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University College was commissioned by the University of Otago as the centenary project of the University. The fund was established by the generosity of the National Mortgage and Agency Company who were soon joined by Cadbury Fry Hudson Ltd, the Dunedin City Council and the Otago Savings Bank. Other money was raised by public subscription within the provinces of Otago and Southland, by donation from the graduates of the University and by government subsidy.

Unicol Towers far away

Designed by Mr E J McCoy of the Dunedin firm McCoy and Wixon, the College was formally opened by then Governor General Sir Arthur Porrit, on 9 August 1969, as part of the centenary celebrations, and was the second mixed residential hall at the University of Otago, Carrington Hall being the first. The towers were segregated, with males in the South Tower and females in the North Tower. It was not until the 1980s that the College was fully integrated.

The first Master of University College was Mr D F Symon, from 1969 until his retirement in 1985. At his retirement a trust was set up and the D F Symon Trust Award is presented annually to the top academic achievers at the College. The second Master was Dr P I C Rennie (1986–1992). He was followed by the third Master, Dr C P M Geary (1993–1996). The fourth Master was Mr Ashley Day (1997–2007). The fifth Master was Mr Chris Addington (2007–2018). The sixth Master (Warden) was Mr Andy Walne (2019–2022). The current Warden, Pauline Donovan took up her position in 2022.

The College Coat of Arms, registered with the Lord Lyon King of Arms in Scotland, is identical to that of the University, except for the addition of a gold band around the outer edge. The College motto "Ut magis apti reddamur" comes from a Latin hymn set to music by then Professor of music, Peter Platt, for the opening of the College, and means "that we may be made more fit".

The original Constitution of University College set out as its aims "The advancement of sound learning, the development of corporate life within the University, and the fostering of social responsibility among its members." These aims are as relevant today as they were when the College was founded.

At the entrance to the College stands a copper sculpture by the distinguished NZ sculptor Mr John Middleditch . The Association of University Staff Wives gave it as the centenary gift to the University of Otago. Over the years the College has accumulated an impressive collection of art work which adorns the common spaces and main corridors.

The addition of the Forth Street Mews (Houses) took place in 1995. In 2003 an additional 107 rooms were constructed on the Clyde Street side of the Towers, and opened in time for the 2004 intake. The Annexe, as it is currently known is linked via internal walkways to the Towers and the main administration block.

"I had a great time and met so many people. I loved the formal dinners and big get-together events."

"I had a great experience making lots of friends and getting amongst Uni life. I enjoyed being in such a big hall."

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