The University of Waikato’s longest serving Chancellor is retiring

10 July 2019

The Rt Hon James Bolger’s term on the University of Waikato Council, and as Chancellor of the University, ended on 30 June 2019. He has been a member of the University Council since 2007 and has served as Chancellor for all of his 12-year term on Council.

James Bolger was a leading figure in New Zealand politics for 25 years, serving as a Minister for 16 years, as leader of the National Party for almost 12 years, and as Prime Minister of New Zealand from October 1990 to December 1997. He was the first Prime Minister elected under the MMP electoral system. His 12 years heading the University of Waikato has seen the institution progress through a period of formative change and into a new era of tertiary leadership.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Neil Quigley, said “The University of Waikato has benefited enormously from the leadership and guidance provided by Mr Bolger over the last 12 years. He has been steadfast in his advocacy for the University as well as for the need for change and new investment. His personal standing on the national and international stage has enhanced the reputation and profile of the University of Waikato. In his role as Chancellor Mr Bolger has provided outstanding service to the University and to the people of New Zealand.”

“We're growing well, we’re vibrant, we‘re very solvent as a university, we have high quality leadership – we have all the necessary conditions for success.”

Mr Bolger summarised the role of Chancellor in these terms: “The Chancellor leads a team of committed councillors whose one ambition is to advance the position of the University of Waikato, to embrace the community that is immediately around it, and then the wider world. I see the University as a centre of learning, and also of leadership. The Council’s job is to support that the work of the University, providing an independent sounding board as well as key governance functions for the organisation.”

The completion of the Law building with the associated additional space for the Waikato Management School, and the completion of the first building in the new Tauranga CBD campus has been a highlight for Mr Bolger. Another highlight is the outreach to remote communities provided by the University’s regional bus service to support students from families who have no traditional connection with the University.

Mr Bolger notes that a distinctive feature of University of Waikato is the diversity of its students. Today around 23 percent of domestic students are Māori and 6-7 percent are from Pacific backgrounds. In addition, around 17 percent of the total student body are international students from all over the globe. Mr Bolger views this diversity as a huge benefit for both the University and for New Zealand as a whole, and he expresses particular pride at the way in which the University of Waikato provides opportunities for more and more Māori students to obtain the qualifications necessary to play an even bigger role in the future guidance of the country.”

He says the relationship with the many iwi the University has within its broad area are very important. We are strengthening our relationship with iwi, building on our relationship with Waikato Tainui and the iwi of Tauranga Moana and extending iwi engagement across the whole of the central North Island.

During the 12 years that he has been Chancellor, Mr Bolger says the University has made a lot of progress in building teaching and research programmes of international quality and accepting the need to change to address the expectations of society. “Change is always challenging for big organisations, because it moves some staff out of their comfort zone, but it is essential. Universities should have the combination of intellectual knowledge and engagement with the world around them to provide leadership across the whole of society.  Universities must always be encouraged to lead especially where that leadership uncovers the folly of what went before."

Mr Bolger considers the senior leaders and academics he has been working with at the University of Waikato as being of the highest quality. “I have worked with them to move the University into another gear moving forward. That has meant some change. And change can mean some disappointment for people who are happy with the status quo. But tomorrow’s problems will not be solved by the status quo. That’s reality.”

One might imagine that leaving the Chancellor's role might free up a bit of time for Mr Bolger, but he says work seems to just come to him. “I don’t think I’ve applied for a job ever. Even when I went into parliament a delegation came to me and asked me to step forward. My local community in Waikanae has asked me to help out. Who knows who will come along and ask me to do something else.”

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