Obituary: Dame Jean Herbison

By Phoebe Falconer

Dame Jean Herbison, DBE, CMG, educator. Died aged 84.

Dame Jean Herbison was the first woman to be elected chancellor of a New Zealand university. She held the position at Canterbury University from 1979 until 1984, after nine years on the university council.

She taught at Avonside Girls High School in Christchurch in the 1950s, before becoming dean of Christchurch Teachers College.

She was promoted to vice-principal in 1968, then moved to Christchurch Polytechnic, where she was associate director until her retirement in 1984.

In the early 1980s, economic restraints in education put increasing pressure on schools to, as Dame Jean put it, "demonstrate that society is getting more scholar for the dollar".

She urged a move away from maintenance learning to innovative methods, encouraging participation from students.

Programmes that led to jobs and trades needed to be encouraged, she said.

"We have got to convince the community that core [education] leading to university is not essential for everybody."

Dame Jean was born in Dunedin. She attended St Clair Primary School and, in Invercargill, Southland Girls High and then worked for 10 years as a shorthand typist and clerk before deciding life had more to offer.

She earned her BA at Canterbury University, then travelled to Iowa in the US to gain her masters degree.

In 1976 Dame Jean was created a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George and in 1987 was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, for services to education.

She is survived by her sister Ruth and brothers Graham and Ian.

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