Should we stay or should we go?

20 May 2011

Location, location location. UC Vice-Chancellor Dr Rod Carr puts the case for the University remaining in Ilam.

Should we stay or should we go? - Imported from Legacy News system

An aerial view of UC.

Location, location location. UC Vice-Chancellor Dr Rod Carr puts the case for the University remaining in Ilam.

More than 60 years ago a decision was made to relocate the University of Canterbury from its town site to a new site at Ilam. That decision was taken for a number of reasons, not least of which was the fact the University had outgrown its land and buildings, and post-war projections of growth and prosperity forecast not only increasing demand but an increasing willingness and ability to pay for higher education.

It took more than 20 years to complete the relocation, which was fully implemented over 35 years ago. Today the 87ha University campus services more than 20,000 staff and students. Seventy-two per cent of the University's students live within 2.5km of the campus. Eight thousand rooms are clustered in 240 separate structural spaces with a depreciated book value of more than $525 million and a replacement cost in the billions of dollars. It was only last year that the proposition of relocating even a small part of the University - the School of Music - to be closer to the passing audiences and heritage buildings of the old University site in the central city lead some to argue that any splitting of the campus would detract from the integrated campus and learning community at Ilam.

Since the earthquakes, the question has been raised by some as to whether the University should up sticks and head east to infuse the struggling area within the four avenues with vitality. Relocating the University is not the answer. Firstly, the University has not run out of space where it is. UC has more land and built infrastructure per student than the average New Zealand university. Our facilities are not as fully utilised as they should be.

Secondly, the University buildings did not fall down or even suffer significant structural damage in the earthquakes. Yes, there is remediation work to be undertaken over coming years, but more than 220 of our 240 separate structural spaces will have been certified for general occupation by the end of May.

Thirdly, a detailed assessment of the state of our buildings pre-earthquakes showed the vast majority of the space to be of above average quality. Buildings such as Commerce and Law were built in the 1990s and the $10 million NZi3 building, $32 million biological sciences building and multimillion dollar primary data centre are all less than three years old. Yes, there are some older spaces ready for refurbishment in Science and Engineering, but this will represent a fraction of the cost of rebuilding substantial buildings.

Fourthly, it makes no economic sense to abandon special-purpose infrastructure that is not damaged at a time when the economic demands to replace damaged infrastructure are so great. Besides, shifting the economic activity generated by the University and its students to another part of town does nothing to increase the total economic activity in the city. Our focus should be on attracting 5000 more students to study in Christchurch, not on shifting the current activity 10km to the east.

Finally, the University must focus on recruiting and retaining students, supporting staff and their research efforts and reassuring potential collaborators and stakeholders that the University is fully operational. Talk of relocating the University has the potential to be an enormous distraction.

So what might attract the University to locate some activities within the four avenues? The University would welcome the opportunity to support the creation of a world-leading research and teaching medical complex to support the million people who live in the South Island. A postgraduate medical school, the training of allied medical professionals and development of advanced applied medical technologies should be focused in what is known as the Central Business District but may in future be known as the Centre of Advanced Applied Medicine.

It may also make sense to locate sports and recreation facilities in proximity to the existing stadium and health sciences, which are not unrelated to sports science, may also be considered.

In its draft campus master plan, the University identified its desire to provide facilities for music on its Ilam campus and to enhance the sports and recreational infrastructure to support health, lifestyles and wellbeing for its community. As these plans are progressed they should not be seen as in conflict with the needs of other communities that constitute the greater city of Christchurch.

The University does not seek and cannot afford to replace the Town Hall, Convention Centre, QEII Stadium or Arts Centre but will develop arts, cultural, entertainment, recreation and retail activities of appropriate scale to support its vibrant community and wider neighbourhood. We will do this mindful of, and in association with, the wider city and the emerging vision of the area which formerly housed many businesses but may, in the future, be home to medical, recreational and sporting facilities the city and region could become renowned for, and where relevant research and teaching is co-located and employees and students choose to live. That vision does not require the University to relocate but merely to be convinced, as it reaches out, that there is a real opportunity to be grasped.

Dr Rod Carr, Vice-Chancellor, University of Canterbury

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