Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 1, No. 2. March 16, 1938
The Competitive University
The Competitive University
In an age in which the most urgent need in all human activity is co-operation, it is surprising that the University should still lay chief stress and emphasis on the individualistic attributes of originality and indepentdence. Yet perhaps this need not surprise us, for it is but the natural outcome of an individualist conception of society and laissez-faire economics.
The haphazard and unco-ordinated thesis-writing of the University that we know—held together, it may he by no more significant link than the impress of a teacher common to all the authors—is eloquent evidence or the way the university tends. To quality personally is the aim. Competition is the keynote, and the more a man can absorb the work of his fellows and erect thereon, unaided and alone, his solitary and exclusive contribution, the more highly he is praised. The unusual or unique derives from this competitive atmosphere a fanciful and unreal value. Research reaches ever higher peaks of comic puerility, so long as the quest for individual newness or topic be fulfilled.
In the realms of the sciences these strange pursuits have, indeed, richly repaid their devotees; and within this field the method may well be defended and deemed justified by its fruits. But life is not wholly—not even mainly—a question of scientific research. The need for original and Independent thinking is limited: for co-operative effort, universal. The Individualist drive to "independent" thought has quite outrun the emphasis on capacity for co-operative co-ordination. Yet in an age blighted by the chaotic legacy of laissez-faire and private enterprise, co-operation of some sort is clearly the essential instrument of change. For the academes, no doubt, cut off as they are by the very fog of their mental vapourings from a vision more extensive than the precincts of their own labours, individualism may yet be the summum bonum.
The World Outside.
But for the less befogged, co-operation remains not merely the keynote to further advance, but the pivot upon which turns the very subsistence of the society we know. Through the distorting windows of the examination house. It is all too easy to see an ill-proportioned landscape.
Utopian, of course, it would be to imagine that the educational organisation of society could be completely independent of that society in the aims and ideals activating its functioning. But just as some lag between the theoretical and the practical is inevitable, so we may hope that education may see far enough ahead to direct the change of social patterns. To foster the co-operative rather than the competitive would involve perhaps as fundamental a change in the University of to-day as can well be conceived. But it would mean that the University would be contributing more vividly and pregnantly towards moulding the shape of things to come.
The homely Illustration of local University affairs may add point. The chaotically individualistic state of Weir House occupancy should be a warning and a sign. The pathetic attempts at co-ordination in everyday student affairs are notorious. From the selective silting of secondary schools (symphonic sibilants!) come students trained to strive as teams on the field—and as Crusoes in the class-room. For such the University is hungry; to them it extends an eager but clammy hand. A few short years, and they will leave its halls, thinking atomically, acting atomically—welcome (or superfluous) cogs, ready for their place in an atomic society.
The result is observable in the activities of tory as of radical organisations, though in capitalist society the tories have the more formidable task. Given a competitive market, genuine co-operation of exploiters is an economic absurdity. On the other hand, the workers can co-operate. Yet, despite the familiar exhortation, workers of the world do not unite. This they will see no occasion to do until they are convinced of the identity of their case and cause. Yet in their potential unity—little threatened by the isolationist influences of the University—lies their true hope and the promise of a co-operative age.