The History of the University of Waikato

The University of Waikato opened in 1964 after many years of energetic lobbying by a group of Hamilton locals, determined to have a university in their city. To begin with, facilities were sparse, but in early 1965 new buildings were officially opened by then Governor-General Sir Bernard Fergusson. Sir Don Llewellyn was founding Vice-Chancellor.

There were two schools of study, Humanities and Social Sciences, joined successively over the years by Education, Science, and Management Studies. Waikato was the first New Zealand university to have a dedicated Centre for Māori Studies; it opened in 1973.

By the 1980s, Waikato was the fastest growing university in New Zealand. Computer Science was becoming an increasingly popular study choice and the thriving Department was elevated to a School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences in 1987.

The University always had a close relationship with its neighbouring teachers’ college and, leading the way for others to follow, became the first university in New Zealand to combine with its regional teachers’ college. It was through its teaching programmes that the University began to establish a presence in Tauranga.

Our campuses

The University of Waikato campus in Hamilton covers 65 hectares, mostly gardens and sports fields, on land owned by Tainui and leased by the University. The facilities are well used by local residents throughout the year, including the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts. The concert chamber’s near-perfect acoustics regularly attract international artists for performance and recording. The Student Centre – Te Manawa, which houses the library, provides a central meeting place for students. Work has begun on a new multipurpose hub called The Pā, which will include a marae and spaces for students to work and relax.

A new University campus in the Tauranga CBD opened in 2019. Previously, the University shared facilities with Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in the Bay of Plenty. The $60 million campus development was possible through the support and drive of the region, especially key funders Tauranga City Council, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and the Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust who all saw the need to enhance the range of qualifications and study options available to students in the Bay of Plenty.

The University of Waikato was the first New Zealand university to receive Chinese Ministry of Education approval to fully deliver degrees in China. The first cohort of students started at the University’s Joint Institute with Zhejiang University City College (ZUCC) in Hangzhou in late 2017, and enrolments continue to increase across the three Waikato degree programmes being offered at ZUCC.

The University of Waikato also has an increasing presence in Hawke’s Bay, starting to deliver qualifications with the Eastern Institute of Technology.


Many of the University’s 12,000-plus students say they like the friendly atmosphere at Waikato, where many classes are small and where lecturers are approachable and helpful.

To ensure Waikato qualifications are relevant, all undergraduate degrees have a compulsory work-integrated element that gives students an opportunity to apply knowledge and skills in workplaces or community settings.

International students number nearly 2000 and staff at the University go out of their way to ensure students who are a long way from home feel welcome and supported. Domestic students are encouraged to spend a semester outside New Zealand on study abroad or exchange programmes.

The University has the highest proportion of Māori students of any New Zealand university – 2405 in 2019. Waikato students are expected to be respectful of all cultures and all Waikato undergraduate degrees include a cultural perspectives paper.

Some notable alumni

  • Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s 40th Prime Minister
  • Lt Gen Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, former Governor General of New Zealand, and former Defence Force Chief
  • Dr Michael King, historian and writer
  • Dr Judy McGregor, NZ’s first Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner
  • Adrian Orr, Governor of the Reserve Bank of NZ
  • Santiago Cañón Valencia, cellist
  • Dr Arthur Grimes, former Governor of the Reserve Bank of NZ
  • Dr Shane Legg, Co-founder and Chief Scientist Google DeepMind
  • Dr Deborah Challinor, historian and writer
  • Judge Stephanie Milroy, Māori Land Court Judge and former Deputy Chair, Waitangi Tribunal
  • Murray Sherwin, Chairman New Zealand Productivity Commission
  • Dr Craig Nevill-Manning, former Director, New York Engineering, Google, now Head of Engineering at Sidewalk Labs New York
  • Dan Ammann, President General Motors, USA


Research is the life-blood of any tertiary institution and Waikato has established itself as one of New Zealand’s major research organisations. Sustainable development is a key focus; from an initial discovery or idea through to application and commercialisation. University of Waikato researchers lead major research projects in New Zealand and Antarctica, and contribute to national and international projects that seek to improve human health, wealth and wellbeing and, increasingly, projects to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Alongside grants from New Zealand’s key research funders, including government ministries and Royal Society Te Apārangi, the University continues to grow its relationships with private companies and industry to increase research revenue and the scale and scope of its research.

University administration

The University Council is responsible for the governance of the University, providing strategic direction and giving final approval for decisions that affect the entire University. The Council is chaired by the Chancellor.

The Vice-Chancellor, responsible for overseeing implementation of council policy, is an ex officio member of Council.

The University of Waikato has had five Vice-Chancellors.

  • Sir Donald R Llewellyn, 1964-1984
  • Dr Wilfred G Malcolm, 1985-1994
  • Bryan C Gould, 1994-2004
  • Dr Roy J Crawford, 2005-2014
  • Dr Neil C Quigley, 2015 - present