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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Personal Volume

University Education. — Supplement to "N.Z. Journal of Education," April, 1917. — Address by Sir Robert Stout, Chief Justice, Chancellor of the University of New Zealand, delivered before the Congress of the New Zealand Educational Institute at Wellington, 5th January, 1917

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University Education.

Supplement to "N.Z. Journal of Education," April, 1917.

Address by Sir Robert Stout, Chief Justice, Chancellor of the University of New Zealand, delivered before the Congress of the New Zealand Educational Institute at Wellington, 5th January, 1917.

My time is limited, and I must therefore, without any introduction, plunge in medias res. I am to speak of our University Education. The first question that must be considered is: What is the position of our University? It is (a) a Federal Institution, and (b) it is a Secular Institution. I think we must clearly apprehend these two things before we can speak about its functions.

There are four teaching University institutions in our Dominion—one at Auckland, one at Wellington, one at Christchurch, and one at Otago. The functions of the University are limited. It has nothing to do with the administration of the teaching institutions. It grants degrees, awards scholarships, and gives certificates. The Colleges may teach how and what they please; their individuality cannot be interfered with by the University, and if there is a failure in our teaching in University subjects, the blame cannot be cast upon the New Zealand University. For many years to come, in my opinion, we must have the present system of a Federal University, and four or more teaching Colleges. New Zealand has not the population nor the means to have four or more complete University institutions. I recognise that amongst English people it is always difficult to maintain federalism in any form. There is for ever a struggle for what has been called central or unity government. We saw this in New Zealand when our Provincial system was abolished. It was a federal system. It had its imperfections, no doubt, but it was swept away, and no local institutions substituted for the Provinces. This is not surprising when one remembers that federalism seems foreign to English people. In Australia, federalism is being tried, and though it has only been established since the beginning of this century, there is already a struggle in progress to weaken the federal institutions—the States. Bit by bit it would appear as if the Central Government was obtaining more power. It may be that one of the causes of the continual unrest in Ireland, and the continued struggle for Home Rule, were caused by the want of the federal idea amongst English people. Federalism succeeds in Switzerland; it has also succeeded in America, and there are cravings now amongst many people for some kind of federalism to be applied to the British Empire.

Next, we have to consider that our University is a secular institution. It has nothing to do with the differing and different religious opinions of the people. It must, therefore, steer clear of recognising distinction in theological matters. It cannot give theological degrees. Were it to give such degrees, the Colleges would have to become teachers of dogmatic theology, or .else denominational Colleges would have to be affiliated to the New Zealand University. This would mean the destruction of a national system of education, and the inauguration of a denominational system. We know what denominational systems have done in the past for education, and how in the countries that have exalted theology and theological training, that secular training has not been effective. I need not give illustrations.

Our University can no doubt influence the training which is given in Colleges by giving degrees and certificates on certain requirements. The framing of a syllabus for our degrees will influence to a considerable extent the teaching in the Colleges, but unless degrees are required, there is no interference whatever with any teaching that the Colleges may think necessary for their students. They are free to do as they page 2 please. There was a time in some countries when degrees were considered of little value. What was considered the main thing was the education received, and Colleges may now give certificates of their own for success in any studies. This has been done in the past in Otago in the Mining School, and in Auckland in the Music School, and perhaps in agriculture in the Agricultural College at Lincoln.

The question of education is now being debated throughout our Empire in a manner in which it has never been considered before. In England, in Scotland, in Ireland, and in the Colonies there is widespread discussion regarding our future education. Is our education the best suited for the people? That is one question asked, and how is it to be developed or improved is another question asked. The University teaching institutions have to provide for two things: they have to give the highest education possible to our sons and daughters, and, second, they have to attempt to fit them for their social, political and industrial life. Necessarily, they have to deal with fewer students than those who enter our primary and secondary schools. We have to recognise that there are many of our young people unsuited for higher studies. To keep them attempting to study in our Colleges would be a waste of their energy. They are fit for social and industrial life, but may be entirely unfit for the study of the highest education. The unfit are found amongst all classes in the community; some are the children of poor men, some are the children of rich men. It is not a question either of physical health or endowment, or of material endowment, by having wealthy parents. It is a question of individual ability. How can you separate those who are fit to benefit by the highest education and those who would be wasting their time in attempting to attain it? In my opinion you can only do so by examination. If a boy or girl is fit to obtain and to utilise the higher education, the halls of learning should be open to him or her, and if he or she is not fit, it is a mistake to attempt to teach those not fitted for higher studies. This was recognised hundreds of years ago. John Knox, when he was dealing with national education, pointed this out. He desired that those who were fit for University education should be trained in what we term the highest study, and those who were not fit should seek public service in other directions. And what has been said about University students may also be said about boys and girls enter-ing secondary schools. There is no use in sending a boy to study secondary school subjects if he is not fit to do so. It is a waste of his time and a waste of energy on the part of the secondary school teacher. If, however, children are fit for secondary schools, or fit for University institutions, in my opinion the education for those who are fit should be just as free as it is for the primary school.

The next question is; What are the subjects that will have to be taught in our Universities? There is a great contest going on at present between those who desire a literary education to be made pre-eminent and those who desire a scientific education exalted. There are also some who desire what may be called a vocational education, that is, that all the teaching should have for its aim and object not so much the training of a man or a woman as the training of a person for some special vocation in life. Controversy regarding these three aspects of education—the literary, the scientific and the vocational—is taking up much space in educational journals.

Dealing with these three, it will have to be recognised that the highest object of education is the teaching of a person to be an efficient member of society. We should expect each member of society to be engaged in the service of man. He or she must never forget that he or she is a member of a society or community, and that the community looks to all its members to be efficient, and to have as their ideal of life the service of man. We cannot, in my opinion, when a student enters the University, determine what the vocation of the student must be. He or she may change his or her vocation from time to time. We have, however, to make provision for some vocational training. Some students will aim at being professional men, and some must be prepared for industrial work. We need skilled captains of industry. We will require, so long as we have war in the world, efficient warriors. We have to make preparations for such vocations; but at the same time we should never forget that if a man or woman has a good literary education or a good scientific education, vocational education is far more easily obtained than if there had not been this prior literary and scientific training.

The educational outlook has changed within the past century. We now recognise that people may be highly trained and become great scholars who may not be linguists. At one time literature dominated us, and the page 3 requirement of languages—of dead languages mainly—was looked upon as perhaps the sole test of scholarship and of intellectual eminence. That day has passed. The number of subjects in higher education is large, and we cannot do what was done in the past—confine the attention of our students to four or five subjects, and give degrees to those who excel in those subjects only. Our programme of studies must be wide; we must provide for rewards of excellence to those who excel in different branches of learning. Step by step this is being recognised, and the recent proposals that have been made in New Zealand are in the direction of a greater freedom in selecting courses of studies by students. We will not compel a pass in Latin or Greek or Mathematics; all that will be asked in the future will, I believe, be that there is some proof of literary excellence, or some proof of scientific knowledge; in fact some proof by examination of the student having been intellectually trained. If we recognise this, the question will arise: Can a man be said to be intellectually trained who knows nothing of the methods of modern science? I do not think so, and, in my opinion, we will have to insist that at some time in the career of every student who desires recognition by a University he must show that he knows something of scientific method and of the scientific outlook of the universe. I would not consider any person entitled to a degree in a University who knows nothing about the doctrine of evolution, and who knows nothing of the world in which we dwell. This scientific training can be got, no doubt, from the study of different sciences, from biology, or from chemistry, or from astronomy, or from geology, or from mental science, etc. Some scientific training will have, I believe, to be compulsory. So also there ought to be some proof before a person gets a University degree that he is able to use his own language as an instrument of thought, and of utterance, and perhaps some other language so that the grammar of a language may be thoroughly appreciated.

There must be an opening for vocational courses such as a student may desire. A student may specialise in botany, and in chemistry if an agriculturist is to be the student's vocation. One who desires to be an engineer will be able to specialise in mathematics and in engineering. A law student will be able to study law; a doctor, medicine; an accountant, accountancy, and so on, etc., etc. But, above everything, the University student must strive to become an efficient member of society. Efficiency will be tested not by knowledge only, but by what the student has done or can do. Efficiency is the necessity of our day and generation. A student should also show that he or she has what we term "common-sense." I believe that one thing that has made our University institutions unpopular is that people have got the idea that a University student may obtain degrees and certificates of competency, and yet be devoid of common-sense. You see this popular belief illustrated in many directions. I was reading the other day an American novel which is said to have had no less than between seven and eight million copies in circulation. In this novel is the following passage:—" If schooling or culture, or whatever you choose to term it, is permitted to rob one of the fundamental and essential elements of life, it is most certainly an evil. I tell you I have seen cow-punchers that was mighty good men, an' I have seen graduates from them there Universities that was plumb good for nothin', with no more real men about 'em than there is about one of those wax dummies that they sling clothes on in the store windows. What any self-respectin' woman can see in one of them that would make her want to marry 'im is more than I 'ave ever been able to figure out."

I give this quotation as showing the popular opinion about Universities. I might quote many other authors to the same effect. We know as a fact that many people obtain high distinctions in Universities who have no common-ssnse. It is difficult for a University to gauge this qualification, but it is a necessary equipment for everyone in our social life. A University cannot do everything. It must specialise, and a man and a woman will have to gain "common-sense" in the University of the world, or, as an American put it, in the "University of hard knocks."

Is the task of the University and its associated Colleges accomplished when a student may obtain the highest literary, scientific, or vocational education in the halls of learning provided for University purposes in our Dominion? An eminent Professor in Cambridge has drawn attention to the motto of the New Zealand University,—" Aude"—" Dare to be Wise," and he has said that that should be the goal of every student. The University has, therefore, not only to keep the torch of learning alight, but it has to ever proclaim the sovereignty of reason, page 4 to aid in the search for truth, and to encourage the getting of wisdom, These are the things that count in the life of a nation. The human race has journeyed a long road since the days of the Cave men, and it has a longer journey yet to travel. It carries with it the burdens and ignorances of the past, and both inside and outside of our University "Reason" is not yet installed as a ruler. We remember what Hamlet says:

"What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed?—a beast, no more.
Sure he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused."

Are we guided by reason in our beliefs or in our actions? Who can say so? Do we reverence truth and exalt it above all other things? Since the development of science during the past hundred years we have seen a great advance not only in the knowledge of the universe, but in the standard of human living. Science has taught us that truth must prevail. There is no room for falsehood in our scientific laboratories. The moral effect of science has been great, and it will' transcend even the effect of the study of the humanities. Truth is the basis of morality, and it rests with the University to so, exalt those ideals of life that they may become the guides of our people.


S. N. Brown & Co., Printers, 263 Princes Street, Dunedin.