Before the arrival of Europeans, there were several important whare wānanga (schools of learning) in Waikato, including one at Whatawhata, and another at Kuranui, south-east of Matamata.
From the 1830s missionary schools for Māori taught reading, writing and manual skills. These schools closed during the 1863–64 war and, after that, schools for children of military settlers opened. Private and religious schools also emerged from the 1860s.
Public schools were set up by the Auckland Education Board in the bigger towns from 1877. However, apart from failed attempts to establish district high schools at Hamilton and Cambridge in the 1880s, there were no public secondary schools in Waikato until Hamilton High School began in 1911.
Schools spread from the 1920s, and a post-1945 population boom necessitated more state primary, intermediate and secondary schools, especially in Hamilton. From the mid-1980s kura kaupapa (Māori-language immersion schools) were set up – in the 2010s there were around 10 in the region.
Technical and tertiary education
Hopes that the Ruakura farm school would become a major training centre were dashed when Massey Agricultural College opened in Palmerston North in 1926. However, the Hamilton Technical College, a combined secondary, night and trade-training school, flourished from 1924.
In 1968 the Waikato Technical Institute opened on the central-city site of the technical college, which, renamed Fraser High School, moved to the suburb of Nawton. After several name changes and the introduction of degree courses, the technical institute became Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec). In 2009 it had 27,367 students, three campuses in Hamilton, and others around the region.
Research into mānuka honey has been a sweet success story for the University of Waikato’s chemistry department. In 2009 researchers discovered how the honey’s antibacterial ingredient, methylglyoxal or MGO, develops. They have patented a test to predict whether a batch of mānuka honey will develop antibacterial properties, which will be available to industry through the university’s commercial arm, Waikato Link.
A branch of Auckland University opened in Hamilton in 1960, becoming the University of Waikato in 1964. In 2014 Waikato University had around 12,000 students and a separate campus at Tauranga. It had strengths in sciences, education and management studies, and a strong Māori focus. Hamilton Teachers’ College began in 1960 and later shared the university campus. It is now part of the university’s School of Education.
The Waikato-Tainui Endowed College at Hopuhopu opened in 2000, focusing on administration programmes and research on Waikato-Tainui history.
Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, a Māori-run tertiary education institution, has campuses in Te Awamutu, Hamilton, Huntly and Tokoroa, and in other regions.
In 1864 Hamilton had a hospital but, like other military facilities, it closed after a few years. For several decades there was no Waikato hospital. When government hospital districts were defined in 1885, Waikato was divided between the Auckland and Thames districts. After local activism, the Waikato Hospital Board was established in 1886, and the following year a hospital opened in Hamilton. Capacity increased steadily, with a major building programme in the 1960s. Nurse training expanded, and health became one of Hamilton’s biggest industries. In the 2010s Waikato Hospital was a 600-bed regional base hospital offering specialist services to Waikato, Coromandel Peninsula, the King Country and Rotorua.
Other health services
Small cottage and maternity hospitals opened in other Waikato towns. In the 2010s the Waikato District Health Board operated a 21-bed hospital at Tokoroa, geriatric hospitals at Te Awamutu and Morrinsville, and community bases in other towns. Raukura Hauora o Tainui provided community health services to Māori in north Waikato, Hamilton and South Auckland.
Te Waikato Sanatorium
In 1903 the government bought a large residence on a hilltop near Cambridge, and converted it into a tuberculosis sanatorium. After the First World War convalescent servicemen were cared for at Te Waikato Sanatorium, but high running costs forced its closure in 1922.
Tokanui psychiatric hospital opened in 1912 with a few patients transferred from Porirua Hospital (near Wellington), and grew rapidly. In the 1960s Tokanui was one of the largest such institutions in New Zealand, with more than 1,200 patients and hundreds of staff. Praised for its innovative therapy programmes but criticised for overcrowding, Tokanui closed in 1997 as part of a government policy to abolish large psychiatric institutions. That year the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre, a mental health unit at Waikato Hospital, opened.