– as it will now still be called – to change its name. Not to anything interesting, of course – just to the University of Wellington.

But the decision was a fitting end to a year in which so much was turned upside down. In a reversal of the traditional pattern at universities, the iconoclasts were the ones fomenting revolution from up in their ivory tower, while the conservatives were down in the quad collecting signatures opposing change. Alumni hated the idea.

The administration wasn't pleased at being stymied. It wanted the new name soooo much.


But the minister was having none of this pantomime. He declined the application in a terse note before twirling his moustache, flourishing his cape and disappearing in a puff of smoke, leaving the helpless university in a state of reduced brand awareness.

Because brand awareness – or money, to give it its more correct name – was what it was all about. This was clear for anyone who cared to peruse the advice Chris Hipkins received from his ministry in a paper that was made available online.

Appropriately, the document looks and sounds uncannily like an examination paper. It begins: "You [Hipkins] are required to make a decision on whether to approve or decline a recommendation from the Victoria University of Wellington council to change the name of the institution."

Summarising the university's case the paper notes its: "ambition to increase its international reputation" and that the current name does not "support the international brand and reputation of the university". It "will directly affect the university's profile which in turn affects its ability to attract students, funding, etc ...". And it "can be difficult to translate (in the Chinese market)".

After that it all gets a little surreal, including an account of a meeting with the University of Manchester - formerly the Victoria University of Manchester, and you can probably see where that's going. VUM told VUC it had learnt that "two words are better than three" and that "capitalising 'the' emphasises your university is the principle university in the city".

It's about this point that the most cynical observer of politics can't help but feel some sympathy for the 120 poor sods who have to trudge through these verbal swamps day in and day out. How the name change improved the Manchester outfit's branding and international reputation I'll leave readers to decide for themselves.

In summary, however many synonyms you use - branding, reputation, prestige and the rest - the reason for the name change came down to bringing in more fee-paying students.

The criteria the minister had to use to approve the name change are commendably concise. They include: clear purpose and benefits, due consideration given to implications, consultation with affected parties and evidence of support.


They do not include: "It makes good commercial sense and will save us having to write letters to people explaining where we are".

Needing to explain to a prospective student where your university is might be regarded as good grounds for excluding that student from your institution but I guess the geographically challenged's money is as good as anyone else's.

Just as the university's arguments boiled down to money, the counter arguments boiled down to: we want the name to stay because that is its name; its never been anything else. It was a victory for tradition and common sense in the face of the mercenary motives that drive so many public decisions. For the alumni, the name is part of their tradition. They owned it. It wasn't for sale.