Universities and student life for a Ph.D. in New Zealand in English Lit
October 20, 2004 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I would like to go to school (for a PhD in English Literature) in New Zealand and would very much like some advice. [more inside]

A bit of background: I have a BA from a Canadian univeristy and am currently working on an MA in England (with a dissertation focusing on aboriginal literature in Canada, cultural hybridity, and legitimacy). New Zealand universities seem to cover aboriginal literatures well (not just Maori literature) and I do think they are likely to offer programs and have supervisors that would be compatible with my interests (and, obviously, are in very attractive locations).

I've thoroughly scoured English department websites, identified but not yet contacted potential supervisors, and am continuing to research any possibility of external funding. I would, though, love some advice regarding universities in New Zealand. Which universities are well regarded (recognizing that 'reputation' doesn't mean too much but does help one get a job)? Are there schools or locations you might recommend over others? Why would you recommend particular schools/locations? How much money is required to live at a decent student-type standard in New Zealand? Or, conversely, would you recommend staying in the UK (Warwick and Durham are my choices here)?
posted by lumiere to Education (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One of my friends (who alas lacks a Mefi login) alerted me to this post thus:

"You might want to warn them to run away from Vic's dysfunctional English department unless they want to do English language, not lit."

Take that however you like. Certainly Victoria's creative writing programme has been the subject of considerable local controversy. However, looking at the staff list, I know James Meffan personally and he's a top bloke.

My limited knowledge of other NZ English departments suggests to me that they are all likely to suffer from the bitchy consequences of small size and inadequate funding to some degree.

Otago, Canterbury, Victoria and Auckland are all older and probably more prestigious than the newer universities (Waikato, Massey, Lincoln). Only Victoria and Auckland seem to have more than one or two staff whose names I recognise as local writers.

Speaking as a native of Hamilton and a Waikato graduate, I suggest that you will be bored out of your skull at Waikato and will probably prefer Auckland, Victoria (located in Wellington) or Canterbury (located in Christchurch) universities. Dunedin when all is said and done is also small, bleak and provincial.

I haven't been a student for 15 years so I'll leave it for more recent Kiwi students to answer that part. Feel free to email me at the address in my profile if you have specific local questions.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:58 PM on October 20, 2004

I'm currently enrolled in a doctorate in the English department at the University of Auckland, so I can give you a few pointers, I guess.

Probably the biggest thing to keep in mind here is that Ph.D.s in New Zealand follow the classic UK model and are entirely dissertation-based. There is no coursework component, hence no 'programs': it's all based on the thesis that you (and you supervisors) put together. At Auckland, that's a thesis of 70-100, 000 words within four years.

In terms of relative rankings, the first University league tables came out at the beginning of this year. Auckland ranked top, followed by Canterbury, Vic. and Otago, with Waikato, Lincoln, Massey, and AUT bringing up the rear. This ordering will eventually determine the percentages of government research funding that each gets, meaning that Auckland's going to get a whack-load more money over the coming decade, and those in the second half of the table will suffer somewhat. (If you want to download the 2mb pdf file that explains all this stuff, you can do so from here.)

Auckland and Canterbury, I believe, were rated the top English departments in the country. In terms of NZ and post-colonial literature, I'd say that Auckland probably has the better staff and reputation.

A few caveats, though. As spleen mentions above, all Arts departments in NZ suffer to some extent from underfunding. At Auckland, for instance, it's hard to get office space unless you're tutoring, and the place can seem a little isolating. In terms of resources and cosseting, it doesn't in any way compare to a top North American university. (Although the library's quite good.)

On the other hand, I know that the department would dearly love to increase its number of overseas students. However, the bottom line is what's best for you. If you're well organized, have a clear thesis topic in mind, and are an independent worker, it could work for you. Just be aware that it's not all LOTR down here, and that NZ cities (esp. Auckland) are a little thin on basic infrastructure like mass transit and functioning public transport.

If you want more detailed advice on the dept. and the city in general, email me.

p.s. Have you considered the University of Hawai'i at Manoa? .
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:43 PM on October 22, 2004

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