University of Otago

University of Otago
University of Otago
Māori: Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo
Motto Latin: Sapere aude
Motto in English Dare to be wise
Established 1869
Type Public
Chancellor John Ward
Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne
Admin. staff 3,751 (2010)[1]
Students 22,139 (2010)[1]
Doctoral students 1,326 (2010)[1]
Location Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand
45°51′56″S 170°30′50″E / 45.86556°S 170.51389°E / -45.86556; 170.51389Coordinates: 45°51′56″S 170°30′50″E / 45.86556°S 170.51389°E / -45.86556; 170.51389
Campus Urban
Colours Blue and gold

The University of Otago (Māori: 'Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo') in Dunedin is New Zealand's oldest university with over 22,000 students enrolled during 2010.

The university has New Zealand's highest average research quality and in New Zealand is second only to the University of Auckland in the number of A rated academic researchers it employs.[2] It topped the New Zealand Performance Based Research Fund evaluation in 2006.[3]

Founded in 1869 by a committee including Thomas Burns,[4] the university opened in July 1871. Its motto is "Sapere aude" ("Dare to be wise"). (The University of New Zealand subsequently adopted the same motto.) The Otago University Students' Association answers this with its own motto, "Audeamus" ("let us dare"). The university's graduation song Gaudeamus igitur, iuvenes dum sumus... ("Let us rejoice, while we are young") acknowledges students will continue to live up to the challenge if not always in the way intended. Between 1874 and 1961 the University of Otago was a part of the University of New Zealand, and issued degrees in its name.

Otago graduates are among the most dispersed university alumni in the world, due in part to New Zealand being considered a relatively good destination by many Asian students and with the greater variety of jobs, opportunities and salaries on offer overseas for New Zealand students graduating from an established university.[citation needed] Many graduates ultimately settle in Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, the United States, China, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Japan, Singapore or parts of New Zealand beyond Otago.[citation needed] Otago is known for its student life, particularly its flatting. The nickname Scarfie comes from the habit of wearing a scarf during cold southern winters.[citation needed]



The University clocktower, looking east.

The Otago Association's plan for the European settlement of southern New Zealand, conceived under the principles of Edward Gibbon Wakefield in the 1840s, envisaged a university.

Dunedin leaders Thomas Burns and James Macandrew urged the Otago Provincial Council during the 1860s to set aside a land endowment for an institute of higher education.[5] An ordinance of the council established the university in 1869, giving it 100,000 acres (400 km2) of land and the power to grant degrees in Arts, Medicine, Law and Music.[6] Burns was named Chancellor but he did not live to see the university open on 5 July 1871.[4][5]

The university conferred just one degree, to Alexander Watt Williamson, before becoming an affiliate college of the federal University of New Zealand in 1874. With the dissolving of the University of New Zealand in 1961 and the passage of the University of Otago Amendment Act 1961, the university resumed its power to confer degrees.[6]

Originally operating from William Mason's Post Office building on Princes Street, it relocated to Maxwell Bury's Clocktower and Geology buildings in 1878 and 1879.[6] This evolved into the Clocktower complex, a striking group of Gothic revival buildings at the heart of the campus. These buildings were inspired by then-new main building at Glasgow University in Scotland.

Otago was the first university in Australasia to permit women to take a law degree.[7] Ethel Benjamin graduated LLB in 1897. Later that year she became the first woman in the British Empire to appear as counsel in court.[8]

Professor Robert Jack made the first radio broadcast in New Zealand from the physics department on 17 November 1921.[9]

Because it had a wider range of courses than New Zealand's other university institutions[citation needed] Otago attracted more students from outside its provincial district. This led to the growth of colleges and informal accommodation in north Dunedin around the faculty buildings. This development of a residential campus gave Otago a more vibrant undergraduate student life at the same time as comparable but smaller developments in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland were eclipsed in the late 20th century.[citation needed] Otago now has the most substantial residential campus of any university in New Zealand or Australia,[citation needed] although this is not without its problems.

In May 2010 University joined the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) together with Dartmouth College (USA), Durham University (UK), Queen’s University (Canada), University of Tübingen (Germany), University of Western Australia (Australia) and Uppsala University (Sweden).[10]


The university's research vessel Polaris II entering Otago Harbour

The university is divided into four academic divisions:

  • Division of Humanities
  • Division of Health Sciences
  • Division of Sciences
  • School of Business

For external and marketing purposes, the Division of Commerce is known as the School of Business, as that is the term commonly used for its equivalent in North America. Historically, there were a number of Schools and Faculties, which have now been grouped with stand alone departments to form these divisions.

In addition to the usual university disciplines, the Otago Medical School (founded 1875) is one of only two in New Zealand (with constituent branches in Christchurch and Wellington), and Otago is the only university in the country to offer training in Dentistry. Other professional schools and faculties not found in all New Zealand universities include Pharmacy, Physical Education, Physiotherapy, Medical Laboratory Science, and Surveying. It was also home to the School of Mines, until this was transferred to the University of Auckland in 1987. Theology is also offered, traditionally in conjunction with the School of Ministry, Knox College, and Holy Cross College, Mosgiel.

There are also a number of service divisions including:

  • Financial Services Division
  • Human Resources Division
  • Information Technology Services Division
  • Marketing & Communications Division
  • Property Services Division
  • Research & Enterprise Division
  • Student Services Division


Enrolment By Qualification Type[11] 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003
Doctoral 1,158 1,074 935 829 755 723
Masters 1,056 1,048 1,052 1,108 1,060 994
Bachelors Honours 723 750 736 769 771 763
Bachelors Ordinary 13,347 13,136 12,868 12,939 12,711 12,186
Postgraduate Diplomas and Certificates 1,566 1,435 1,507 1,378 1,353 1,345
Graduate Diplomas and Certificates 317 494 204 392 314 298
Undergraduate Diplomas and Certificates 133 265 216 239 318 344
Intermediates 981 1,084 965 991 1,003 909
Miscellaneous 1,334 1,246 1,235 1,326 1,291 1,186
Sub-degree 137 133 135 86 98 96
Total 20,752 20,665 19,853 20,057 19,674 18,844
Ethnicity of Students 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003
New Zealand/European 68.4% 68.3% 69.1% 69.5% 71.8%
Māori 6.9% 6.4% 6.2% 6.1% 6.3%
Asian 15.6% 16.5% 16.1% 15.2% 13.5%
Pacific Islanders 2.6% 2.6% 2.5% 2.5% 2.4%
Other / unknown 6.5% 6.2% 6.1% 6.6% 5.9%


In addition to the main Dunedin campus, the University has small facilities in Auckland and Wellington (based at the Wellington Centre).[12] The medical schools have larger campuses near Christchurch and Wellington Hospitals. Additionally, the university has the Portobello Marine Laboratory inside Otago Harbour.

180° view of Dunedin shot from the hills on the west. The University can be seen in front of the large hill to the left.
Merger with Dunedin College of Education

The University and the Dunedin College of Education (a specialist teacher training institution) merged on 1 January 2007. The University of Otago College of Education is now based on the College site, and includes the College's campuses in Invercargill and Alexandra. Staff of the University's Faculty of Education relocated to the college site. A merger had been considered before, however the present talks progressed further, and more amicably, than previously.


Interior of Central Library.

The University of Otago has ten libraries – seven based in Dunedin on the main university campus, the Education library in Southland, plus two medical libraries in Wellington and Christchurch. All libraries have wireless access.

The Central Library is part of the Information Services Building and has over 2000 study spaces. It has the Māori Resources Collection Te Aka a Tāwhaki, a collection pertaining to Te Ao Māori, and the Special Collections consisting of about 9,000 books printed before 1801.

The Health Sciences libraries are the Medical Library in the Sayers Building, and the Dental library on the ground floor of the Dental School. The Medical Library contains 150,000 volumes including 79,000 books, and receives over 1,600 periodicals. The Dental book collection consists of 2000 volumes.

The Science Library is at the north end of the campus in the Science III building, with seating for approximately 500.

Other libraries are:


Many Fellowships add to the diversity of the people associated with "Otago". They include:

In 1998, the physics department gained some fame for making the first Bose–Einstein condensate in the Southern Hemisphere.

The 2006 Government investigation into research quality (to serve as a basis for future funding) ranked Otago the top University in New Zealand overall, taking into account the quality of its staff and research produced. It was also ranked first in the categories of Clinical Medicine, Biomedical Science, Law, English Literature and Language, History and Earth Science. The Department of Philosophy received the highest score for any nominated academic unit. Otago had been ranked fourth in the 2004 assessment.

In 2006, a report released by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology found that Otago was the most research intensive university in New Zealand, with 40% of staff time devoted to research and development.[2]

Journal "Science" has recommended worldwide study of Otago's Biochemistry database "Transterm", which has genomic data on 40,000 species.[13]

Academic rankings

World university rankings
Quacquarelli Symonds (QS)[14][15] Academic Ranking of World Universities[16]
2011 130 201-300
2010 135 201-300
2009 125 201-302
2008 124= 201-302
2007 114= 305-402

For 2010-2011, Times Higher Education produced its first set of rankings independently from Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). The University of Otago did not appear in the top 200 listed universities.

Residential colleges

St Margaret's College affiliated to the University of Otago

The University of Otago owns, or is in affiliation with, fourteen residential colleges, which provide food, accommodation, social and welfare services. Most of these cater primarily for first year students, though some have a sizable number of second and higher year undergraduates, as well as occasionally a significant postgraduate population. While some teaching is normally undertaken at a college, this generally represents a small percentage of a resident's formal tuition.

Most colleges actively seek to foster a sense of community and academic achievement amongst their members through, variously, intercollegiate competitions, communal dining, apartment groups, traditionalism, independent students' clubs, college events and internal sporting and cultural societies.

Some colleges are co-institutional, accepting students from both the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic.

Student life


Participants in the annual clocktower race lining up, ready to go.

'O-Week' or Orientation Week is the Otago equivalent of Fresher's Week. While the new students are sometimes referred to as 'freshers' the label of 'first years' is more common. O-week is organised by the Otago University Students' Association and involves competitions such as 'Fresher of the Year' whereby several students volunteer to carry out a series of tasks throughout the week before being voted to win. All tasks are related to the O-Week theme. The OUSA also organise events each night including various concerts, a comedy night, hypnotist plus busses to Carisbrook (at the other end of Dunedin) where the Highlanders usually schedule a game.[17] Local bars organise events also with a range of live music and promotional deals including the Cookathon and a Miss O-Week competition hosted by The Outback.[18] The Cookathon was held by a local pub (the Cook) with the premise that your first drink costs you about $20 which gives you a t-shirt, three meal vouchers and reduced price on drinks then you spend the rest of the day binge drinking and 'telephoning' the occasional jug with mates.[17]


Each year the first years are encouraged to attend the toga parade and party dressed in white sheets wrapped as togas. Retailers called for an end of the parade after property damage and disorder during the 2009 event.[19] A clocktower race also occurs, in the style of Chariots of Fire. Students must race round the tower and attached building, beginning on the first chime of the clock at noon and completing before the chimes cease. Unlike Chariots of Fire, the task is possible with a couple of students completing each year.

The gutted remains of a burnt out couch on Queen Street

Previously each year a theme was chosen for the O-week festivities, usually based on a recent movie or TV show. The week was then branded with altered posters depicting the theme plus all events were somehow linked to the theme. This practice ended in 2008.

  • Supersize Me – 2005
  • Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy – 2006
  • Prison Break – 2007
  • Orientation '08 – 2008
  • Orientation '09 – 2009

Behavioural issues

Student behaviour is a major concern for both the University administration and Dunedin residents in general. Concerns over student behaviour prompted the University to introduce a Code of Conduct (CoC) which its students must abide by in 2007. The introduction of the CoC was accompanied by the establishment of the dedicated 'Campus Watch' security force to keep tabs on crime and anti-social behaviour on campus and in the student neighbourhoods nearby. Campus Watch reports directly to the University's Proctor.

Couch burning

Couch burning is a frequent, illegal, problem with partying students in the student neighbourhood surrounding the campus. In 2007, a pub owner was charged with sedition over a pamphlet offering O-Week students the prize of a fuel-soaked couch.[20]


Large scale clashes between Otago and Canterbury University students and Police took place in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 related to events surrounding the Undie 500 car rally organised by students from Canterbury University. Other student social events during the year such as the Toga Parade and the Hyde Street Keg Race are also notable for attracting Police attention, but not to the scale of the Undie riots.


Otago students are notable for protesting contentious political issues in nearly every decade. In the 1960s students at Otago who were involved with the Progressive Youth Movement led protests against the Vietnam War. In the 1970s mixed flatting (males and females were prohibited from sharing housing up to that time) was contested in various creative ways by Otago students.[21] On 28 September 1993 Otago students protested against a fee increase at the university, going as far as occupying the University Registry (Clocktower Building), which ended in a violent clash with police.[22] Since 2004, the Otago University NORML club has met weekly on the Otago campus to protest by smoking cannabis in defiance of New Zealand's cannabis laws. In 2008, several members were arrested and issued trespass notices from the Union Lawn, but the protests continue to this day.[23][24][25]

Notable people


  • John Carew Eccles, Nobel Prize winner, professor of physiology at the Medical School from 1944 to 1951.[26]
  • Michael Cullen, Former Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, lecturer from 1971 to 1981.[27]
  • James R. Flynn, intelligence researcher, namesake of the Flynn Effect
  • David Harris, developer of the Pegasus Mail email system
  • J. L. Mackie, noted philosopher, faculty member 1955–1959
  • William Noel Benson, geologist and head of the Geology Department from 1917 until 1951
  • Alan Musgrave, philosopher of science
  • Robert Jack, Professor of Physics (1914–47); Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, and pioneer of radio broadcasting, New Zealand
  • Robert J. T. Bell, Professor of Pure and Applied Mathematics (1920–48); Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, and author An Elementary Treatise on Co-ordinate Geometry of Three Dimensions (Macmillan 1910, to third edition 1944. Reprinted 2009, publisher BiblioBazaar)

Alumni and alumnae

(with Hall of Residence, if any, in parentheses where known)

Rhodes Scholars

(College at Oxford in brackets)(Source: List of NZ Rhodes Scholars)1 two of Dan Davin's novels are set at Otago University.

  • 1904 d James A Thomson (St John’s)
  • 1906 d Robert A Farquharson (St John’s)
  • 1907 d Colin Macdonald Gilray (University)
  • 1913 d Prof. Frederick Fisher Miles (Balliol)
  • 1921 d Rev. Hubert James Ryburn (Lincoln)
  • 1923 d Rt Hon. Lord Arthur Espie Porritt (Magdalen)
  • 1924 d Sir Robert Stevenson Aitken (Balliol)
  • 1928 d Charles Andrew Sharp (St John’s)
  • 1929 d Dr Wilton Ernest Henley (New)
  • 1930 Prof. James Campbell Dakin (Trinity)
  • 1931 d Dr John Edward (Jack) Lovelock (Exeter)
  • 1932 d Sir Geoffrey Sandford Cox (Oriel)
  • 1934 d Norman Davis (Merton)
  • 1935 d The Hon. Sir Lester Francis Moller (Brasenose)
  • 1936 d Daniel Marcus Davin1 (Balliol)
  • 1947 Dr Robert Owen Davies (Oriel)
  • 1950 Dr John Derek Kingsley North (Magdalen)
Peter Selwyn O’Connor (Balliol)
  • 1952 Prof. Graham Harry Jeffries (Magdalen)
Hon. Hugh Templeton (Balliol)
  • 1954 Dr Kenneth Alfred Kingsley North (Magdalen)
  • 1956 Dr Colin Gordon Beer (Magdalen)
Rev David George Simmers Victoria (Balliol)
  • 1957 Em. Prof. Graeme Max Neutze (University)
  • 1959 Graeme Francis Rea (Balliol)
  • 1960 Dr James Julian Bennett Jack (Magdalen)
  • 1966 John Stephen Baird (Merton)
  • 1968 Christopher Robert Laidlaw (Merton)
  • 1970 Dr Murray Grenfell Jamieson (Merton)
  • 1972 Prof. David Christopher Graham Skegg (Balliol)
  • 1973 Dr Anthony Evan Gerald Raine (Merton)
  • 1975 Dr John Alexander Matheson (Worcester)
  • 1976 Dr Derek Nigel John Hart (Brasenose)
  • 1981 Justice Christine Ruth French (Worcester)
  • 1983 Dr Nancy Jennifer Sturman (New)
  • 1985 Dr David Kirk (Worcester)
  • 1988 Dr Ceri Lee Evans (Worcester)
  • 1990 Dr Prudence Anna Elizabeth Scott (Lincoln)
  • 1992 Prof. John Navid Danesh (Balliol)
Susan Reta Lamb (Balliol)
  • 1993 Dr Jennifer Helen Martin (Lady Margaret Hall)
  • 1995 Jennifer Sarah Cooper (Magdalen)
  • 1995 Dr Simon John Watt (Oxford)
  • 1996 Andrew Norman Benson Lonie (selected, not taken up)
  • 1998 Dr Jane Larkindale (New)
  • 1999 Dr Damen Andrew Ward (University)
  • 2000 Clare Beach (Merton)
Sally Virginia McKechnie (Hertford)
  • 2002 Dr Rachel Sarah Carrell (Balliol)
Christopher John Curran (Merton)
  • 2003 Thomas Marcel Douglas (Balliol)
  • 2004 Glenn Fraser Goldsmith (Balliol)
  • 2006 Nicholas Douglas (St Catherine's)
  • 2007 Holly Walker (University)
  • 2008 Jesse Wall
  • 2009 Laura Fraser
  • 2010 Alice Lindsay Irving (Merton)

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Quick Statistics about the University of Otago". 
  2. ^ a b Research and Development in New Zealand: A Decade in Review. (2006) Ministry of Research, Science and Technology.
  3. ^ "Media release: Performance-based Research Fund results". Tertiary Education Commission. Archived from the original on 8 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-04. 
  4. ^ a b King, Michael (2003). Penguin History of New Zealand. p. 209. ISBN 0-14-301867-1. 
  5. ^ a b McLintock, A. H. (ed) (1966). "Burns, Thomas". Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 20 September 2008. 
  6. ^ a b c "History of the University of Otago". University of Otago. Archived from the original on 11 April 2008. Retrieved 20 September 2008. 
  7. ^ "Ethel Rebecca Benjamin". New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 20 September 2008. 
  8. ^ Mayhew, Judith (4 September 2001). "5th Annual Ethel Benjamin Commemorative Address". New Zealand Law Society. Retrieved 1 October 2007. 
  9. ^ "Dashing heroes of a harbour crossing". Otago Daily Times. 6 September 2008. Retrieved 20 September 2008. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Quick Statistics 2007". University of Otago. Retrieved 31 March 2008. 
  12. ^ "University of Otago Stadium Centre Wellington". Retrieved 4 July 2007. 
  13. ^ "Otago Database Internationally Recognised". Otago Magazine. University of Otago. February 2005. Retrieved 6 May 2009. [dead link]
  14. ^ Until 2009, QS and THE had joint rankings, known as the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings
  15. ^ "University of Otago". Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). Retrieved 21-09-2011. 
  16. ^ "University of Otago". Academic Ranking of World Universities. Retrieved 21-09-2011. 
  17. ^ a b Student aimed webpage
  18. ^ Seen in Dunedin
  19. ^ "Call for end of toga parade after rampage". New Zealand Herald. 26 February 2009. Retrieved 26 February 2009. 
  20. ^ "Dunedin pub manager off hook after police drop sedition charge". NZ Herald. 3 May 2007. Retrieved 17 February 2008. 
  21. ^ "Graduation Address 16 December 2006". M.J. Grant. 16 December 2006. Retrieved 20 September 2008. [dead link]
  22. ^ "Dissertation of Kyle Matthews". University of Otago. 5 December 2000-125-05. Retrieved 2008-09-20. [dead link]
  23. ^ "Norml Dissapointed At University's Change Of Heart". Channel 9 Television. Dunedin. 2007-07-25. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  24. ^ Rudd, Allison (2008-07-19). "University stays mum over trespass orders". Otago Daily Times (Allied Press). Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  25. ^ Gibb, John (2009-09-12). "Fifth anniversary of 4:20 protests". Otago Daily Times (Allied Press). Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  26. ^ Herszenhorn, David M. (4 May 1997). "John C. Eccles, 94, Nobel Physiologist, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2007. 
  27. ^ "Hon Dr Michael Cullen". New Zealand Parliament. Archived from the original on 1 November 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2007. 
  28. ^ "Hart still NZ's richest person". 17 August 2007. Retrieved 15 December 2007. 

External links

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