Skip to main content

Otago University – New Zealand’s first founded 150 years ago

Media release: 31 May 2019

The University of Otago, this country’s first university was founded 150 years ago on 3 June 1869.

Image courtesy of MTG Hawke’s Bay, accession number 48/75

The university enrolled just 30 students on its opening day. Now some 170,000 students throughout Aotearoa are seeking higher education at university, with many more pursuing a tertiary qualification.

This country's eight universities are ranked in the top 3% in the world, encouraging their students to think critically, make global connections and contribute to solutions for the world around us.

New Zealand universities are powerhouses of research and innovation. In 2016, they accounted for about 65% of New Zealand’s basic research and 25% of applied research.

Otago University’s significant milestone encourages us to celebrate academic excellence.

Looking back

  • In 1870, the University of New Zealand was established. University colleges in Dunedin, Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington were affiliated to this overarching body.
  • The University of New Zealand remained in existence until 1961, when the four university colleges became full universities in their own right.
  • University of New Zealand examination papers were marked in the UK from 1879 until as late as 1939.
  • Women began attending New Zealand universities from early on. In 1877, Kate Edger became the first woman in New Zealand to gain a university degree, and the first woman in the British Empire to obtain a BA degree.

Further Information

Find out more about the commemorative events on the University of Otago website and check out the following:

Image courtesy of Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections (661-92)

Image courtesy of Nelson College for Girls via Hocken Collections.

Updated on 10th June 2019