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The University Council has selected Trish Oakley, the current Pro-Chancellor, as the next Chancellor

The University Council has selected Trish Oakley, the current Pro-Chancellor, as the next Chancellor. She will replace Stephen Higgs when he retires on 30 September.

An Otago alumna with a passion for education has been appointed to the role of University of Otago Chancellor.

Trish Oakley, the current Pro-Chancellor, will take up the role from 1 October and describes it as a “privilege” to be appointed.

“I have seen first-hand the impact of education and its ability to change lives. Giving back to the community of which I am an alumna is important to me.

“I am grateful to the people I share the Council table with for their ongoing contribution and look forward to continuing to work with them and our Vice-Chancellor on our strategy,” she says.

Acting Vice-Chancellor Helen Nicholson is pleased Ms Oakley has been selected by the University Council for the role.

“Trish is an experienced governor and has served the University over several years. It is good Otago will be retaining her skills and knowledge into the future.”

An Executive at Forsyth Barr, Ms Oakley has been a Council member since 2018 and Pro-Chancellor since 2022. She currently convenes the Council's People and Culture Committee and is a member of the Audit and Risk, Capital Development, Finance and Budget, Health and Safety Committee, and the Strategy and Planning Committee.

She holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Otago, is a member of the New Zealand Lotteries Commission, and Global Women. She is also a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Directors (IoD), Vice President of the IoD’s National Council, and Director of the IoD’s board.

Stephen Higgs
Stephen Higgs

Ms Oakley replaces Stephen Higgs who will retire from the University Council on 30 September, at the end of his 12-year constitutional maximum term.

Mr Higgs was first appointed to the University Council by the Minister of Education in 2012. He became Pro-Chancellor in 2018 and was appointed Chancellor in March 2022.

His highlights of the past two and-a-half years include development of the University’s strategic plan to 2030, Pae Tata, with Council and senior staff, the Council’s appointment of the Hon Grant Robertson as Vice-Chancellor from July 1, and the relationships he has built across the University.

He has particularly enjoyed what he describes as an “outstanding working relationship” with the Acting Vice-Chancellor.

Professor Nicholson described working with Mr Higgs as a “pleasure”.

“He has provided strong support and guidance during what have been a challenging few years for the University. His thoughtful and wise leadership of Council have contributed to the development of the University’s strategic plan to 2030, Pae Tata. He will be missed and I wish him well for the future,” she says.

Ms Oakley also paid tribute to Mr Higgs, saying working with him has been a highlight of her governance career to date.

“His commitment to Otago, our students and staff, his wise counsel and solutions focus has served the University well. Specifically, his emphasis around Pae Tata has created the foundation for our future efforts,” she says.

The process to select a new Pro-Chancellor will be undertaken in coming months.

Ross Jackson
Ross Jackson

To fill Mr Higgs’ vacant seat on Council, Minister for Tertiary Education and Skills Hon Penny Simmonds has appointed Ross Jackson, from October 1.

The Invercargill chartered accountant, who specialises in business advisory and governance services, is “honoured and very pleased” to be chosen.

“Being an Otago alumnus, along with our three children, gives me real knowledge of the proud history and academic excellence that Otago University provides. I look forward to contributing positively to the University Council and its future,” he says.

Ms Simmonds says she is pleased Mr Jackson will be joining the Council.

“Ross’s appointment restores the past custom and practice to have Southland representation on the Otago University Council in recognition of its wider Southern responsibilities.

“Known for his personal but effective communication, Ross has significant business acumen to bring to the table. I am confident his specialist insight in business advisory and governance services, with an emphasis on management reporting, will be highly valuable.”

*As formal head of the University, the Chancellor is central to the University’s governance and chairs the University Council. The role also involves ceremonial and ambassadorial aspects, including conferring degrees and awarding diplomas at University graduation ceremonies, and ensuring the University's high standing is maintained with alumni and the wider community, both in New Zealand and overseas.

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