Battle lines are being redrawn over Victoria University's proposed name change.

The man who started a 10,000-strong petition against the change has called for the university's vice-chancellor to resign.

Gwynn Compton has also re-opened his petition against the education provider changing its name to the University of Wellington.

This is after the nature of the legal advice received by the university on the Education Minister's decision to decline the name change was revealed this week.

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The advice has prompted the university to consider there is a very high likelihood the Minister's decision has not been lawfully made.

Vice-chancellor professor Grant Guilford said universities had a particular responsibility to hold ministers to account if they may have behaved unlawfully.

He was also concerned about the decision's wider impact on institutional autonomy.

"We've got these two principles that we almost invariably wish to defend but against that is the obvious pragmatic issues of biting the hand that feeds you, it's not wise territory to be in."

An approach more sensitive to alumni, staff and student views on the name change would be to emphasise the word 'Wellington' in the university's branding and visual identity over time, Guilford said.

"But if we just do that we don't deal with these points of principle."

Victoria University vice-chancellor Professor Grant Guilford says there is a very high likelihood the Minister's decision has not been lawfully made. Photo / File.
Victoria University vice-chancellor Professor Grant Guilford says there is a very high likelihood the Minister's decision has not been lawfully made. Photo / File.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he did not believe he was treading on the university's autonomy.

"Institutions do have institutional autonomy but with that comes a responsibility around accountability and as I made clear in my decision I wasn't convinced that they had behaved in a way that was accountable to their local community as they're obliged to be."

Hipkins would not comment further in case there ended up being legal action.

"I've already made my decision and I'm not intending to revisit that unless I have to."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says he does not believe he's treading on the university's autonomy. Photo / File.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins says he does not believe he's treading on the university's autonomy. Photo / File.

Compton said the vice-chancellor's position to lead the university had become untenable given he continued to reject overwhelming opposition to the name change by not ruling out legal action against the minister's decision.

"I would say to the vice-chancellor that actually defending democracy and defending the overwhelming opposition to that name change is far more worth defending as a principle."

Guilford said he had to work in the long term interests of the university in the role he occupied.

"Sometimes that isn't the popular decision but nevertheless that's what I'm paid to do."

The university's council next meets on March 25.