Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 9, No. 1. March 1, 1946
The recent speech by the Chancellor, Mr. Justice Smith, to the Senate, has aroused the University to a close scrutiny of its own affairs. Questions of stuff, accommodation, standards, finance, have been raised before, but never was the need so pressing as at the present time. Everywhere, University people are asking: "What must be done to raise our higher education from its present third-rate level?" Can we make this same problem evident to the whole community?
First, the indictment. The functions of a University are two-fold: Teaching and research. The teaching in the NZU is not up to the standard of many British higher technical colleges. It has been claimed, by those who should know, that the European schoolboy sitting his Matriculation knows more about his subject than our average Stage II student. Research is for the most part non-existent. Some, Honours theses, an odd professor or lecturer who publishes an occasional book, one or two outstanding men who cannot be kept down. These scraps constitute what should be one of the most important aspects of our work. In the words of the Chancellor: "The University has failed to achieve as yet any recognised standing among the Universities of the western world."
What are the causes? Chiefly, the phenomenal increase, amounting practically to double, of numbers during the past ten years. The results, admirably summarised by Professor Gordon in his forthright article to the "Listener," are understating, shortage of accommodation, lack of equipment and facilities. How much valuable knowledge can be imparted by one man to three hundred restless students, crammed into a class room where an amplifier is needed for his Voice to be heard? What chance has he of giving attention to the problems of individuals? How much time is left for research after preparing and delivering a dozen lectures a week, marking a hundred essays or examples, attending to the minor administrative work of a big department? To keep in line with similar institutions overseas, VUC should increase its staff fourfold. It needs twice or three times as much room. Apparatus and books could be increased many times.
All this boils down to one thing—finance. University education in New Zealand has always been starved for funds. There is a tradition of stinginess which has cramped much-needed expansion. Mr. Justice Smith and Professor Gordon both blame the Senate for failing in its function of acquainting the community with the needs of the Colleges. But blame also goes to teachers and students, graduates and undergraduates, who have remained complacent.
Besides this rather familiar complaint, there are perhaps other factors worth considering. How far has the high percentage of part-time students, whose time does not allow of the fullest concentration on study, lowered the standard? Would more widespread granting of scholarships (at present totally inadequate) and courses designed specially for full-time students improve the position? There have been many critics of the Federal system, with its semi-independent constituent colleges. The present arrangement, with the NZU purely an examining body, is cumbersome, and will presumably disappear. Yet it could be much improved, within its present structure, if we are prepared to learn from similar institutions overseas. Thus, for example, in the federal University of Wales, the professors in each subject visit each constituent college in turn, to lecture on their own specialties.
The Chancellor has called for a "Five Year Plan." This must be backed by even student of Victoria. The affairs of the University of New Zealand have reached a crisis. Only organised action can save them, and ensure that high standard of learning and scholarship so necessary for a modern country in a troubled world.