Where's the Best Place for a University?

By Michael Edmonds 12/01/2013

A  debate over whether the University of Canterbury should move back into the Christchurch CBD seems to be starting again in the letters pages of the Christchurch Press. With large areas of empty land now appearing in the CBD after the demolition of many broken buildings some local residents see this as an opportunity to move the university back into the city.  I disagree.

The current location of the university away from the central city allows for a campus with great green spaces, reasonable parking, and access to a wide variety of accommodation in surrounding areas. Talking to colleagues, this is not the case in most central city universities. Indeed, I know some overseas universities have trouble holding on to new and upcoming staff because they cannot afford central city accommodation and find long commutes a waste of valuable time.

One of the ideas driving the proposal for a move back to the CBD is that it will “revitalise” the central city but I’m not convinced by this argument. I think there needs to be a more detailed explanation of how this will “revitalise” the city. Also, it is all very well considering how moving the university to the CBD will benefit Christchurch, but will it benefit the university enough to make the move worthwhile.

Finally, it has been suggested that moving the university will cost between 1 to 1.5 billion. Surely there are better things this money could be spent on?

I would be interested in other people’s views, particularly those who have worked and studied at different universities. I’ve mainly worked and studied at “suburban” universities (Massey, Canterbury, ANU and Oulu) so might have a bias towards them. Perhaps those who have worked at central city campuses have a different perspective?

Let me know your thoughts.




0 Responses to “Where's the Best Place for a University?”

  • Having just completed my undergraduate degree at Victoria (in Wellington) I do wonder if cities the size of Christchurch and Wellington really have a large distinction between “suburban” and “central city”.

    You’re right to question if the benefit will work two ways as well, as certainly the discourse shouldn’t just be about the revitalisation of the city, but also about the benefits to both the university (as an institution) and the students (as a community). Links with business would seem to be part of the rationalisation but in cities the size of Christchurch even the “suburbs” are pretty close to where the majority of business are taking place – and even then there’s questions about where the business community will end up operating from. So much of both business, and academia are now done in virtual environments so the physical location, to a certain extent, becomes less important.

    I guess as a final point perhaps the focus on the central city is somewhat flawed. Promoting a reinvigoration of the entire region – CBD and suburbs seems more sensible. It’s nice to have one central locations that drives a physical region – but I would imagine that having activity in all areas (CBD and suburbs) would provide an environment that is more robust to the huge changes which the city is going to be going through over the next decades. Encouraging the flows of business and community between regions benefits everyone.

    I feel that putting all the eggs in one basket enhances the risks of the Christchurch rebuild not being as successful as it could possibly be.

    [and all this is before even looking at the cost of relocating the university]

    • Scott,
      You raise some good points. Victoria isn’t right in the centre of Wellington’s CBD but it is adjacent, so hardly a suburban university. Both Christchurch and Wellington are fairly small cities compared to other university cities worldwide.
      Also, before the quakes there was great concern about the central city dying off as malls took over as the main centres for people to do their shopping. I get the impression this suggested move is a knee jerk reaction to revitalise the city, a panacea that is unlikely to do what the proposers intend. We already have a city plan that puts a convention centre and various entertainment venues in the centre of the city, we certainly should not be putting all over eggs in one basket as you pointed out.

  • Canterbury Uni has taken a hell of a hit from the earthquake. I suspect there won’t be much change from the odd 100s of millions of $$ to get it back up and running. And we don’t count the loss of “university activity” here.

    Victoria is likely to be an even worse victim when a biggie hits. It always seemed crazy to expand the damn thing like tentacles through the city. The old CIT campus at Heretaunga, Upper Hutt, seems the obvious place to move it lock stock and barrel.

    But hey….it would be too far from the business and Govt centre of the “Universe According to Enzed” wouldn’t it. And what? Upper Hutt would have a property boom and Karori and Kelburn….well…..

    Disclosure: I live in Upper Hutt. No monies, goods or favours have been passed to me for writing of this response.

  • Just another one of the perfectly elastic supply of idiotic ideas that have been put forward since the quake; lets build a new rugby stadium, lets build a new convention centre, lets move the university, for no good reason. The first question I would want answered is what exactly is wrong with the current location of the university? If it isn’t broken, why fit it?

  • The current canterbury university site is excellent. Whilst damaged in the earthquakes it is coming back together. Moving the whole thing into the CBD as a means to revitalise the CBD is a costly mistake that may do wonders for the “appearance” of progress in the CBD but will do almost nothing for the university institution, its staff or its student.

    Almost certainly getting into and out of the campus will be a nighmare. There will be insufficient car parking and/or public transport.

    Eventually, the university will be overly constrained by its city-centre campus and will be unable to grow physically if it needs to.

    The whole idea of moving to the CBD seems more of a politicians idea than an institution’s one. I see a lot of benefits for earthquake recovery bodies but almost none for the university. Let us not forget the attempt to build a new music school centre on the old university in the town centre. The damage to that area is such that the plan has no got too far.

    Spending 1B dollars unnecessarily is the sort of madness that centre-right governments are meant to ignore; even a centre-left government would shy away from the fiscal imprudence.

    One wonders who is so keen on this idea.

  • Has anybody considered the idea about a Multi-Campus university? Along the lines of Victoria University, with their Law and Architecture campuses, but better. If we were to move say the STEM courses into an area of the CBD, this would create a number of positive outcomes.

    1. More space for Ilam Campus to grow/have more green area
    2. The engineering sector would be closer linked to the CBD/Rebuild and CPIT
    3. Entice more reason for a light rail system running from Ilam Campus down Ricc Road through Hagley and into the new campus
    4. Could invigorate the eastern side of the CBD

    plus more

    There has been many examples around the world of multi-campus universities being succesful.
    Could this not be a solution to both the economic? congestion? accomodation? re-vitalisation issues?

    • Its an interesting idea Ben, but one of the challenges with multi site campuses can be where lecturers and students might have classes on different campuses – which facilities to you put on the same sites, when more and more students are doing majors that can span several disciplines e.g. science and law, science and commerce etc. One only has to talk to those involved in timetabling to know that it can be difficult enough to timetable classes for one campus, let alone multiple campuses.
      On the other hand, if the education sector keeps moving to using blended/distance delivery of courses the flexibility this introduces could make multiple site campuses more viable.
      It is an interesting thought.