With the concept of an Auckland waterfront stadium back in the news, Gareth Vaughan argues the debate should be broadened out to include building a university

How about a leading global research university, based on a piece of breathtaking architecture like Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum, on Auckland's waterfront?

By Gareth Vaughan

So here we go again.

A group of Auckland business interests has come up with the latest proposal for an Auckland Waterfront Stadium.

Ever since the concept was seriously looked at by the Government in 2006, with the 2011 Rugby World Cup in mind, it has refused to die. Various others have talked up the idea over the past decade. For example, two years ago Eric Watson - he of Hanover Finance fame - was offering to invest in an Auckland Waterfront Stadium.

The latest proposal, from the Auckland Waterfront Consortium, would involve them clipping the ticket as the middleman between developers and financiers on the one side, and the Auckland Council on the other. They claim the stadium would come at no cost to ratepayers or taxpayers, but they want long term leases over public land at the waterfront and Eden Park.

The proposal is at a very early stage, despite the Consortium apparently having worked on it for 18 months. No feasibility study has been done, and nor has a proposal targeting developers and investors been put together.

And would a stadium even be the best use of that prime waterfront site around Bledisloe Wharf? Currently it's effectively a carpark, used by Ports of Auckland for car imports. This operation would have to be relocated, which would presumably cost someone - likely Auckland ratepayers - something.

An alternative idea for Auckland's waterfront that caught my eye a few years ago came from Michael Parker. Parker is an ex-pat Kiwi who lives in Hong Kong where he works as an equity strategist for Bernstein. Parker floated the idea of building a world class university on Auckland's waterfront to drive an innovation economy. He did this through a book 'The Pine Tree Paradox, why creating the New Zealand we all dream of requires a great university,' which was published in 2010.

Interest.co.nz serialised the book, did a video interview with Parker and a 'Pine Tree Paradox' two years on article. They can all be found here.

Parker argued that New Zealand needs to develop a cluster of world-class innovative companies.

"The decline in our living standards and wealth relative to the rest of the OECD has been a function of our reliance on agriculture at a time when rich economies get richer by developing ideas, not by growing trees or making wine. Accordingly, we do not need to abandon agriculture, but agriculture will not return us to the top of the OECD league tables in terms of GDP per capita," he said.

"For that, something else is required; specifically, innovation and an ecosystem to support and foster it. At the heart of this ecosystem of innovation sits a world-class research university."

Parker envisages the university being centred around a piece of breath-taking architecture on the Auckland waterfront along the lines of Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum or the Sydney Opera House.

His idea involves creating a new, private research focused university good enough to be ranked in the world's top 20, or preferably top 10, with the Auckland Council donating Ports of Auckland land with the port shifting, the government tipping in about $220 million of taxpayers' money as a statement of intent to get the building up, and an endowment fund raising about $2 million a week for 30 years to get the university to the level where it can drive an "innovation cycle" with California's Silicon Valley the model. (Remember the book was written in 2010 so the sums may be different today).

In 2011 I attended a weekend meeting in central Auckland where Parker, his book and idea attracted an influential group of business leaders, academics and others. However it appears no one has really run with the concept, whereas the waterfront stadium idea bubbles back to the surface every few months.

Doubtless, a waterfront stadium has appeal. A centrally located, roofed stadium that's easy to get to and from and offers shelter from the weather, would be nice. But how many days per year does a stadium sit empty? And what sort of long-term jobs, beyond its construction, would one create? Probably predominantly low value hospitality jobs, and work for real estate agents peddling the proposed surrounding property developments and apartments built at Eden Park.

In contrast Parker's university could create high value jobs, attract thousands of local and overseas students, be in use close to 365 days a year, and potentially offer a much greater, sustained economic fillip if it helps give birth to successful, innovative ideas and companies.

Of course both building a stadium and building a university on the waterfront come with risk. Both require buy in from, and money from, local and central government and the support of Aucklanders. Plenty could go wrong with both ideas, and that's before we get to the concept of building on the waterfront in an era when rising sea levels are expected.

But can we please broaden the debate out from just a stadium?

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47 Comments

A worse suggestion than a stadium. The last thing Auckland needs is another university. We have too many students and it costs taxpayers too much coddling youngsters for 3 years when they ought to be out making/doing things and learning how to be adult. Switzerland meets all the criteria listed for innovative businesses and individual wealth but they have half the number of students.
Second argument against is online education; to be a brilliant scientist but not bothered by getting a degree certificate then go online and absorb lectures by the world leading experts at MIT, Harvard, Oxford not make do with second rate lectures in Auckland.
Please no stadium and no university. If you suggest a plumbing and bricklaying college then I might be interested.

Yep. Building another university so close to Auckland University makes no sense at all.
And being built over the water means it would cost way more than on an inland site.
More generally, I am becoming increasingly concerned that NZ is doing more and more things that do not have positive cost/ benefit ratios.

We don’t have high profile companies to absorb the record number of graduates in NZ. People go to top universities for the education quality and employability quotient, not state-of-the-art campuses.
I wouldn’t pay for an MBA from a university based in Auckland waterfront if I can’t get placed with a bulge bracket investment bank or top consulting firm (McKinsey, Bain etc.).

Auckland is brimming with universities. This reads remarkably like yet another vanity project as David Chaston describes in his plea to do more to end child poverty.

We should build a transport network (road/rail) rather than both of them

Agree that the trend for education is towards online learning and that makes the campus less of a focus. There will still be a need for collaboration spaces but surely you'd want these close to business or industry, i.e. more campuses which are smaller, more focused and integrated with local firms.
I get the thinking though as at least with education you've got X number of students paying 20k+ per year which seems a safer economic proposition than an art gallery, say.
What about building an equivalent of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, in Singapore, with a massive pool on top shaped like a waka?

NZ could get another influential country to build the waterfront university, then NZ students could learn a more correct way.

How many companies are hiring kids straight out of high school these days?

When the bulk of the job market is accessible to kids without degrees (and companies are not being allowed to rely on importing cheaper, exploitable labour from overseas), I guess we won't have university being such a prerequisite for getting into the job market.

Is university for knowledge or the certificate? Can you get knowledge without a degree? Does knowledge always arrive in convenient 3 year chunks?

Will companies hire you out of high school if you say you learned a lot about accounting on the internet?

No they ask for the degree certificate. That is why students go to uni - for the piece of paper not the knowledge. Do accountants need to study 3 years before they can do accounting - no,

Exactly. So we need a combination of things: university to not be a prerequisite for most job interviews, the importing of a cheap exploitable worker from overseas not to be the go-to alternative, and universities to focus on legitimate academic research and high standards of academic achievement. Inflicting high fees on young Kiwis while demanding a degree as a minimum criteria to even get a job interview is not a great mix.

However...bit of a pipe dream, perhaps, when university degrees have been turned into a business in so much of the world. Might make it more difficult for Kiwis to compete. (Although a number of folk I know did an MBA later on in their professional careers to address this, as they had no other qualification.)

Depends on how you define 'accounting'. There are high school grad bookkeepers who do repetitive tasks like processing invoices and passing journal entries.
Then there are the ones who rely on an extensive body of knowledge and apply professional judgement on complex transactions (M&A, IPO) and valuations. You could expect the latter to at least commit to 3-4 years of university lectures followed by passing rigorous CA exams alongside long FT working hours.

RESEARCH university. Undergraduate students would be incidental to its mission.

"both building a stadium and building a university on the waterfront come with risk." as highlighted by this old gem from Auckland Museum!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItoXTTjjlfM

With breathtaking views and an easily accessible location, would we not want to aim to open this up to the public to enjoy as much as possible? Walking track, sun lounging zone, a wave pool... a white water world equivalent that would add to activities for locals and tourists. Just one thought for the hat.

Research sounds great. Introduce it somewhere with space to grow and create a community. South Island? Or a city that isn’t Auckland or Wellington.

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"How about a leading global research university..."

No. You don't get a leading global research university without leading researchers, and they don't come just because Frank Gehry designed the buildings or the scenery is nice.

What you'd get is another taxpayer funded safe space stuffed with foreign students, who are flush with cash, on their backdoor path to residency. You'd also get another United Front outpost or two, or three, and social justice warrior training programs where young people can learn to abhor every institution except maybe WINZ. Somewhere in there you will get a small percentage of students who actually want to do credible research. No thank you.

I don't like sports ball or fake students. What is the interest on $3 billion every week? The economics do not stack up.

A group of Auckland business interests has come up with the latest proposal [to suck the tax payer dry] building white elephants

City centre just for tourists, put a Ferris wheel like London's… What we actually need, are massive apartment complex's to house all the new arrivals, and another bridge so they can drive to the new hospital that should be built.

Yep agree enough education in Akl. Stadium and office or bust. The real question is where do all the jap imports land....

Higher education in NZ teaches outdated subject matter and propaganda at worse. Most half decent secondary education systems around the world are enabling teenagers to gain trade qualifications. NZ can't even staff their schools properly.

May as well get ahead of the game and start building factory sized soup kitchens with long rows of bunk beds.

I like the stadium concept.
In the absence of that, I'd rather that part of the waterfront become a high quality public park.

The University on the waterfront? What a dumb idea. Students are meant to have their heads in books/computers so no time to appreciate the Harbour.

Students should be located on cheap real estate or else expect to pay even higher tuition fees.

The more pertinent question is should Auckland University be moved out the City Centre? Maybe not immediately but in 10 years time it will be very relevant and we need to start planning now! Should save the students plenty in rental costs.

I'm a big fan of a city campus.

I like anything which generates foot traffic and would be a tourism magnet.
a fishmarket like in Melbourne
playground with a flying fox and miniput
some free BBQ's like they have in the Palmerston North esplanade

A giant photograph of Wenderholm. That would look lovely and be cheaper.

A park would be a better idea. Way cheaper to put in and pay for on an ongoing basis.

Yeah I have to admit that Auckland could do far more to attract tourists and generate revenue rather than relying mostly on the sliding property market.

You only need to take a look at even small cities like Victoria in Canada to see how they go about creating a successful tourist culture without having to go to any huge expenses.
Here are some examples of what they have on their harbor waterfront:-

Tasteful open air such as farmers markets selling; food, wine and local art work.
We have a few but they're all hidden away and off the tourist track. I think the nearest one is hidden behind Britmart and is very small.

I would support the idea of an Art Gallery full of resident Artists work, far better than the tacky gift shops that art currently scattered around the waterfront with Chines mass produced rubbish that suppose to represent our indigenous art. It's a shame that our local art gallery shops have been pushed to the back of Viaduct and off the tourist track.
Plus there's the Silo gallery in Wynyard Quarter which is a fantastic art space but that hardly ever gets opened up to the public and is used for one off events.

Here and example from Victoria of what we could do for our waterfront. "Explore the magic of nature in the heart of the city".
Victoria Robert Batman waterfront gallery: https://batemancentre.org/visit/

And Victoria also has these fun water taxis to help tourists find there way around the Victoria's harbour tourist sites. They also put of fun displays including ballet (Not kidding).

Victoria BC: Harbour Ferry Taxi Water Ballet
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPXEIwDc5Dc

Anyone who has been to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff will know what a fantastic asset a central stadium can be. Eden Park is situated in a residential area with all the transport issues and venue restrictions that brings. This has always been an opportunity to be grasped, but that would require vision, collaboration and a risk-taking mindset. A central stadium easy to get to could be sweated hard for any number of entertainment events and conferences and be a focal point for Auckland as an international city

Mt Smart. More central for the population. Rail and road access potentially from all directions.

Well that’s a pretty terrible idea. University rankings are a lot about prestige. Name me a top 20 University that’s less than 100 years old. How about we invest in the universities we do have? We have some of the lowest levels of per student university funding in the developed world. Ten years ago, in the 2008 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the University of Auckland was ranked 65th and
Tsinghua University in China was ranked 56th. Now some ten years later, in 2018, the University of Auckland has dropped out of the top 200 and Tsinghua is 22nd. Auckland is still in the top 100 in QS rankings but we're pretty foolish to not invest in it. Actually wouldn’t take that much to move Auckland into solidly top 50. Much less than a vanity project on the waterfront that is somehow miraculously going to attract top academics and students from around the world.

For that we may need to rethink the idea of running everything "as a business" and start running our universities with these express goals in mind. It may also mean we need to rethink the idea of running education as a visa mill and pressuring academics to pass people they shouldn't have to.

University should be well funded but difficult. Academic standards should be high. We have technical institutes and apprenticeship programs for those who cannot meet the academic standards, and we should be focusing on increasing the chances of young children to eventually meet those standards, rather than lowering standards to allow wider entry later on.

You're right. University should be seriously elitist. Most students should be doing at least semi-vocational training: plumbing, coding, law, teaching, social-work and if/when they have a strong need for abstract thinking then attend one or two university courses. The simple proof that I am right is ask any uni student if he/she has attended any lecture in a subject they are not studying. The answer is invariably 'no' so they have little intellectual curiousity but a strong desire for the kudos of being a 'student' and the piece of paper they can trade for entry into a career.

Go back to roots and try the Socratic Method, then maybe in 20 or 30 years we might have an academia worth a flash university.

Forget university, our uni ranking is not that great and the universities across the ditch is giving us grief because of their higher ranking = attract more overseas students = more revenue.
Forget a sport stadium! Lets build a new beehive so our politicians will appreciate what a pain Auckland's infrastructure is, then they can put more effort into making Auckland great again..

A stadium or waterfront park is my pick. It's north facing so would be an ideal winter time spot, especially behind glass. I like the city centre stadium idea. Under cover you could have all sorts of activities going on all year round. Perhaps with a couple of floor choices - grass & something else. They've got some pretty cool fake grasses these days. Less maintenance/watering etc. C'mon. Think Big NZ.

We should subsidise another Casino, another Sky Tower and another Stadium.
We should also subsidise another Film Studio, manned my robots, so we can make automated Films, for automated robots who will automatically work 24 hours per day, automatically sending via internet an automated mish-mash of mindless videos of mind altering future robotic acceptance of the Brave New World we will live in..and aspire to.
Packed into bunk beds, stacked 10 high. Built Sky High. the New way of Housing our progeny, whilst the robots do all the work. Automation will allow these bunkrooms to be built with built in TV/Computer and Headphones, so will be as silent as the grave, so no grave consequences, like poor children being born, as free contraceptive pills, and free Cannabis, will enable all males and females to bunk in together, with no consequences, once the Human Race dies out... Then the robots can take over from our Parliamentary Miss-management and the World will be a better place. Of course we would need a Building ladder to get to the top of the heap. This would replace the Housing ladder, State subsidised yet again to enable all rental-mental landlords to continue their invocation. Of course there will be exceptions to the rule. Rulers will need to measure just how many they need to own, to cover this dwindling population, Then they can automatically take over the dormitories and bring in outside immigrants to full-fill their life long ambition to keep the Housing Ladder...going.

I shall of course be initiating the first Block Built for TV...using State Funded means....via the Taxpayer. As per Sky City Incorporated.. 2019...A Limited Liability Company. Shares will IPO...April 1st next year...or should that be...The Chinese New Year of the Drag-on.
This is just to test the Awkland Waters.....waddya thunk. OH and Monday Holidays is the New Friday.

Actually I have another insane idea. Why let others have all the dosh.

We should build a Sears Super Store....the largest ever built.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sears-bankruptcy-lampert-exclusive/ex...

IF all things were being run well in Auckland and they clearly aren't THEN I would build Auckland's equivalent to London City Airport which is located out at Canary Wharf. I used to visit my friends who were working in the 1 Canada Square building and look down from the 30th something floor at an airport! Think of how well that could work in Auckland!

Please! No more under used stadiums and concert halls, or ugly edifices to replace the ugly status quo. No more vanity projects. Just clear the cars away plant some trees and grass the rest and maximise the views.
Stuart Mason

Get mayor Goff to send 3 billion of Auckland ratepayers money to Dunedin. Already got the stadium. And it's got the huge serious university and about to build a huge harbourside eyesore.
This is an idea with synergies. (and even got a buzzword)

If a student wanted to go to a top Asian university there are more credible options than Auckland. That isn't why they come here. I would be more interested in an Auckland waterfront that was returned to the clear sparkling blue waters it is named after, one where you could catch a 20lb snapper with a handline off Kauri Point like my father would do as a child. Why build on top of a cesspit only to attract people living in a greater cesspit? So as ours can become like theirs? .

.

Would you go and do a degree from a university in Fiji if it had a waterfront university

Not sure if it needs to be on the waterfront, but Parker is bang on the money here. We desperately need a research cluster - and RESEARCH universities often provide the hub. Glad someone has the vision. Just wish our politicians did too. More milk and tourism, anyone?

Seems to be a lot of commentors here moaning about students cannot grasp the distinction between a RESEARCH university and a teaching university.

The University of Auckland IS a research university and if it was funded better it could do even more research (and less mass teaching).