History of the University of Auckland

University of New Zealand

As early as 1862 an unknown writer, "J.G.", proposed in Chapman’s New Zealand Monthly Magazine that a university should be established in Auckland. The pioneer town, founded less than a quarter of a century before, had other, more pressing, issues and initially there was no response to the suggestion. Consequently the first university, Otago, was created in 1869 in the South Island, where the inhabitants were wealthier and keener on education. In 1870, Parliament passed legislation to create the University of New Zealand as an examining body with affiliated teaching colleges. Auckland politician Maurice O’Rorke, later Speaker of the House of Representatives, advocated that the University be located in Auckland but it was established as a federal body with no fixed location. Canterbury, which had been planning to create a university, became the first place to open a college of the new federal university in 1873.

The citizens of Auckland at first received university instruction at the Auckland Grammar School. Students sat the examinations of the University of New Zealand. In 1877, one of these students, Kate Edger, became the first woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts from a British university.

Auckland University College

In 1878, O’Rorke chaired a Royal Commission on higher education that recommended the establishment of university colleges in Auckland and Wellington. In 1882, the Auckland University College was set up by Act of Parliament and was formally opened on 21 May 1883 in the Choral Hall, then the largest hall in Auckland. The Governor, Sir William Jervois, announced that the College was to be a thoroughly democratic institution, open to women as well as men, and to all classes.

The applicants for the first four chairs, of Classics and English, Mathematics, Natural Science, and Chemistry and Physics, were interviewed in England by the New Zealand Agent-General and some of the most famous scientists and scholars of the day, including the great Benjamin Jowett of Balliol College, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford. The men appointed were an impressive group. The chemist, F.D. Brown, had studied in France and Leipzig as well as London, and taught at Oxford and London. He had published a dozen papers. Algernon Phillips Thomas, the biologist, was a Balliol man who had revealed the life history of the liver fluke. The classicist, T.G. Tucker, was to become a famous scholar. When he left to go to Melbourne University in 1885, he was succeeded by Hutcheson Macaulay Posnett, an Irishman who had written several books, including one on comparative literature – that would now be called the sociology of literature – a subject he is credited with inventing. The first professor of Mathematics, George Walker, was accidentally drowned shortly after he reached Auckland and was succeeded by W.S. Aldis, who had been the top scholar in his subject at Cambridge and was the author of several mathematical books.


Finding a home

When O’Rorke first tried to secure a university for Auckland he suggested housing it in Government House, left empty when the Governor moved with the capital to Wellington in 1865. This immediately aroused opposition in the press because many Aucklanders hoped that the capital – and the Governor – would eventually return to Auckland. These conflicting ambitions lay at the basis of a recurrent feature of the history of the College, the great "site row", with the College trying to get at least part of the grounds of Government House while some influential citizens strongly opposed it. One result was that for years the College had no permanent site or permanent buildings. Teaching started in the disused District Court House, expanded into Admiralty House and, in 1890, into the original Parliament Building. In 1907, the Choral Hall was purchased and, in 1917, the College occupied the building vacated by the Grammar School. In 1926 the College acquired its first permanent building, now the ClockTower Building, in Princes Street.


Early difficulties

The College was poor: its statutory grant was for many years only £4,000 a year while land reserves, set aside by government to provide an income, brought in very little. There were few students: 95 in 1883, 156 by 1901. Some had not passed the matriculation examination and were not studying for degrees. Most were part-time, trainee teachers and law clerks, with music students from 1888 onwards, and commerce students by 1905. The College was dominated by the lay members of Council, especially by Sir Maurice O’Rorke, who was an autocratic chairman from 1883 to 1916.

The early College struggled to keep its small staff – some left for positions in Australia and elsewhere. Most of the remainder grew increasingly out-of-date in their subjects. There was no system of sabbatical or study leave until the 1920s. The teachers’ role was to hand on traditional knowledge. The staff lectured for very long hours and, in general, the students were given a good, traditional undergraduate education. Research was not expected and was rarely done. In some subjects, research was impossible. For instance, the Library took no mathematical journals, so the mathematicians knew little about recent work. Some students, however, started to carry out good research, notably in Chemistry.



In the 1920s and well into the 1930s the College was ruled by a Registrar, Rocke O’Shea, and a new Chairman of the Council (President after 1924), another former Cabinet Minister, Sir George Fowlds. Under their leadership the University started to change. The first New Zealand graduates with postgraduate education abroad were appointed to the staff, notably the very able economist, Horace Belshaw, the philosopher R.P. Anschutz, and the physicist P.W. Burbidge. An excellent researcher, W.F. Short, was appointed as a lecturer in Chemistry.

Some advances were made in providing professional education. The only such education offered at the College was in Law, which attracted large numbers of students. The only "professional schools" recognised by the University of New Zealand were Medicine at Otago and Engineering at Canterbury. In 1906, the College established a School of Mining, which slowly and covertly was turned into a 'School of Engineering'. After fierce battles with Canterbury, fired by provincial rivalry, the Auckland School received University recognition for its teaching in the first two professional years. Students then had to go to Canterbury to complete the final year of their degree. In 1917, the College began instruction in Architecture.


Academic freedom and development

During the Depression of the early 1930s, the College experienced its first dispute over academic freedom. The temporary appointment of a lecturer in History, J.C. Beaglehole, later a world-famous scholar, was terminated, his friends believed, because of a letter he wrote to a newspaper defending the right of communists to distribute their literature. This episode led to a Council election in which the liberal, Hollis Cocker, defeated a conservative candidate. The College Council then adopted resolutions in favour of academic freedom and received the undeserved congratulations of the British academic establishment, including Lord Rutherford and Wittgenstein.

Around the same time, the College enrolled a lively group of students led by James Bertram, who established a new literary journal, Phoenix. This journal was the focus for the first literary movement in New Zealand history and featured the works of Allen Curnow, A.R.D. Fairburn, R.A.K. Mason and other distinguished writers.

The College received great intellectual stimulus in 1934 when four new professors arrived: H.G. Forder, a very able mathematician; Arthur Sewell, a brilliant lecturer in English; a classicist C.G. Cooper; and a new historian, James Rutherford.


The University of Auckland

The College gained its first academic leader in the 1950s, when the Council appointed a Principal (later Vice-Chancellor) K.J. Maidment, a Classics don from Merton College, Oxford. He came in 1950 and remained for two decades. Maidment faced a further, fierce "site row". The Council wanted to move the College to a larger site out of town. Instead, in 1956, the National Government offered Government House as compensation for staying in Princes Street. Another citizens’ "save Government House" campaign followed. Both academic staff and the public were deeply divided over the issue, which was resolved in 1960: the University was to stay where it was. In 1957, the slow move towards autonomy was marked by legislation that changed the title of the College to the University of Auckland while leaving the functions and powers of the University of New Zealand intact.

The "site row" held up the building programme for about six years, while student rolls rose rapidly, to 4,000 by 1959, with the result that there was overcrowding in quite inadequate buildings. Universities everywhere were expanding rapidly. New Zealand academic salaries could not compete with those of overseas universities and many able Auckland staff left for positions in Australian and other universities. Despite these problems, there was significant progress. New subjects were introduced: Geography, Anthropology, Māori Studies and Fine Arts. There was a new emphasis on staff research. Many of the new and younger academics became very active researchers, reflected in the growing lists of staff publications.

In the 1960s, the Report of the Hughes Parry Committee led to major improvements in University conditions and governance. Staff salaries were raised. For the first time, the students were given fairly generous bursaries, which led to a rapid increase in the proportion of full-time students. The government grant to the University rose rapidly. In 1962, the University at last became independent when the University of New Zealand was abolished.


Growth and change

Over the next two decades the campus was transformed as a massive building programme began and one large building after another was erected: Fine Arts, Science, Engineering buildings, a Student Union, a new Library. A number of new subjects were introduced, including Political Studies, Art History and Sociology. In 1968, teaching commenced in the new Medical School on the Grafton Campus. By the end of the 1960s Auckland had the largest University Library in the country.

When Dr Maidment departed in 1970, there were 9,300 students. His successor, Dr Colin Maiden, was an Auckland engineer who had headed a research division of General Motors in Michigan. One of the first things that struck him in Auckland was the need for better student facilities. He pushed ahead to provide a theatre, a gymnasium and recreation centre, and a large playing-field complex. The entire administrative organisation, from faculties and committees to deputy vice-chancellors, was reformed. The academic boom of the 1960s continued well into the 1970s and several new buildings, such as Human Sciences, were constructed and new subjects, including Management Studies and Computer Science, were introduced. Also established, in 1964, was the Leigh Marine Laboratory, north of Auckland. In 2009 this underwent redevelopment with new facilities opened in 2010.

The 1970s brought numerous social changes: an increase in the proportion of Māori and Pacific students and in the proportion of women and older students. In 1975 and 1981 the first two women professors were appointed, Marie Clay and Patricia Bergquist. At a time of high inflation, the government grant to the University rose rapidly, to $95.2 million by 1989.

In 1983 the University celebrated its centennial. Although there was a certain economic austerity, after a century of growth the University had established itself strongly within its own community and nationally.

There were still to be challenges. The wide-ranging restructuring of education undertaken by the Labour Government after 1984 encompassed the universities, and their autonomy and their identity were seen to be threatened. As a result of efforts by the universities, supported by alumni, some changes were secured in the Education Amendment Acts of 1989 and 1990, but the University Grants Committee was abolished, the Ministry of Education became responsible for tertiary education policy, and the composition of the Council was altered. At the turn of the century, the government took another look at the range of tertiary education through the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission, out of which came the Tertiary Education Commission as the funder of tertiary education.


The 1990s onwards

Anxious to respond to the growing demand for university education in the early 1990s, the University offered courses at other tertiary institutions in Auckland and Northland. Acquiring buildings used for the 1990 Commonwealth Games village, it began to develop a campus at Tāmaki, initially offering courses in Commerce. Increasing student enrolments obliged it, like other universities, to introduce quotas for all first-year courses in 1992, breaking the historic policy of 'open entry'.

From the mid-1990s, the University introduced semesters, launched its first major fund-raising appeal, produced its first strategic plan and inaugurated a Summer School. It joined Universitas 21, an international network of research-intensive universities in Australasia, Asia, North America and Europe, as a foundation member. In the late 1990s, the School of Medicine expanded to become the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, introducing degrees in Nursing, Health Sciences and Pharmacy.

The third Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kit Carson, served from 1995 to 1998 and was followed by Dr John Hood in 1999. Dr Hood was an alumnus of the University, a former Rhodes Scholar and business leader. He faced a difficult financial situation as governments had progressively reduced tuition subsidies per student, and the University needed to re-activate its building programme. The last period of intensive construction had ended with completion of a new School of Music in 1986 and the Waipapa Marae in 1988. The Law School had moved into refurbished premises in a new precinct to the north of Waterloo Quadrant in 1992. However, the University was growing very rapidly, with increasing numbers of international students as well as a growing number of domestic students who could now borrow to fund their tuition and other costs. This growth reached a peak in 2004 before starting to slow.

In its 2005 Strategic Plan the University resolved to pursue a quality agenda and to limit student growth to an average of one percent per annum over time. Consequently, the University extended limits on admission from a few professional qualifications to all of its undergraduate degrees. In 2010, the student roll was 40,997 or 32,654 equivalent full-time students (EFTS).

From the 1990s, research became very much more important in the life of the University and its academics. The country started to look more than ever to universities to generate new ideas and knowledge, including innovations that might be harnessed for economic development. The University had already founded UniServices as an organisation to develop and commercialise research. In the early 2000s it became host to four of eight limited-term national Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs) funded by the government.


University Leadership

Dr John Hood left the University in mid-2004 to take up the position of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Professor Stuart McCutcheon, formerly Vice-Chancellor at Victoria University of Wellington, succeeded him as Vice-Chancellor in January 2005. Under his leadership a new strategic plan, which was refreshed in 2013, envisaged the development of a University focused on excellent undergraduate teaching and learning, dynamic and challenging postgraduate education, and research that contributes to international knowledge, understanding and economic and social development. The University also recognised that it must play a role in addressing inequities in educational participation and achievement by Māori and Pacific students, and placed an emphasis on enhancing its recruitment and support programmes for potential students. In 2018, the University appointed its first Pro Vice-Chancellor (Pacific), Associate Professor Damon Salesa. In October the same year, Professor Cynthia Kiro took over the role of Pro Vice-Chancellor (Māori) from the inaugural appointee, Mr Jim Peters (2006–2018). In 2021 Associate Professor Te Kawehau Hoskins became the Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori, after Dame Cindy Kiro left and was appointed Governor-General.

Professor McCutcheon retired as Vice-Chancellor in early 2020. Professor Dawn Freshwater, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Australia, became Vice-Chancellor in March 2020, the first woman to hold the position since the University was founded. Professor Freshwater initially performed her duties under quarantine, then lockdown, amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
From mid-2020, the Vice-Chancellor consulted with staff and students on a new Strategic Plan for the University to replace the one that expired that year. Submissions closed in September 2020 and Taumata Teitei – Vision 2030 and Strategic Plan 2025 – was approved by Council in March 2021. ‘Taumata Teitei’ refers to ‘lofty peaks’, a figurative idea of reaching high for excellence.

In 2021, the University appointed its inaugural Provost, Professor Valerie Linton. Professor Linton was most recently the executive dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences at the University of Wollongong in Australia. The Provost is the senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University with responsibility for leading the academic mission.



A new CoRE funding round for 2021–2028 resulted in the University successfully extending three existing hosted CoREs and establishing a new CoRE, Healthy Hearts for Aotearoa New Zealand – Manaaki Mānawa. From 2020 the University hosts four of the ten CoREs, including Te Pūnaha Matatini, whose researchers played a critical role in Covid-19 modelling for New Zealand, and contributes to five others hosted by other universities.

In 2004, Auckland was designated the country’s leading research university "on virtually any measure" in the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) assessment, carried out by the recently created Tertiary Education Commission. In the PBRF assessments released in 2007 and 2012, the University of Auckland again emerged as the New Zealand university with the greatest overall strength. Revenue from research and contract activities grew from $153 million in 2006 to $269 million in 2019. In the latest PBRF round in 2018, the University of Auckland had 390 FTE or 33 percent of the A-rated researchers in the country.

In the 2000s, international ranking systems started to become important to university reputations and placed great significance on research performance. The University was consistently placed first among New Zealand universities, although its actual placement varied from year to year and among the ranking systems. In 2021 the University performed well in the two main rankings – placed at equal 81st in the 2022 QS World Rankings and 137 in the 2022 Times Higher Education (THE) World Rankings.


Organisational Changes

In 2006, Architecture, Dance Studies, Fine and Visual Arts, Music, and Planning combined to form the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries (NICAI). In 2016, the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries changed its name to the Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries (CAI) to align with the naming conventions of other University faculties.

The University and the Auckland College of Education amalgamated in September 2004 to form the Faculty of Education. This faculty, based primarily at the College’s campus in Epsom, was established with the aim of becoming New Zealand’s leading provider of teacher and social services education. In 2015, the Faculty of Education changed its name to the Faculty of Education and Social Work, making more visible the two main practitioner communities the faculty engages with and serves – teachers and educators – and those in the human services/social work and counselling professions.


Funding and gifting

The University has become increasingly dependent on its own ability to raise the funds it requires to operate. Student tuition fees, including the fees of international students, have been an important part of University income. Border restrictions due to Covid-19 have impacted the University’s capacity to attract international students and this is likely to extend for the medium term given the worldwide disruption caused by the pandemic.

The University also receives tuition subsidies contributed by government. Income from research is substantial. Philanthropic donations have also become an important way in which friends and alumni of the University show their support for its activities, for the staff and the students. The University also runs six reserves for research across a wide range of disciplines. Anawhata Reserve, for example, was gifted to the University in 1966 by a group of alumni. In 2011, the Goldwater family gifted Goldie Vineyard and its related wine business to the University for use as a Wine Science teaching facility.

The University has come a long way from the early fund-raising appeal of the 1990s. A "Leading the Way" fundraising campaign, which ran from 2009 to 2012, exceeded its target of $150 million in 2011. The “For All Our Futures” campaign, which ran from 2016–2019, raised $380 million, $80 million more than its target and the largest amount ever raised by any university in New Zealand. The campaign earned an award from the Fundraising Institute of NZ, which named it Best High Value Campaign and winner of the overall Fundraising Excellence Award. The funds are used to support the aspirations of students as well as supporting life-changing research to address critical challenges facing our communities and New Zealand


Campus developments

Between 2000 and 2007 the University embarked on another major building programme. The impressive Kate Edger Information Commons and Student Commons, the Engineering Atrium and greatly expanded library wing, and a seven-floor extension to the Science Centre, which houses Computer Science and Software Engineering, enhanced the City Campus. A Fale Pasifika opened in 2004 and the Sir Owen G. Glenn Building, a large and striking complex for the Business School, was completed in 2007.

In 2009 the University adopted a Campus Development Strategy that proposed a major investment in infrastructure. Initial projects included the redevelopment of the Grafton Campus to refurbish laboratories, upgrade plant and construct the Boyle building (completed 2012); a student accommodation building at Elam to house 442 students (completed 2011); and a new South Pacific Centre for Marine Science, based at the Leigh Marine Laboratory, which fosters marine research and educates visitors on the marine environment. A major development of the Maths and Physics buildings was completed in 2011.

In 2013, in a bid to underpin 50 years of growth on a site close to the existing City and Grafton Campuses, the University purchased a 5.2-hectare site at Newmarket. The site, previously owned and occupied by Lion Breweries, has been partially redeveloped, and the mixed-use campus was opened in May 2015, with Engineering and Science occupying the first facilities.

As a result of the Newmarket purchase, in January 2014 the University transferred the 20-hectare Colin Maiden Park and its associated facilities at the Tāmaki Innovation Campus to Auckland Council. This transaction was followed by a sale of the balance of the campus in April 2016, with the University exiting the Tāmaki Campus at the end of 2019. This sale was part of the University’s long-term strategy to consolidate activities at the City, Grafton and Newmarket campuses and significantly reduce landholdings. It also reflects the growing importance of cross-disciplinary teaching and research at the University and the need for faculties to be co-located.

After refurbishment in 2014, the University’s iconic building, the ClockTower on Princes Street, now houses the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori, the Council Room and aspects of student administration. The refurbished Alfred Nathan House (completed 2017), also on Princes Street and where the Office of the Vice-Chancellor was previously located, is home to Communications and Marketing, the Schools Partnership Office, the International Office and other administrative and student support services. Although AskAuckland (the former Student Information Centre) has been located there too, it is due to move to a new location near the General Library in April 2022.

The Maidment Theatre, which opened in 1976 and played a crucial role in the development of Auckland's vibrant theatre scene, was closed in December 2015 and demolished due to concerns about its seismic strength. The University hopes to build a new performing arts facility elsewhere on the City Campus when funding allows.

The Science Centre (completed 2016) on the corner of Princes and Wellesley streets has been a significant enhancement to the City Campus as has the new state-of-the-art Engineering building (B405) that opened in Semester One 2020. The new Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences home, Building 507 on Park Avenue in Grafton, opened March 2020. It houses the School of Population Health, School of Medicine, Growing Up in New Zealand, the National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI), Speech Science, the Immunisation Advisory Centre and health-related clinics.

In 2018, Council approved the development of a new state-of-the-art Recreation and Wellness Centre. The existing Recreation Centre was built in 1978 when the University had 10,000 students. It now has 40,000 students and more than 5,000 staff. Demolition of the old centre and surrounding structures on the City Campus began in 2020, with construction delayed by Covid-19 but beginning in 2021. Temporary sports and recreation facilities were made available at 70 Stanley Street and in Wynyard Street.
As part of its long-term strategy to consolidate activities at the City, Grafton and Newmarket campuses, the University completed its relocation of teaching, research and other activities from the Tāmaki Innovation Campus, which it had previously sold, in 2019. The Tāmaki campus closed in late 2019. With the move towards cross-disciplinary teaching and research, the Faculty of Education and Social Work (EDSW) is due to be relocated from its Epsom Campus to the City Campus in 2024.

After more than 20 years of offering programmes in partnership with Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) in South Auckland, the University opened its own South Auckland campus in 2020. Te Papa Ako o Tai Tonga (Tai Tonga) in Manukau caters to a growing need from the community. The campus offers a Bachelor of Education (Teaching) Primary programme, Bachelor of Commerce, and Master of Business Management programmes.

The provision of accommodation has increased dramatically to cater for the increased number of students seeking a residential experience. Additional self-catered student accommodation, the Carlaw Park Student Village, opened in 2014 next to the Domain, to provide more than 700 student places; a further 315 self-catered single and double studio apartments in Symonds Street opened for Semester One, 2017. Grafton Hall reopened in 2019 after a two-year refurbishment, and provides catered student accommodation, while Waipārūrū Hall was completed in 2020, providing 786 first-year student places. A further 488 self-catered single rooms became available in Te Tirohanga o te Tōangaroa on Anzac Ave in Semester One, 2020.

In 2018 the new Early Childhood Centre opened at Park Avenue in the city.

In May 2019 the new state-of-the-art facility for the Department of Exercise Sciences was officially opened, after its move from Tāmaki. The Newmarket facilities include a Health and Rehabilitation Clinic and a Movement Neuroscience Laboratory and the move has brought the department closer to allied health organisations with which it has relationships, as well as Auckland City Hospital.
In August 2020, the government announced the University would receive ‘shovel-ready’ funding for the construction project to relocate the EDSW to the City Campus. Work began on the complex building programme across six structures in 2021. The flagship of the programme is Building 201, the old Human Sciences Building, being stripped back and rebuilt as an environmentally sustainable fit-for-purpose facility housing the EDSW and the Faculty of Arts. Building 201 is an adaptive reuse project and made its mark early with its design winning a 6 Star Green Star from the NZ Green Building Council in 2021. This puts the building in the ‘world leadership’ category.

In 2021 the University began consulting on its inaugural Estate Strategy 2021–2030, Te Rautaki Tūāpapa. The aim of the strategy is to provide a cohesive, future-focused approach to investment in, and management of, the University’s physical environment and developing innovative campuses as sustainable ecosystems.

Te ao Māori

In 2019, the University presented its Language Plan for the Revitalisation of te reo Māori, which aligns with the Crown strategy. Council adopted a goal of having 50 percent of staff participate in professional development to learn te reo Māori by 2025, and students having the option of a te reo Māori course in their programme of study.

In the same year, the University launched its te reo and tikanga Māori digital learning app called Te Kūaha – The Doorway, an educational resource for staff, students and alumni to learn te reo Māori and protocol.

In 2021 the University was gifted a new Māori name by the people of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. Waipapa Taumata Rau was added to the University's name, replacing – Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau. Waipapa Taumata Rau locates the University in Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland), an important destination historically and currently that reflects connections between people. The name is an exhortation to excellence and achievement, and reflects the many journeys of the people in the University community.

Covid-19 from 2020

In 2020, the University of Auckland responded to the challenges of Covid-19 by moving all teaching online in a short space of time, allowing continuity of the academic programme. The University also organised support for disadvantaged students, including provision of computer equipment and internet access, and increased student financial hardship support.

Support programmes and online teaching were put in place for around 2,000 international students who were unable to return to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Covid-19 had a serious impact on all major University operations, weakening its overall financial position and requiring a business recovery programme to deliver the changes required to return the University to its strong pre-Covid-19 position.