Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 17, No. 1. March 4, 1953
The University of Wellington
The University of Wellington
Some years ago, in 1946, I published an article called "Administration in the University" which summarised my dissatisfaction with the conditions under which university teachers had operated for many years. My solution for all this in 1946 was for New Zealand to give up the idea of a federal university and establish an independent university in each of the four main centres.
The editor of "Salient" has asked me to give my views in 1953. This—as any politician will tell you—is a dirty trick. Members on both sides of the House have wriggled and squirmed with discomfort as members—on the other side of the House—quote from Hansard of a few years before, and the air is thick with chickens coming home to roost. You can almost feel the beating of their wings.
But it is a fair question, and I shall try to answer it fairly. From its beginnings in 1870 the disembodied University of New Zealand imposed conditions on university teachers which crippled their effectiveness. The only kind of test they were allowed to apply to certify to a student's ability was an examination. The examination papers were set in England by overseas examiners and the candidates scripts were sent on the long voyage Home for assessment. The New Zealand teacher was (like the candidate) forbidden to communicate with the examiner, who often had only the haziest notion of what was going on in a class-room or laboratory twelve thousand miles away. Examination "and teaching bore no direct relationship with each other.
Secondly, all four, widely separated, departments in each subject had to submit for approval by the University Senate a detailed pre scription for each stage of the subject. It had to be the same prescription exactly for each university college. It was inevitably a compromise. It included detailed lists of set books to be studied, text-books, and even a list of passages and pages to be known in full When a change had to be incorporated, it took two years from start to finish he, from the moment it was decided to read pages 99.200 in place of pages 1-98 until the moment when the new prescription appeared in the university calendar.
The final decision, even on this compromise syllabus, did not rest with the four departments. It was a matter for the Senate, which then as now, was largely composed of professional men who were not university teachers.
World War II finished the overseas examining. But it was not until 1951 that university teachers in Arts and. Science found themselves as a body free to teach their own programmes, without compromise, and without the necessity for approval other than by an academic body of their own colleagues. This latter is the normal state of affairs in any British university. It took the University of New Zealand eighty years to get round to it.
A purely internal teaching programme has great advantages for teacher and student alike. The teaching if directed along the lines on which the teachers feel competent and even expert. The students benefit from their closer contact with their teachers' special knowledge. Examinations still bulk large at the end of the year. But under present conditions they are more a test of students' competence, less a ticket in an overseas lottery". The lecturer, teaching his own programme, knows his students' work more closely, and at the end of the session can remember good work done in essays and the laboratory and use that to off-set a near-miss in a degree examination paper. All of these things are possible because now the Department with its own integrated programme of work is the teaching unit, as it is in a unitary university.
It should be clear from the above that some of the worst features of the federal university—from the point of view of the lecturer—have disappeared in the last year or two. The change was not made without opposition, and indeed there are still some of an older generation who would prefer examination papers to make the long voyage Home again and every college to be conforming pretty rigidly to a similar programme. But the separation of Department from Department has been so beneficial that no one within the university would think of returning to the old system.
Since 1946. then, there has been a great change for the better in teaching conditions. It extends to other activities than prescriptions and examining. Money is short. There are many things we should be doing, and would do if we had the cash, more student counselling, more tutorial work, better library services, more expert specialised teaching for advanced students, better amenities for students. The list is endless, and a hose of us who know other universities often feel ashamed of how-little a student gets at Victoria. But the students of 1946 got less, a lot less. We move slowly. But we move.
Would we—staff land students—be any better off if we had our own University of Wellington, and were not simply a constituent college of the University of New Zealand?
I think the answer is "Yes." But it is not an unqualified "yes." I have already shown that the University of New Zealand has shown itself capable of adaptation. If the university, under wise guidance, can continue to adapt, without delay and without clinging to outmoded powers, it has a long life ahead of it. But unless the university can shape Us policy promptly to meet the needs of the colleges (which, after all are the university) the day of separate universities is very close at hand.
The university is the teacher and the student. Everything else is nonessential. But the university is part of the general community, and more and more it is the community at large that pays. When it comes to all-over planning on a national scale, especially on problems involving financial commitments for the future, then the Wellington unit (be it university or university college) must be regarded as only a part of the general university framework. Whether Victoria becomes legally independent or not, there will continue to be need for some organisation that can act as a clearing-house for the general planning of the finance or higher education. If four universities grow up in New Zealand, they will have to have a self-denying ordinance, to ensure the fullest discussion and co-operation before beginning any expensive new programme. Without that, we might have four, starved medical schools, four ill-equipped schools of engineering, and perhaps even four schools of Home Science. Common-sense will impose some sort of discipline. But it is amazing how common-sense disappears in an atmosphere of intercity rivalry. All sorts of people will rally round to support a post graduate School of Pig-Breeding for Waikikamukau, who will be the first to protest when taxation has to be raised to support the school they so loyally supported in its pipe-dream (and cheap) stage.
The University of Wellington
If my answer to the question an independent university for Wellington is a bit more [unclear: equvocal] than it was in 1946. it is only because I am interested in what things are and not what things are called. Let me quote what I wrote in 1946: "What, after all, is a university? A university is not a piece of administrative mechanism. A university is essentially a home of scholarship, fostered by the two-fold activity of teaching and research. It is a community of scholars." If Victoria can be that, I do not really mind what you call it. It wilt, in fact, be a university. Meantime—for how long depends on its ability to act quickly and adapt readily—the University of New Zealand is a useful framework. It provides an easy mechanism for getting colleges together. It has powers, through the University Grants Committee, to negotiate for funds on behalf of all the constituent parts. So long as those directing the policy of the University of New Zealand regard it as a kind of super-service-station for the colleges, where the real university work in done. It has a valuable part to play. But if at any time it becomes thought of as a separate organisation with a life of its own independent of its parts. It is inevitable that the real universities must take over the name as well as the function.