the change write immediately to the VC Grant Guilford at:

Submission to the Victoria University of Wellington Council 

June 22, 2018

I am making a personal submission in regard to the proposal to change the name of Victoria University of Wellington.  This submission is made without my sighting all papers produced by the Vice Chancellor and others, or the Colmar Brunton survey of potential international students. These have been requested under the OIA and should have been made available in some form at the start of the process.  My CV is below.


Normally public entities funded largely by the taxpayer seeking to change something as significant as its name, start the process with a discussion paper including the rationale for the change, listing the pros and cons.  This has either not been done or if so, is not readily accessible to the public.

On the website it is possible to find a brief sub section under “About Victoria”, on “name confusion” but I don’t regard that as a satisfactory basis for discussion about a name change, especially one which is significant enough to require amendments to the Victoria University of Wellington Act 1961.

This sub section claims groups such as VUWSA supports a name change but it is not apparent that VUW presented a balanced paper to the Association, or that it canvassed its members.  The same applies to Wellington’s Mayor and anyone else “consulted”.  It should also be noted the current Strategic Plan, which looks forward 20 years, does not mention “name confusion” and states VUW has a great international reputation.  After some searching I found a May Council paper presented by the Vice Chancellor, which was basically about advocacy for change.

Vice Chancellor role:  It is clear VC Grant Guilford is an enthusiastic supporter of change.  For this reason he should not lead the review of submissions, as he is not, and will not be seen as objective.  This is why I address my submission to the Council.

Rationale for change

Name confusion:  The main argument is that some overseas people are confused about the difference between VUW and the Victoria University in Melbourne, the University of Victoria in Canada, or other universities including “Victoria” in their names.   Undoubtedly some offshore people will confuse VUW New Zealand with other institutions that have Victoria in their names.

The key issues are: (1) the scale of any confusion and the real life impact; (2) is there a more cost effective way of dealing with any confusion other than by changing the name; (3) how can legacy values and international reputation earned over 120 years be retained without loss or damage?

Does VUW for instance fail to recruit top academics because of the name, or fail to attract top flight students?  Do VUW graduates fail to get adequate recognition offshore because of the name?

To justify a change in name requires quantifiable evidence supported by solid examples.  I expect academic rigour in support of this proposal.  A few selected anecdotes does not constitute a case for change.  I note the word “Victoria” now has more prominence in the name on the website than in earlier times.  This could be easily reversed to give equal prominence to the three components.

I also expect serious consideration of the downsides, which include:

  • Transitional costs which will run over several years. It takes a long time to establish a good reputation and with a new name, albeit slightly altered, the new Victoria would face serious challenges bedding it in, particularly in offshore markets.
  • Uncertainties for holders of VUW qualifications, which will affect them in the offshore job market. They will have to explain their University hasn’t been closed, just renamed.
  • Authors of serious research under the VUW name will have issues getting it automatically linked to the new name and face a greater risk of it being attributed to other institutions with Victoria in their names.
  • In the 1990s several UK polytechnics became universities. A legacy of these changes is that many people in the world remained suspicious of tertiary institutions, which have changed their names, because of association with polytechnics that were “transformed” into universities overnight.  There is a pattern of this in Australia also – Victoria University Melbourne is the former Footscray Tech.

Given there are many Trinity Universities or Colleges, it would be interesting to know whether in Dublin or Oxford they worry about other institutions having similar names.  I doubt it.

Status of VUW:  In his presentation to students the Vice Chancellor argued that VUW was not regarded with the esteem it should be held in part because of the name.

The QS rating agency assesses VUW at 221, above the Australian and Canadian counterparts – very good considering there are 18,000 universities world-wide.   It also notes VUW is older than the Australian and Canadian Victorias.  The Times ranks the Australian and Canadian Victoria Universities higher than VUW.  I do not believe either agency would change their rankings in the event VUW changed its name.

How academics or potential offshore students regard VUW vis-a-vis say Canterbury University, with its geographic name that doesn’t say New Zealand, and could easily be associated with Canterbury England, is probably unknowable, but we could reasonably expect they will rely on rating agencies and personal contacts or their own research.

If after this they remain confused about the difference between the “Victorias” you have to question why you would want them.

I have lived in Wellington since 1965, apart from seven years in Australia, London and New York, which gave me a good perspective on how New Zealand is viewed from abroad.  This is particularly true of my time in New York where, for the New Zealand Meat Producers Board, I undertook some generic promotion of New Zealand meat to the Food Service sector.

It is always a struggle to gain widespread understanding of what New Zealand has to offer in the way of goods and services, including education, which is why it is cost efficient to focus on target audiences and not the wider public. Thanks to the internet this can now be done at vastly lower cost than say 20 or more years ago.

Connection to Wellington:  Since I first lived here VUW has moved into the city and is embedded.   It is not an add on – VUW is an essential and respected part of Wellington.  A name change will not alter perceptions of reality.

University Foundation:  In his presentation to students the VC argued the change of name would enhance the ability of the VUW Foundation to raise more money.   He said Harvard has a foundation of $38 Billion whereas Victoria only had $50 million, which showed we had “a long way to go”.

This line of argument is not credible.  The US has a high distribution of wealth, a culture of giving and tax breaks, which encourage it.  Harvard, established in 1636, has a fine international reputation based on performance and also an extremely wealthy alumni.

Suggesting a name change will somehow magically improve giving to the VUW Foundation is absurd, as the donors will either be Kiwis or very familiar with Victoria. It is highly likely some potential donors (especially alumni) being grumpy about a name change so reducing the chances of their giving.


If VUW wishes to change its name it should undertake a proper process to find out whether it is advantageous to do so, and only then, obtain the clear active support of those who are the university – academic staff, undergraduates, and graduates.

The minimal provision of information and the short period of public knowledge, suggests the aim is to try and slip it through in a low profile manner, using very few hard facts, plenty of sweeping assertions and low grade logic.  VUW – our university deserves better.


Barrie Saunders

1/25 Tennyson Street

Te Aro, Wellington 6011

Tel: 04 382 8450   021 449 469

Curriculum Vitae

Barrie retired from the government relations consultancy, Saunders Unsworth, in March 2015, after 25 years.  The company specialises in the management of public policy issues on behalf of its clients. He is currently the Chair of the NZ Taxpayers Union.

Barrie was the executive chairman of the 14 member Port CEO Group, a virtual organisation from 2002 to 2015.  He was President of the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce  2000-2002 inclusive, is now a life member of the Chamber. Also Chairman of CBL, the Chambers investment company 2003/9.  He was a trustee of the Wellington City Mission 1999/2006 and a member of the Housing NZ Board 1994-97.  In 2011 he was appointed a director of TVNZ and completed his second term in April 2017.

Prior to establishing his government relations business in 1990, Barrie was Co-editor Salient in 1967, worked as a journalist (radio and TV in New Zealand, Australia and the UK), and the National Business Review, of which was the founding editor in 1970.  He was press secretary to the Labour Party Leader Bill Rowling (1976-79), Public Relations Manager for the Manufacturers Federation and was the New Zealand Meat Producers Board’s North American Director based in New York from early 1986 to the end of 1989.





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