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The University, established in 1964, grew out of an antecedent institution called Massey Agricultural College. The College evolved from developments at both Victoria University College and Auckland University College in the 1920s.

The first Chair established in the College of Sciences is named after Sir Walter Clarke Buchanan, whose contribution towards the founding of a Chair in Agriculture at Victoria University College led to the appointment of Professor G. S. Peren as Professor of Agriculture in 1924. A bequest from Sir John Logan Campbell led to the creation of a Chair in Agriculture at Auckland University College, to which Professor W. Riddet was appointed in 1925. The present Chair in Food Technology commemorates this benefaction. Two Schools of Agriculture were initially established, and in 1926 it was resolved by a committee of both Colleges that the Schools should be amalgamated and their combined resources devoted to the establishment of a single institution in the Manawatū. This decision was implemented by the passing of the New Zealand Agricultural College Act in 1926 and by the purchase of the Batchelar estate on the south side of the Manawatū River near Palmerston North. In succeeding years the College acquired several adjoining properties as the need for farm land and building sites increased.

The College was renamed in 1927 after William Ferguson Massey, a former Prime Minister, by an amendment to the Agricultural College Act. In March of 1928 Massey Agricultural College was formally opened. Professor Peren became Walter Clarke Buchanan Professor of Agriculture and Principal of the College, and Professor Riddet became Logan Campbell Professor of Agriculture and Director of the Dairy Research Institute. There were other staff appointments in Soil Chemistry, Agricultural Botany, Agricultural Economics, Livestock and Veterinary Science, Agricultural Zoology, and Bacteriology. The College offered courses leading to the degrees of Bachelor of Agricultural Science and Master of Agricultural Science of the University of New Zealand. It also offered a variety of shorter courses in aspects of farm management and technology leading to College diplomas and certificates. Eighty-four students enrolled in the first year.

The history of the College for the next 25 years was one of consolidation as a residential agricultural college, steady expansion of these teaching programmes and development as a research institution in cooperation with the New Zealand Dairy Research Institute and units of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. For 14 years following the School of Agriculture Act 1937, Massey Agricultural College and Canterbury Agricultural College at Lincoln constituted the New Zealand School of Agriculture under the direction of a joint Council that coordinated their activities, although each College retained its own Board of Governors. This Act was repealed in 1951.

The post-war period was marked by the introduction of degree courses in Horticulture in 1948, as well as the acquisition of approximately 200 acres to the immediate south in 1946. “Wharerata”, a large homestead set in 16 acres of garden and bush, was added in 1951 following the addition of the farm known as “Tuapaka” near Aokautere in 1948.

In 1960 a branch of the Victoria University of Wellington was founded in Palmerston North on a 30 acre site at Hokowhitu and nearby Caccia Birch House. Extramural courses were offered throughout the country in selected subjects and tuition provided to Arts students in the Manawatū area. After the dissolution of the University of New Zealand at the end of 1961, Massey College elected, in terms of the Massey College Act of that year, to associate itself with Victoria University pending the assumption of full autonomy. This association was retained in the Massey University College of Manawatū Act 1962, which amalgamated Massey and the branch of Victoria University as from 1 January 1963, the latter becoming the General Studies Faculty of the new institution. By virtue of the Massey University of Manawatū Act 1963, the University was granted autonomy and degree-conferring powers as from 1 January 1964. The ten degrees listed in the Schedule to that Act are symbolised in the gyronny of the University Arms. Amendments abbreviating the name to Massey University were passed in 1966.

These developments, coinciding with a programme of curricular expansion initiated in the late 1950s, led to the establishment of many new departments and to a substantial increase in the number of teaching, research and technical staff. First-year science courses were introduced in 1958. Students working in agricultural degrees had formerly undertaken these prerequisite studies at one of the four colleges of the University of New Zealand. The Faculty of Technology was established in 1961 and the Faculty of Veterinary Science a year later. In 1965 the Faculty of Science was founded, where work continues to be concentrated on the biological sciences. In the same year General Studies was organised into two new Faculties, Humanities and Social Sciences. These were consolidated on the main site in 1968 and the Hokowhitu property was made available for the development of the Palmerston North Teachers’ College, which was initially established in 1956 at another location. To coordinate the expanding graduate and research activities of the University, a School of Graduate Studies was created in 1969. Business Studies courses, directed by a Board of Studies, were first offered in 1971, and in 1972 joint teacher education and cooperation between the University and Palmerston North Teachers’ College was formalised by the creation of a School of Education. Business Studies and Education are now both Colleges.

A School of Aviation was established in 1990. In the early 1990s, further schools were formed in Applied and International Economics and Mathematical and Information Sciences. In 1994 the latter became the Faculty of Information and Mathematical Sciences. For much of its work the University has national responsibilities; for instance, in agriculture, veterinary and extramural education. For other purposes, such as extension work and school accreditation, the University region is defined to the north by a line running from Waitara to Wairoa and to the south by a line running from the Waikawa River through to Mount Bruce. As the scope of its activities has broadened, the University has maintained since 1963 an extensive building and development programme designed to preserve as much as possible the semi-rural character of the campus; additional farm land has also been purchased during this period.

In 1996, Massey University merged with the Palmerston North College of Education and in 1997 the first College was established: the College of Education comprising the University Faculty and the former Palmerston North College of Education. Later in 1997 the following Colleges were established: the College of Business, comprising the former Faculty of Business Studies, the School of Aviation and the School of Applied and International Economics; the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, comprising the former Faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Sciences, comprising the former Faculties of Science, Technology, Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences, Information and Mathematical Sciences and Veterinary Science. In 1999 the College of Design, Fine Arts and Music was formed as the result of a merger with the Wellington Polytechnic. In 2005 Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music (NZSM), was formed by collaboration between Massey University and Victoria University. The College of Design, Fine Arts and Music was renamed College of Creative Arts. NZSM ceased to be a joint venture between the two universities on 1 July 2014, at which time Victoria University purchased the assets of NZSM Ltd. In 2013 the College of Health was established, and the College of Education was re-designed as the Massey University Institute of Education within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Massey University’s total roll in 2018 was 30,296 comprising 5,859 internal/block mode students at Palmerston North, 7,192 at Auckland and 3,028 at Wellington, as well as 14,217 distance educational students*. The continuing development of the University is also reflected in the growing number of research and service units and of student halls of residence on the campus and adjacent sites. Descriptions of courses of study, research activities, departmental interests, halls, farms, the library and other general facilities available at the University are given in later sections. Reference may also be made to other information booklets published by the University.

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