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The Chancellor is the formal head of the University and chairs a team of Council members in strategic decision making and oversight of the University's operations.

The Chancellor's most public role is conferring degrees and diplomas at University graduation ceremonies.


Other ceremonial and ambassadorial duties are undertaken by the Chancellor, ensuring the high standing of the University is maintained in the wider community, both in New Zealand and overseas.

The Chancellor is elected on an annual basis by the members of the University Council.

Mr Stephen J Higgs BCom(Otago) FCA CFInstD is the current Chancellor and has held this role since 1 March 2022. An appointee of the Minister for Education, he has been a member of the University Council since 2012 and served as Pro-Chancellor from 2018 to Feb 2022.

Former Chancellors of the University of Otago

Period Chancellor
1869–1871 The Rev. Thomas Burns DD(Edin)
1871–1876 Sir John Larkins Cheese Richardson
1876–1879 His Honour Henry Samuel Chapman
1879–1894 The Rev. Donald McNaughton Stuart DD(St And)
1894–1909 His Honour Sir Joshua Strange Williams MA LLM(Camb)
1909–1912 The Hon. Sir James Allen MA(Camb)
1912–1925 The Rev. Andrew Cameron BA(NZ) HonLLD(Edin)
1925–1933 The Hon. Sir Thomas Kay Sidey BA LLB(NZ) MLC
1933–1945 William John Morrell MA(Oxf)
1946–1955 The Very Rev. David Craig Herron CBE MC MA(NZ) HonsDD(St And)
1955–1970 The Rev. Hubert James Ryburn CMG MA(NZ & Oxf) BD(Union) HonLLD(Otago)
1970–1976 Thomas Kay Stuart Sidey CMG LLM(NZ) HonLLD(Otago)
1976–1982 The Very Rev. John Spenser Somerville ONZ CMG MC MA(NZ) HonDD(St And) HonLLD(Otago)
1982–1992 James Archibald Valentine BCom(NZ) HonLLD(Otago) FCA
1993–1998 Judith Olwyn Medlicott CNZM MA LLB HonLLD(Otago)
1999–2003 Sir Eion Sinclair Edgar KNZM BCom HonLLD(Otago) FCA ACCM
2004–2008 Lindsay John Brown MNZM BCom HonLLD(Otago)
2009–2017 John Francis Ward BCom HonLLD(Otago) FCA CFInstD
2018–February 2022 Dr Royden John Somerville KC LLM PhD(Otago) HonLLD(Otago) AAMINZ
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