The relationship between students and the rest of the
Dunedin has at times been fraught, tested by couch burnings and
riots. Otago Daily Times tertiary education reporter
Vaughan Elder takes a look at how the relationship between
students and the rest of the city stacks up now.
The Dunedin City Council is happy with the way student
activities, such as the Hyde St keg party, have been
handled. Photo by ODT files.
The perception among some Dunedin people that students are
irresponsible and prone to acts of drunken stupidity is not a
In a chapter on student behaviour in his 2006 book, Culture
of Change: Beginnings at the University of Otago, Dougal
McLachlan wrote that by 1900 the common view among the
Dunedin public was that students were ''dissolute and
This perception, the author wrote, peaked before and during
World War 1, which resulted in the University of Otago taking
steps to improve the situation.
Incidents of rioting and couch burnings in the 2000s prompted
a similar response from the university and there is general
agreement the measures it introduced - including the
introduction of a student code of conduct in 2007 - have
helped reduce incidents of unruly behaviour.
It is in this environment of improved student behaviour that
the at times testy relationship has improved - with Dunedin
Mayor Dave Cull and the heads of the university, the Otago
University Students' Association and Otago Polytechnic all of
the view it was now in good shape.
Mr Cull said the relationship had always been ''pretty
good'', but in recent years it had improved to the point
where it was ''as good as it's ever been''.
''You wouldn't want even a rash of couch burnings to obscure
the fact the relationship between the city and the student
body has always been pretty good.
''For a while there, there was some overexuberant behaviour,
but that has been very much brought under control and I think
largely by self-control,'' he said.
The way students, and the Otago University Students'
Association (OUSA), had taken responsibility for improving
the situation was a big part of the improvement.
''The student body has been really responsible in the way it
has dealt with issues like the Hyde St [keg] party,'' Mr Cull
One of the trigger points for the new and improved situation
was discussion over the idea of introducing a North Dunedin
''The proposal to put in a liquor ban turned out to be a
really positive process - even though we didn't proceed with
it - because it opened up a lot of dialogue and a lot of
collective effort,'' Mr Cull said.
The university's response to some of the bad behaviour in the
2000s had also eased some of the tension.
''The university made it very clear that the reputation and
the appeal of the university to out-of-town students was very
much affected by the behaviour of the students that are
here,'' Mr Cull said.
The better links between the city, students and tertiary
institutions had resulted in some new initiatives, including
the council signing memorandums of understanding with both
the OUSA and Otago Polytechnic Students' Association.
Most people in the city were happy the students chose to come
to Dunedin, largely because of the economic benefit they
brought to the city, Mr Cull said.
''The other is simply the brightening up of the place with so
many young people. Dunedin wouldn't be anything like the
place it is without the influx of bright intelligent young
OUSA president Ruby Sycamore-Smith said a key thing that had
changed was it was now much ''easier to get in touch'' with
Students felt like they had more of a say, which was also
helped by having members on the university council, Ms
''It's important that student opinions are being heard and
they are not being shunted away,'' she said.
Students were also more engaged with the community through
volunteering and the OUSA also ran a number events - such as
gigs during O-Week and the Dunedin Craft Beer and Food
Festival - which members of the public were invited to.
Otago University director of student services David
Richardson said the situation began to improve about 12 or 13
years ago - ''about the time when we had the problem with the
''The then mayor Peter Chin was very keen to [improve the
situation], which led to the creation of a Dunedin North
Vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne said the improvement was
largely down to the relationship the university had formed
with the OUSA, the two having worked more closely together
since the introduction of volunteer student membership.
''The relationship between the university and OUSA is a
really close one and I have been really fortunate to have a
series of outstanding student experiences to work with while
I have been vice-chancellor.
''They are all people who can see what an amazing change they
can effect if they work with us,'' she said.
Otago Polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker said he had
noticed a massive change.
''I can recall when I first came there was a lot of
hand-wringing about North Dunedin and how dirty it was and
the wild student parties and it seemed like it was almost
nightly couch burning,'' Mr Ker said.
The situation had improved to a point where the city by and
large saw students as an ''asset''.