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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 Sir David Skegg KNZM OBE
Staff 3,737 (2008)[1]
Students 20,752 (2008)[1]
Doctoral students 1,158 (2008)[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 20,000 students enrolled during 2006.

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. 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. 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.



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, (University of Otago 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]


The university's research vessel Polaris II entering Otago Harbour

Administratively, the university is divided into four divisions: Commerce, Health Sciences, Humanities and Sciences. 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, Mosgiel.


Enrolment By Qualification Type [10] 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 Westpac Stadium).[11] 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.

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. [12] 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. [13] 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. [12]


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.[14] 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.

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.[15]


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.[16] 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.[17]. 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, an action which precipitated the first on-campus arrests of students since the Registry occupation.[18][19][20]


Interior of Central Library, University of Otago.

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.[21]

In 2006, Otago was ranked 79th from a listing of top 200 institutions in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings [1][2] and within 201-300 in the Shanghai Jiaotong rankings of world top 500 universities. (PDF)

Residential Colleges

The majority of first year ("fresher") students at the University of Otago stay in one of the many Residential Colleges. These provide food, accommodation, social and welfare services. Some have developed a strong institutional personality. This becomes self-perpetuating as applicants choose the college most suited to themselves.

Quiet, conservative St Margaret's College is next to the largest, University College (Unicol) in the heart of the campus, which houses approximately 550 residents during the academic year. They are the most central halls, situated beside the university's oldest buildings.

Aquinas College, being the smallest and perhaps farthest, has developed a more tight-knit community than many of the others. City College is influenced by two-thirds of its students coming from the Dunedin College of Education or the Otago Polytechnic and Toroa International House is almost exclusively filled by international students. It provides accommodation that is welcoming and supportive yet allows residents to live, eat, study and socialise in an environment that meets their special needs.

Residential colleges affiliated with the University of Otago select students based on their marks, extracurricular activities and high school testimonials. However, some are more selective than others. Although their order varies from year to year, the most selective are consistently Knox College, Selwyn College and Carrington College. Arana College received the most placement requests for 2007. Unsuccessful applicants are referred to other places.

St Margaret's College has similar entry standards, but its reputation as quiet, religious and hard-working tends to attract a self-selected small group of highly-qualified applicants.

Otago's colleges are not as significant in the life of the University as those of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Some seek to imitate Oxbridge colleges (they hold occasional tutorials, have "fellows", chapels etc) but students' primary affiliation is to the University rather than the hall and the bulk of formal education does not take place in the college.

Name Opened Capacity Website
Selwyn College 1893 170 [3]
Knox College 1909 203 [4]
St Margaret's College 1911 206 [5]
Studholme College 1915 173 [6]
Arana College 1943 366 [7]
Carrington College 1945 224 [8]
Aquinas College 1952 152 [9]
University College 1969 518 [10]
Salmond College 1971 192 [11]
Cumberland College 1989 436 [12]
Hayward College 1992 162 [13]
Toroa International House 1996 131 [14]
City College 2000 211 [15]
Abbey College 2008 85 [16]

Official list

Notable people


Alumni and alumnae

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

Rhodes Scholars from the University of Otago

(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

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. Retrieved 4 July 2007.  
  4. ^ a b King, Michael (2003). Penguin History of New Zealand. p. 209. ISBN 0143018671.  
  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. 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. ^ "Quick Statistics 2007". University of Otago. Retrieved 31 March 2008.  
  11. ^ "University of Otago Stadium Centre Wellington". Retrieved 4 July 2007.  
  12. ^ a b Student aimed webpage
  13. ^ Seen in Dunedin
  14. ^ "Call for end of toga parade after rampage". New Zealand Herald. 26 February 2009. Retrieved 26 February 2009.  
  15. ^ "Dunedin pub manager off hook after police drop sedition charge". NZ Herald. 3 May 2007. Retrieved 17 February 2008.  
  16. ^ "Graduation Address 16 December 2006". M.J. Grant. 16 December 2006. Retrieved 20 September 2008.  
  17. ^ "Dissertation of Kyle Matthews". University of Otago. 5 December 2000. Retrieved 20 September 2008.  
  18. ^ "Norml Dissapointed At University's Change Of Heart". Channel 9 Television, Dunedin. 25 July 2007. Retrieved 21 September 2008.  
  19. ^ Rudd, Allison (19 July 2008). "University stays mum over trespass orders". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 4 February 2009.  
  20. ^ Gibb, John (12 September 2009). "Fifth anniversary of 4:20 protests". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 9 December 2009.  
  21. ^ "Otago Database Internationally Recognised". Otago Magazine. University of Otago. February 2005. Retrieved 6 May 2009.  
  22. ^ Herszenhorn, David M. (4 May 1997). "John C. Eccles, 94, Nobel Physiologist, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2007.  
  23. ^ "Hon Dr Michael Cullen". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 5 December 2007.  
  24. ^ "Hart still NZ's richest person". 17 August 2007. Retrieved 15 December 2007.  

External links


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