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Our history

Otago is distinguished as New Zealand's first university and, in 2019, will mark its 150th anniversary, an important milestone for the University, Dunedin and New Zealand.

This will be celebrated with a year-long series of events to highlight the University's achievements, reflect on our contributions to society, engage with our community – and have some fun.

The University of Otago was established in 1869 with great vision and foresight by those who believed that education and learning would help build a just and prosperous community. They set about creating a world-class educational environment suited to life in New Zealand: in July 1871 the first students were accepted – 81 in total, taught by three professors.

Today, the University has around 20,000 students, employs more than 3,800 staff, and is a significant educational, economic and cultural force. It has over 150,000 former students and enjoys a global reputation for outstanding research and teaching.

Otago's motto sapere aude – “dare to be wise” – is as relevant now as it was when the University was founded. We hope that you can join with us in celebrating our journey so far and stand with us as we plan for the future.

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Writing a history

From poisons and potions to lodgings and landladies: fascinating stories from our first 150 years.

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Timeline

Scroll through time to explore key moments from our past. Did you know the Clocktower was clockless until 1931?

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Gallery

Explore these intriguing black-and-white photos to see how much has changed – and how far we’ve come.