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University of Canterbury

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University of Canterbury

University of Canterbury
Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha
Coat of Arms of the University of Canterbury
Motto Ergo tua rura manebunt
Motto in English Therefore will your fields remain [yours]
Established 1873 (1873)
Type Public
Chancellor John Wood
Vice-Chancellor Rod Carr
Academic staff 740[1]
Admin. staff 1,167[1]
Students 14,872[1]
Undergraduates 10,119[1]
Postgraduates 2,061[1]
Location Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand
Campus Urban
Former names Canterbury College
University of Canterbury logo

The University of Canterbury (Māori: Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha; postnominal abbreviation Cantuar. or Cant. for Cantuariensis, the Latin name for Canterbury) in Christchurch is New Zealand's second oldest university. Founded in 1873 by professors Charles Cook (Mathematics, St John's College, Cambridge), Alexander Bickerton (Chemistry and Physics, School of Mining, London), and John Macmillan Brown (Balliol College, Oxford), it operates its main campus in the suburb of Ilam. The university offers degrees in Arts, Commerce, Education (physical education), Engineering, Fine Arts, Forestry, Health Sciences, Law, Music, Social Work, Speech and Language Pathology, Science, Sports Coaching and Teaching.


Former University of Canterbury campus in the city centre, today the Christchurch Arts Centre

The University originated in 1873 in the centre of Christchurch as Canterbury College, the first constituent college of the University of New Zealand. It became the second institution in New Zealand providing tertiary-level education (following the University of Otago, established in 1869), and the fourth in Australasia.

The Canterbury Museum and Library and Christ's College, dissatisfied with the state of higher education in Canterbury, had both worked towards setting up Canterbury College.[2] In 1933, the name changed from Canterbury College to Canterbury University College. In 1957 the name changed again to the present University of Canterbury.

Until 1961, the University formed part of the University of New Zealand (UNZ), and issued degrees in its name. That year saw the dissolution of the federal system of tertiary education in New Zealand, and the University of Canterbury became an independent University awarding its own degrees. Upon the UNZ's demise, Canterbury Agricultural College became a constituent college of the University of Canterbury, as Lincoln College.[3] Lincoln College became independent in 1990 as a full university in its own right.

Over the period from 1961 to 1974, the university campus relocated from the centre of the city to its much larger current site in the suburb of Ilam. The neo-gothic buildings of the old campus became the site of the Christchurch Arts Centre, a hub for arts, crafts and entertainment in Christchurch.

In 2004, the University underwent restructuring into four Colleges and a School of Law, administering a number of schools and departments (though a number of departments have involvement in cross-teaching in numerous academic faculties). For many years the university worked closely with the Christchurch College of Education, leading to a full merger in 2007, establishing a fifth College.[4]

2010/11 earthquakes

The James Hight building suffered extensive damage during the 2010 Canterbury earthquake.

Following a magnitude 6.3 earthquake on 22 February 2011, the university was temporarily closed to allow a full safety inspection of all its buildings.[5] A progressive restart of the University began on 14 March with lectures delivered online, off-site, and in tents set up on campus.[6] In September 2011, plans were announced to demolish some University buildings.[7] In the months following the earthquake, the University lost 25 per cent of its first-year students and 8 per cent of continuing students. The number of international students, who pay much higher fees and are a major source of revenue, dropped by 30 per cent.[8][9] By 2013, the University had lost 22 per cent of its students, leading a former student, visiting the University, to describe the campus as a "ghost town". She commented, "The February 2011 earthquake not only rocked the foundations of many of the campus's buildings, it also knocked the confidence of many of the University's students".[10] However, a record number of 886 PhD students are enrolled at the University of Canterbury as of 2013.[11]

Other New Zealand universities, apparently defying an informal agreement, launched billboard and print advertising campaigns in the earthquake-ravaged city to recruit University of Canterbury students who are finding it difficult to study there.[12] In October 2011, staff were encouraged to take voluntary redundancies as the university scrambled to survive through a financial crisis.[13] The Vice-Chancellor Dr Carr warned "There was 'no doubt' staff who were teaching a smaller number of students, researchers whose outputs were smaller and researchers who were not attracting grants would be at high risk of redundancy".[14] He described possible changes in university courses by stating "What we don't know, and we won't know, is where there are rationalisations of courses within programmes – where we may be able to, instead of having twelve flavours, have eight flavours. We may require staff to teach four courses instead of three courses. But the impact on the actual programmes we offer will be quite modest."[15]


The university was first governed by a board of governors (1873–1933), then by a college council (1933–1957), and since 1957 by a university council.[16] The council is chaired by a chancellor.[17] The Council includes representatives from the faculties, students and general staff, as well as local industry, employer and trade union representatives.[18]

The original composition of the board of governors was defined in the Canterbury College Ordinance 1873,[19] which was passed by the Canterbury Provincial Council and named 23 members who might serve for life. Initially, the board was given power to fill their own vacancies, and this power transferred to graduates once their number exceeded 30.[20] At the time, there were discussions about the abolition of provincial government (which did happen in 1876), and the governance structure was set up to give board members "prestige, power and permanence", and "provincial authority and its membership and resources were safely perpetuated, beyond the reach of grasping hands in Wellington."[21]

Original members of the Board of Governors were:[22] [28] Henry Barnes Gresson,[29] William Habens, John Hall, Henry Harper, John Inglis,[30] Walter Kennaway,[31] Arthur C. Knight,[32] Thomas William Maude,[33] William Montgomery, Thomas Potts, William Rolleston, John Studholme, Henry Tancred, James Somerville Turnbull,[34] Henry Richard Webb, Joshua Williams, and Rev William Wellington Willock.[35]

Professor Roy Sharp assumed the position of Vice-Chancellor on 1 March 2003.[36] In May 2008 he announced his imminent resignation from the position, following his acceptance of the chief executive position at the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC)[37][38] which he took up on 4 August 2008.[39] The then current Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Town, assumed the role of acting Vice-Chancellor on 1 July 2008. On 15 October 2008 the University announced that Dr Rod Carr, a former banker and the CEO of a local software company, would begin a five-year appointment as Vice-Chancellor on 1 February 2009.[40] Under Carr's leadership, UC's position in the QS World University Rankings has steadily declined by about 30%, as of September 2014 (for detail, see section headed 'League Tables', below).

Council member and former Pro-Chancellor, Rex Williams, became Chancellor in 2009.[41] Council member Dr John Wood became the new Pro-Chancellor. On 1 January 2012, Dr Wood became Chancellor after Williams retired from the role.[41]

Chairmen of the Board of Governors

Chairmen of the Board of Governors were:[22]

Chairmen of the College Council

Chairmen of the College Council were:[22]

  • Christopher Thomas Aschman (1933–1938)
  • Arthur Edward Flower[47] (1938–1944)
  • John Henry Erle Schroder[48] (1944–1946)
  • Walter Cuthbert Colee (1946–1948)
  • Joseph George Davidson Ward[49] (1946–1951)
  • William John Cartwright (1951–1954)
  • Donald William Bain (1954–1957)


Terry McCombs in 1936

The current Chancellor is John Wood. Previous Chancellors were:


The James Hight building at the University of Canterbury

The University has a main campus of 76 hectares (190 acres) at Ilam, a suburb of Christchurch about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from the centre of the city. Adjacent to the main campus stands the University's College of Education, with its own sports-fields and grounds. The University maintains four libraries, with the Central Library (Māori: Te Puna Mātauraka o Waitaha) housed in the tallest building on campus, the 11-storey James Hight building.

The University's College of Education maintains additional small campuses in Nelson, Tauranga and Timaru, and "teaching centres" in Greymouth, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Timaru. The University has staff in regional information offices in Nelson, Timaru, and Auckland.

Canterbury University has six halls of residence housing around 1800 students.[53] The largest of these are Ilam Apartments and University Hall with 850 residents and 550 residents, respectively. Three of these halls (Ilam Apartments, University Hall and Sonoda Christchurch Campus) are managed by UC Accommodation, a subsidiary of Campus Living Villages, while the university maintains ownership of the property and buildings. Sonoda Christchurch Campus has a close relationship with Sonoda Women's University in Amagasaki, Japan. Bishop Julius, College House and Rochester and Rutherford are run independently.

The six halls of residence are:

  • Bishop Julius Hall – 110 residents[54]
  • Ilam Apartments – 850 residents[54]
  • College House – 150 residents[54]
  • Rochester and Rutherford Hall – 175 Residents[54]
  • Sonoda Christchurch Campus – 150 residents[54]
  • University Hall – 550 residents[54]
The Science Lecture Theatre complex with the top of the Rutherford building in the background
View of campus buildings from the Central Library

The Field Facilities Centre[55] administers four field-stations:

  • Cass Field Station[56] – Provides a wide range of environments: montane grasslands, scrub, riverbed, scree, beech forest, swamp, bog, lake, stream and alpine habitats; all accessible by day-trips on foot
  • Kaikoura Field Station[57] – Provides a wide range of environments: diverse marine habitats, alpine habitats, kanuka forests, rivers, lakes
  • Harihari Field Station[58] – Access to native forests, streams
  • Westport Field Station[59] – for study of the West Coast of New Zealand, particularly mining

The University and its project-partners also operate an additional field-station in the Nigerian Montane Forests Project[60] – this field station stands on the Ngel Nyaki forest edge in Nigeria.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy runs its own field laboratories:

The Department of Physics and Astronomy also has involvement in the Southern African Large Telescope[65] and is a member of the IceCube collaboration which is installing a neutrino telescope at the South Pole.[66][67]


There are four[68] libraries on campus each covering different subject areas.

  • Central Library (Māori: Te Puna Mātauraka o Waitaha)[68] – is housed in the James Hight Building, named after former Canterbury professor James Hight.[69] The Central Library has collections that support research and teaching in Humanities, Social Sciences, Law, Commerce, Music, Fine Arts and Antarctic Studies.[68]
  • Education Library (Māori: Te Puna Ako)[68] – is located on the Dovedale Campus[68] to the West of the main Ilam Campus where the other three libraries are located. The library hosts collections that support research and teaching in Education.[68] The building that houses the library is name after Henry Edward Field, who was a prominent educationalist and university professor.[70]
  • EPS Library (Engineering and Physical Sciences Library, Māori: Kā Puna Pūkahataka me te Pūtaiao)[68] – Supports research and teaching in Engineering, Forestry and Sciences.[68]
  • Macmillan Brown Library (Māori: Te Puna Rakahau o Macmillan Brown)[68] – is a research library, archive, and art gallery that specializes in collecting items related to New Zealand and Pacific Islands history.[71][72] It holds over 100,000 published items including books, audio-visual recordings, and various manuscripts, photographs, works of art, architectural drawings and ephemera. The Macmillan Brown Library's art collection also has 3,000 works, making it one of the largest collections in the Canterbury Region.[73] The library is named after John Macmillan Brown, a prominent Canterbury academic who helped found the library.[71][72]


In 2011 QS World University Rankings ranked the University of Canterbury 212th overall in the world, and the third highest ranked university in New Zealand.[74] Its individual global subject rankings were: 226th in Arts & Humanities, 128th in Engineering & IT, 207th in Natural Sciences, and 243rd in Social Sciences.[75] UC's QS ranking has fallen every year since 2008; although the QS rankings of most other New Zealand universities have also declined overall since 2008, some have risen, and only one has fallen more places than UC during this period.[76][77][78]

The University was the first in New Zealand to have been granted five stars by QS Stars.[79][80]

League tables

2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005
QS World University Rankings 242nd[81] 238th[82] 221st[83] 212nd[84] 189th[85] 188th[86] 186th[86] 188th[87] 333rd[88] 333rd[89]
Times Higher Education World University Rankings 301–350th[90] 301–350th[91]

Student association and traditions

The University of Canterbury Students' Association (UCSA)[92] operates on campus with its own radio station (RDU) and magazine (Canta). The Association also runs two bars and several cafes around campus.[93] The popular on-campus bar, "The Foundry", known as "The Common Room" from 2005, has reverted to its former name as promised by 2008 USCA president, Michael Goldstein. Prior to earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the UCSA also ran the now damaged 430-seat Ngaio Marsh Theatre.[94][95]

The University has over 100 academic, sporting, recreational and cultural societies and clubs.[96] The most prominent of these include the University of Canterbury Drama Society (Dramasoc) achieved fame for its 1942–1969 Shakespeare productions under Dame Ngaio Marsh, but regularly performs as an active student- and alumni-run arts fixture in the small Christchurch theatre-scene. The Musical Society, MuSoc,[97] engages in comparable activities.

One major student tradition, the Undie 500, involved an annual car-rally from Christchurch to Dunedin run by ENSOC. The rules required only the use of a road-legal car costing under $500 with a sober driver. The 2007 event gained international news coverage (including on CNN and BBC World) when it ended in rioting in the student quarter of Dunedin and in North East Valley. ENSOC cancelled the planned 2008 event. The Undie 500 was replaced by the Roundie 500 in 2011. This event has the same principles but follows a route through rural Canterbury, returning to Christchurch the same day.[98]

Coat of arms

Academic procession at the University of Canterbury graduation ceremony 2004

With the dissolution of the University of New Zealand, the newly independent University of Canterbury devised its own coat of arms, blazoned:

"murrey a fleece argent, in base a plough or, and on a chief wavy or an open book proper bound murrey, edged and clasped or between a pall azure charged with four crosses formy fitchy or and a cross flory azure."

What it means. In this description, the colour of the shield is the first thing stated. "Murrey" means maroon. This is a colour seldom seen in Heraldry. Next the objects on the shield and their colour are described. "A fleece" is usually depicted as a whole sheep with a band around its middle and "argent" means silver (or white as it is usually depicted.) "In Base" means at the bottom of the shield, and the object is a hand plough. "Or" means gold so the plough is coloured gold.

A "chief" is a broad stripe across the top of the shield and "wavy" means the line at the base of the chief is like a sine wave. "Or" again means gold so the chief is coloured gold. The objects on the chief are then described. "An open book" is self-explanatory. "Proper" means the object is depicted in its natural colour(s) - as books normally have white pages, this is how it looks. The book is "bound murrey" which means the covers are in maroon. However, the edges of the pages are in gold ("edged or".) The book also has clasps ("clasped") in maroon. A clasp allows the book to be more securely bound after it has been closed. The "between" indicates that the book is between two other objects; in this case a "pall" which is the Y shaped object. "Azure" means it is blue. "Charged" means that the following objects are placed on the pall. The "four crosses" are Christian crosses but "formy" means the arms of the cross flare at the ends and "fitchy” means that the lower arm has a pointed end. Again, "or" means these crosses are gold. The pall is a link between Canterbury, New Zealand, and Canterbury, England as both the pall and the crosses appear on the arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The other object is another type of cross. this time all arms are of equal length. "Flory" means that end of each arm is a fleur-de-lys. "Azure" means that this cross is blue.

This replaced the arms formerly used by Canterbury College – an unofficial, simplified version of the Canterbury Province coat of arms.

The fleece symbolises the pastoral, and the plough at the base the agricultural background of the province of Canterbury. The Bishop's Pall and the cross flory represent Canterbury's ecclesiastical connections, and the open book denotes scholarship.

As it relates to an institution of learning, the University's coat of arms does not have a helmet, crest or mantling on its bearings.

A more detailed history of the arms, including their formal heraldic description, appears on the University website.


The University was awarded the 2006 [99]

Personnel and controversy

Size and composition

In September 2011, the University had a total of 18,178 students, including 16,862 domestic students and 1,324 international students (students who are neither citizens nor permanent residents of New Zealand). Undergraduate students make up 85% of the total student body and postgraduates amount to about 15%. The University employed 589 full-time equivalent faculty members and 979 full-time equivalent general staff.[100] Of the faculty, 14.8% are professors, 15.2% are associate professors, 41.7% are senior lecturers, 20.3% are lecturers, and 0.6% are assistant lecturers.

Long-term administrative efforts to eliminate departments and faculty members

Like some other New Zealand universities, the University of Canterbury tends to take a litigious approach to relations with its faculty and staff. Although it has very substantially expanded the size of its Human Resources work force in relation to the size of its faculty, UC routinely engages lawyers to handle even minor matters.[101] UC's 2006 financial reports state that $836,000 was paid in compensation that year for employment-relationship problems, more than any other New Zealand university.[101] By 2008, the university had stepped-up its actions against faculty in the humanities and social sciences when it announced unprecedented attempts to close multiple well-known departments. For example, world-renowned US scholar Andrew Ross wrote that UC’s Department of American Studies, which was threatened with complete elimination by UC administrators in 2008, was "without question, the foremost department in the field outside of the US and has a long and distinguished record of innovative scholarship and teaching.” Ross characterized the department as being at the cutting-edge of developments in its field, and noted that “it generates a significant portion of the university's standing on the international academic” scene.[102]

Blaming a decrease in student enrolments that they attributed to the Christchurch earthquakes, university administrators announced in September 2011 that they may lay-off 350 or more faculty and staff.[103] However, one journalist reported in early 2012 that UC's attempts to develop and promote a variety of arguments to justify faculty layoffs and degree programme closures long predated the earthquakes. The same journalistic investigation found that UC’s 2012 actions against its own departments and faculty members would significantly diminish the quality of research and teaching at the university while simultaneously enabling UC to retain substantial amounts of research income generated by the very programmes and faculty members under direct attack.[104] Furthermore, it was revealed later that year, much to the embarrassment of the university, that UC had held a series of secret meetings with another local education provider during which it covertly attempted to "sell" a department it had tried but failed to close several years earlier.[105] UC had eliminated over 100 jobs prior to the earthquakes,[106] and lost a number of prominent scholars who departed in the wake of the university's actions against its own departments and faculty. Indeed, during the years from 2008 to the end of 2013, the university eliminated fully one-third of its faculty positions in the humanities and social sciences.[107]

One newspaper analysis characterised the university's "poorly informed" decisions after the earthquakes as indicative of "a shift in thinking and policy that may do long-term damage, permanently disadvantaging both the university and the city".[108] In the wake of faculty lay-offs and programme closures, UC enrollments declined to 15,608 students (14,087 domestic students and 1,521 international students) by September 2012.[109] By the end of 2013, a year in which even more faculty positions were eliminated, UC student numbers had further fallen to 13,867 domestic students and 1,013 international students,[110] prompting one observer to declare that the university had become a "ghost town".[111] The university's enrollments fell further still in 2014.[112] In its 2013 Annual Report, UC states that it spent $4.66 million in 2012 and 2013 alone on expenses associated with faculty and staff layoffs (severance pay, legal costs, etc.).[113] While most New Zealand universities (all of which are public institutions) have freely released their records declaring how much they spend on external lawyers and consultants for advice and representation regarding employment issues, UC has refused to make such records publicly available.[101] One 2014 academic study found that the University of Canterbury is at the extreme cutting-edge of a radical restructuring of the conditions of university employment in New Zealand that is seriously eroding universities' research, teaching and “critic and conscience of society” missions, and that the extreme actions taken at UC cannot be adequately explained by the Canterbury earthquakes.[114] In 2014, UC finished in the bottom half of New Zealand universities in terms of the number of NZ Royal Society Marsden Grants awarded, an important indicator of research quality.[115]

Some have suggested that faculty and staff eliminations are sometimes based on academic and political ideologies rather than merit.[116] Moreover, some departing UC faculty have complained about restrictions on academic freedom.[117][118] There has been significant criticism by UC faculty and others of the university administration’s decisions in recent years to award honorary doctorates to controversial prominent activists and donors closely associated with New Zealand’s far-right ACT Party, such as Ruth Richardson[119] and Alan Gibbs.[120] One peer reviewed academic journal article found that the UC administration used the Christchurch earthquakes to advance an agenda that is well explained by Naomi Klein's concepts of "disaster capitalism" and the "shock doctrine."[121] After they were confronted with substantial opposition from the UC governing Council to administrators' attempts to lay-off faculty and close programmes on the basis of putative earthquake-related exigencies, top administrators responded by eliminating 40% of the seats on the university's governing Council, thus making governance of the institution less democratically representative of various community stakeholders and more responsive to business interests and to the conservative government of the day, as well as undermining the university's capacity to fulfill its obligations as "critic and conscience of society," according to some analysts.[122][123]

Problems with university administration, racism and sexism

At the beginning of February 2012, former banker and software company manager-turned-university-administrator Rod Carr made a very public promise not to accept an increase in his salary for his work as vice-chancellor of the University of Canterbury for the next two years.[124] In late 2013, however, it was reported that Carr had not kept his promise, and had in fact recently accepted more than $40,000 in salary increases,[125] despite the fact that under Carr's leadership, UC's position in the QS World University Rankings has steadily declined by about 30%, as of September 2014 (for detail, see section headed 'League Tables', above).

In 2014, one faculty member chosen to receive a teaching award from the University of Canterbury Students’ Association refused to accept the award because of his concerns about student racism and sexism [126] at UC.[127]

Notable staff

Notable alumni

Honorary doctors

Since 1962, the University of Canterbury has been awarding honorary doctorates. In many years, no awards were made, but in most years, multiple doctorates were awarded. The highest numbers of honorary doctorates was awarded in 1973, when there were seven recipients.[128]

See also


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  • Gardner, W. J.; Beardsley, E. T.; Carter, T. E. (1973). Phillips, Neville Crompton, ed. A History of the University of Canterbury, 1873–1973. Christchurch: University of Canterbury. 

External links

  • Official website
  • UC Spark
  • Canterbury College and the New Zealand University in Christchurch (1885 article)
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