Higher education postcard: University of Otago

This week’s card from Hugh Jones’ postbag takes us to some des res on Aotearoa’s south island

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

Greetings from Dunedin!

Founded in 1869, the University of Otago/Te Whare Wānanga o Ōtākou is New Zealand’s oldest university.

Established with a grant of 100,000 acres of land (which makes it bigger than Malta and not much smaller than Barbados) it admitted its first students in 1871 and awarded its first degree in 1874 (to Alexander Watt Williamson, who went on to a career as a teacher in New Zealand). In 1874 it was incorporated into the newly formed University of New Zealand, a federal university (in line with Victorian fashions).

The other members of the federal university were university colleges, but Otago retained its designation as the University of Otago. But it was no longer permitted to award degrees. This is very reminiscent, by the way, of the kind of discussions that took place in the University of London as the member colleges gained degree awarding powers in their own right. But different times, different decisions!

Otago was the first university in Australasia to admit women to study law. The first female law graduate – Ethel Benjamin, who gained her degree in 1897 – was the first woman to appear as counsel at a court in the British empire.

The federal university was wound up in 1961, and at that point Otago once more became able to award its own degrees. Like almost every university, it has since grown: from about 3,000 students in 1961 to about 20,000 today.

The card shows the university professors’ residences. These look rather splendid, and as tied cottages go these are definitely top tier. Perhaps someone who knows Dunedin could say whether they are still there?

The card is not precisely dated, but looks to be from between the first two world wars. It was sent from Dunedin to Winnipeg, Canada.

We are in the middle of our winter. We are having terrible bad weather over here. What is it like in your part of the world?

Otago is a very southerly university. Is it the world’s most southerly university? And if not, which is? Finding out is your challenge for the week.

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