Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 3. 14th March 1973
Labour's Plans for Students
Labour's Plans for Students
Apart from the decisions not to proceed with the building of either Albany University or the third medical school, the Government has said little about its plans for university education. We searched Labour Party statements during the election campaign and ministerial statements over the last three months for some clues, but found nothing. So we asked Phil Amos, the present Minister of Education, for an interview. After the date had been postponed a couple of times, we finally got a 15 minute interview with him. When asked about the Government's specific plans Mr Amos said: "I wouldn't like to spell it out in detail here". It seems that the Government is relying on this conference to produce the policy it hasn't got at the moment. But the Minister has announced that the conference will not be held in October as proposed, but will be put off until 1974. Students and the public have the right to know the Government's ideas for education, and we intend to send Mr Amos written questions on specific areas of policy. Readers are invited to submit questions they would like to ask.
Peter Wilson, V.U.W.S.A. president talked to Mr Amos for Salient.
Salient: The idea of accountability is a much discussed one in relation to the university. It is often said the universities are not productive enough in terms of what they teach and the graduates they turn out. How do you see accountability and for whom should the university be producing?
Amos: I think the term accountability implies a far too narrow evaluation of the university's role. Obviously universities should enable students to satisfy their individual needs, educationally, but should also satisfy the requirements of society. Young people will in time be providing society with its leadership in technology, in the cultural sphere, in diplomacy, and in politics. In that sense the university has some responsibility to satisfy the needs of society but I don't see the university as responding or reacting to what some sections of society see as its needs.
Salient: "You don't see any incompatibility with the goals you set out there for the university. Many students perhaps would feel that providing for their own needs as people is incompatible with providing the manifold skills that you talk about as society's requirements".
Amos: "I think there is some incompatibility here, and I think we have to strike a compromise. The universities, generally, speaking, do this quite well, I believe".
Salient: "It seems that the Labour Govt. envisages a formal education process that incorporates children of preschool age and also allows individuals to re-enter it at a later age than is at present possible, if they so choose. The form is very comprehensive but what about the content and changes in this?"
Amos: I wouldn't be willing to spell out too much in detail here, after all we are having an educational conference next year. I don't expect it to throw up all the answers either, but I do believe it will give us some significant pointers, and we are going to rely somewhat on its conclusions. Having said that however, our policy I think spells out fairly clearly the general direction in which we are going in so far as education is concerned, or where we wish to go. We want to see education for life, and education as a continuing process brought to a reality.
Salient; An educational system is one very important means by which people become committed to the form of society around them. Has the Labour Party asked or answered the logically prior question as what form of society its educational system will reproduce in practice? What form of society does it intend that system to reproduce?
Amos: Yes, I think we have. We want to ensure that basically we live in a co-operative society. That each person can develop his or her potential, to satisfy his or her needs, but also to satisfy the needs of society at large. The two aren't incompatible if we accept the basic premise of people living in a co-operative society.
Salient: Do you believe that the society we have at the moment is in fact co-operative or do you intend to work toward the promotion of a co-operative society through changes in the educational system?
Amos: I see this as an aim rather than something already achieved. Our present society in this sense hasn't any great sense of direction, and I would see that the education system perhaps is the focus for this. No, I would agree with the implication you have made that our present society isn't co-operative in the sense that each man respects the other, that each person is tolerant of another person's needs. We tend to work in a highly competitive society in the industrial and work-a-day world sense and that there are therefore some incompatibilities with the kind of society that we see developing.'
Salient: "Do you see these incompatibilities that you speak of reflected in the education system ? It seems to me that students at perhaps all levels of the education system are showing far greater scepticism about the value of the education they are getting. If an education system is the means of socializing people into the society, does not this scepticism about the education system add up to a scepticism with society itself?
Amos: There is much in the education system that young people consider to be irrelevant or outmoded, and in the sense I believe they are telling us to re-examine first principles in education. Probably also first principles in the direction our society is going or if I could put it another way attempting to find for themselves a sense of direction, and they are asking society to give itself a sense of direction.
Now I don't think that youth today is entirely correct. I myself feet there is a good deal more relevance in our education system that some of them are prepared to concede, but I do believe that youth have a real message for us. We haven't got sufficient sense of direction, sufficient sense of national purpose in our education system.
Salient: And you'll be looking for this sense of direction from the educational development conference next year that you speak of. Does the Labour Party have any specific thoughts at present 'on direction that it would care to make public, at least at this stage?
Amos: Well, I think our education policy in our manifesto does spell out fairly clearly the kind of society we want to work towards and as a consequence of that the way in which we see our education system going, but we haven't got down to the fine print, and indeed this is largely the purpose in holding an educational development conference; to assist us further in coming to terms with the needs of tomorrow's society by utilising our educational resources.
Salient: One more question then. Most students go straight from school to university, then they get their first jobs. Many seem to lack maturity in the sense of having their past practical experience derived mainly from being in the education process Do you think students should have to spend time working between school and university, or be compulsorily excluded after their first year at varsity?
Amos: Well I see very great value in the vocational exercises that most students undertake, and this does bring them in touch with reality. I don't think a good case could be made for exclusion after a first year. I sometimes think the ivory tower image that people discuss in the university context is there, but this is not always the students' problem, or the students' fault. It's largely the university administration, I think, which is at fault here.