Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 36, No 11 May 30th, 1973
'Higher Education' — One Student's View
One Student's View
The general experience of disillusionment and oppression among students was exposed last term when the Union Hall was packed for the discussion: 'Why am I pissed off with this place?' The discontent expressed there signifies that it is time the furtive mumblings of dissatisfaction of students, and increasingly staff, were brought to a head. It is imperative that all parties involved with University education should begin now to radically reform the present system. I will give here those principles and aims which I am convinced are the proper ones for a true University education.
We students are very much aware of the difference between what is imposed on us by the present university educational system and what we want from a university education. The difference lies in this, that we are expected to absorb great amounts of detailed knowledge from the very start while we ourselves want the chance to develop our ability to think independently, to broaden our minds, to examine more general elements of knowledge, so as to reduce to some order and meaning our existence, our human condition. We want time to digest the information we receive so that it becomes a personal and permanent possession.
The true end of university education is not learning in depth but rather the exercise of one's own mind, one's own reason upon the knowledge and opinions received from others. It is the child who learns passively, committing to memory, accepting from another without personally examining the matter. But this is not good-enough for the adult.
The mark of a mature person is the presence of an open mind, the ability to be resourceful in thought, the ability to judge and evaluate. This is much needed if the person is to rise above systems, popular movements, the persuasive touch of mass media. The adult has to examine and criticise instead of numbly absorbing.
Professor Philpott would have us believe that the University system succeeds when it trains the student in application and research. But such a system is degrading for a rational being. Intellectual development is not mere application, nor the reading of many books, nor the swotting of subjects to infinite detail, nor nothing really by their anxious work, except perhaps the habit of application.
However, when our university develops the intellectual attributes of the students' personality it is being useful even in the most functional sense. When the student gains the discipline and habit of determined, sustained and demanding speculation and original enquiry his/her professional or technical duties will be aided immensely. The person who has learned to think and reason, who has formed personal judgements, will not immediately be a good lawyer, carpenter, teacher, but will be able to exercise those professional, trade duties with greater case and versatility than others.
Before I go on I have two points to raise with the Education Liberation Front. Going by their statement in Salient a number of weeks ago, they work for the destruction of the university. But it seems to me that if we do not destroy but correct the distortions in the university system we have a gone a fair distance toward changing society as a whole. The other point is that in demanding principally may be narrowing their sights themselves. A person narrow in his/her interests becomes a subordinate part of some powerful machine. First, gain that intellectual approach of striving to understand man, to grasp human values and qualities, then apply self to study of relevant subjects. Basically education should tend toward personal enjoyment.
We owe our daily welfare to the useful, to mechanical skills. But this is not what we are basically seeking. Eventually we want to apply ourselves to some profession or trade. Only when a student has the ability to speculate, think independently is it worthwhile going on to a specialised study. Specialised study from the start defeats the principal purpose of the university. It narrows the student's [unclear: i]: terests too soon. Always, professional or other training has a secondary status in a university.
When the specific requirements of a profession are more highly valued than free and independent thought both [unclear: th] individual and society lose out. A student is then moulded by the profession. And knowledge should not be assessed according to the demands of a the attendance at many lectures. A person may do all these but still not be able to discriminate between truth and falsity, to sift and arrange ideas according to value and build up his/her own ideas.
Therefore university education is not the reception of facts, items of information but the mind's energetic and simultaneous action upon those facts and the pursuit of those ideas aroused by them.
At the moment what the machine does with factors of input, the university does with our minds — it acts mechanically on people who are too passively, almost unconsciously, enlightened by the stamp of mere 'factual' statements or approved ideas.
It would be better to have the university as just a meeting place than an institution which gave degrees to anyone who passed examinations in a certain number of subjects. The first set-up would have more success in helping a person develop, in broadening his/her mind, and in fitting that student for future life. Better for we young people to freely mix together than to have lecturers with no opinions which they dare express.
Some insist that education should be confined to the achievement of a certain amount of work that can be weighed and measured. They argue as if every person, as well as everything, had its price — that where there is a great outlay one has a right to expect return in kind. For these people university education is simply to further the nation's industrial and commercial economy, to develop agriculture and more technical services.
But our universities don't even fulfil this purpose for they fill our minds with a considerable amount of trash which is never thought about or used again. We know that we ourselves or our friends are being ill-used through being forced to load their minds with a mass of details solely for examination purposes, who have too much on their hands to indulge themselves in thinking or investigating, who are made to devour information without authenticating it, who hold the principles of whole subjects on faith, who commit masses of information to memory, who too often. As might be expected, when their time of so called education is finished, throw away in disgust all that they have received, having gained scientific, technological and specialised society. Get scientific, technical or industrial organisations themselves to assess graduate students according to their own requirements.
Moreover a person cannot be narrowed down to being just a good economist, teacher, industrial chemist or whatever. The person has to be a friend, a husband or wife, an acquaintance of many, a citizen at large, a person with leisure time. Professional training ought not reign supreme to the detriment of all other personal abilities. It is only secondary.
In the application of these principles of university education I will try to be specific. To give the student the means to develop him/ herself, broaden his/her experience and out-look, there could be at least a formal two year introductory stage of university studies. In this period subjects such as classical history and literature, philosophy, religious studies, current affairs, women's studies and English and foreign literature could be studied. History and the humanities, freed from a mass of detailed information, lend themselves to introductory studies also.
It is going too far to say that a narrow-mind is one which contains little knowledge and an open mind arises from a great deal of knowledge. University education is not for the expansion of knowledge primarily. But broadening one's mind presupposes knowledge-requires much reading, having a wide range of information — allowing the student to put forward opinions. Much exchange of information and opinions within the university and outside it is necessary.
More specialised study would be undertaken after the introductory stage at will. The student, should have, of course, learnt to think independently to express personal views.
This suggested system of university education would lengthen the time spent at university. But this is not so important these days because this is an era of greater leisure and we young people because we mature intellectually and emotionally later, need more time to consider our future profession or activity.
Another practical application is the enlargement of the range of studies for the sake of the students. Even though not all subjects can be individually pursued we students will gain by learning from one another.
The participation of all, to a far greater degree, must feature in the whole learning process.
Unless we students can free ourselves of the present useless drudgery and what amounts to insulting degradation we would be better off outside the university system where we can cultivate our independence of thought and indulge our desire to get to the roots of matters of concern.
Still, I maintain, however, that the university has much going for it. But we can't wait 13 or 14 years for change as Professor Clark could. So we should give the university our support by demanding immediate top-level discussion on university reform.