Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, October 1917

The University of New Zealand

page 23

The University of New Zealand

"But above and beyond all else, education is the burden of their song. On it vested interests, tradition, and prejudice have for many generations laid heavy and paralyzing hands, and yet inasmuch as the child is the father of the work, from educational efficiency or inefficiency must spring the moral and intellectual health or maladies of the community which grows up under its shadow." (Eclipse or Empire).

The University is but one part of a complex educational system. Because only a small proportion of citizens come directly under its influence, the unthinking are apt to underestimate its significance. Its spirit, however, tends to dominate the system; many of the most influential teachers are trained with its walls and imbibe its sprit: the whole educational system looks up to it and draws inspiration from it. In a well-organised. En-lightened State it is probably true that no single institution is capable of so far-reaching effects on national life as a University. According to modern notions the duty of a University is not merely to provide a culture which is a luxury for a few, but, through the professors and the teachers, to mark its impress on the whole mass of the community, and to infuse into every department of national life an ever-increasing sense of the value of scientific ideals and scientific methods, in their application to every form of human activity.

No country can continue to develop on a spirit and civilisation imported from abroad; these must be the product of the work and endeavours of its own citizens. It ought to find in the University one of the most important of the conditions of adequate development. The progress of mankind, industrial, intellectual and social, depends on the initiative of the individual who can break with custom. We ought to ask, therefore, what is the influence of the University on the individual's character and view of life? What is the value of a study of science if it but enables its devotees to grind the face of the poor? Or the page 24 logic if we are to be caught by the sophistry of the first newspaper? Or of morals if fraudulent and honest men present no difference to us? "To have spent one's youth at College, in contact with the choice and rare and precious, and yet still to be a blind Pug or vulgarian, unable to scent out human excellence or to divine it amid its accidents, to know it only when ticked and labeled and forced on us by others, this indeed, shall be accounted the very calamity and shipweeck of a higher education."

The main functions of a University, therefore, seem to be these: First, to act as the centre of the intellectual life of the community. Every seed of free investigation should there find an atmosphere congenial to its germination and development; every independent investigator should there be sure of an appreciative and critical hearing Second, to aid the advancement of learning and the conquest of nature. Research is an essential aspect of the work of a University. The spirit of scientific method and scientific thinking can be communicated from individual to individual only in the actual practice of it. Third, to be a powerful formative influence on national ideals.

We may therefore test a University by the replies that it can give to three questions. Is research normally a part of your task? Are you the centre of the intellectual life of your community? What influence are you exerting on the life and ideals of the people? My belief is that the New Zealand University is unable to give replies worthy of the place it ought to occupy in this country, and that it would occupy, but for its defective organisation and spirit. Such criticism does not imply that we are forgetful of the good work done, but only that we regret the opportunities lost.

The University of New Zealand consists of a Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, twenty-two Fellows, the members of the Board of Studies (20), and Graduates of the University. The Colleges are merely affiliated institutions. Members of College Councils, members of the teaching staffs who are not on the Board of Studies, and undergraduates, are not members of the University. In its constitution there is a great gulf fixed between the Colleges and the University—the former teach, the latter examines. The University of New Zealand is merely an examining board—it teaches no one, inspires no one, has page 25 no libraries or laboratories. This condition of affairs, although defended by some, is not the outcome of design; it was brought about by the meanest of motives, and the most limited educational vision. We follow London. London University is the crushed and distorted form of a great conception. Lord Brougham desired that it should be a university for those who were unable to enter Oxford and Cambridge, either because the students lacked the means or were excluded on the ground of their religious beliefs. For this great purpose University College was founded, but the religious intolerance of the day vanquished Brougham, and incidentally the London University. Ling's College was set up by the Anglican Church, and as a result of denominational egotism, a struggle ensued that ended in the Examining University of London, to which both University College and King's college were affiliated.

The course of event in New Zealand was very similar. In 1869 the Provincial Council of Otago established and endowed a University in its province. In the following year the General assembly founded the University of New Zealand. The contest in this case was over the site. Otago would not agree to one University unless it were situated in Dunedin, and again the result was a purely examining university—one that is prohibited for teaching. Such an institution is not an aid to real education. The system might have been invented for the express purpose of discouraging wide reading, free criticism, and independenceof thought.

The proper function of examination in an educational system is to enable the teacher to gauge the effectiveness of his methods, and the extent to which his students have benefited by his instruction. But divorced from teaching, examination has no educational value. The only argument adduced in favour of the purely external system is its impartiality, but though impartial, it may be most unfair.

Many people are misled, and think that the marks given are a reflection of the appraisement of the candidate's worth. This is very far from being the case. Professor Edgeworth has calculated that in the First Class Civil Service Examination the element of chance page 26 was so great that one-third to two-thirds of the successful candidates were not above the danger of being unsuccessful if another set of equally competent examiners were appointed. The experience in New Zealand is not different, and instances are on record where gross injustices have been done by the present system.

There is no need to labour this point; the weight of expert educational opinion is overwhelmingly against the purely external system; the fact that all vested interests connected with London University have not been able to prevent the gradual adoption of the internal system is surely significant. But if the opinion of those who have had experience of the system be demanded, it would be easy to provide a whole volume condemnatory of the system as it exists in New Zealand. Let two opinions suffice. President Maclaurin, a student and professor of New Zealand colleges, writes in answer to the question whether we ought to modify our examination system:—"I should answer unhesitatingly 'yes.' It was probably wise to adopt your present system when the standards of the University were undetermined. The conditions, however, have been wholly changed, and your system is now antiquated and entirely opposed to the trend of the best educational practice. You are far too much dominated by examinations, and you must escape from this thralldom or be crippled in all that is of most vital importance to real education." Professor Dendy considers that "the teachers certainly ought to have a voice in the examinations, and, indeed, a predominant one. A man who is not fit to examine his students is not fit to be a professor. I felt this very strongly when I was myself a professor at Christchurch, and my opinion remains the same now that I am an examiner in England for the New Zealand University."

We may therefore note some of the most important consequences of the divorce of examining from teaching, and of the university from the colleges. (1.) Only such subjects as can be examined by this method are likely to be introduced. The university was founded in the centre of an unrivaled field of study and research, Polynesian languages, customs and myths. Yet the University has never attempted to explore that field. Its fruits have been page 27 gathered by those who worked outside the walls of the University. The neglect of one of the most important subjects in this new land—agriculture—can be traced to the attitude of the University toward it. With a University constituted as ours is, it was difficult for the University to do more than it did—draw up a syllabus—but this impotence of the University in so vital a matter surely calls for reform. (2.) The humanistic side of education becomes narrower. The demand of such a University must be for good examiners, good teachers are a secondary concern. The personal factor in all real education is depreciated, and the importance of character unduly neglected. This can be seen in the predominance of the lecture system. About a hundred years ago Schleiermacher gave utterance to the opinion that a professor who dictated notes to his students had arrogated to himself the right to neglect the discovery of printing, and Adam Smith was but noting an educational commonplace when he said: "No discipline is ever requisite to force attendance upon lectures that are really worth attending, as is well known where such lectures are given." The neglect of libraries, the little importance attached to practical work by the University, and the fact that the Colleges have not availed themselves of the services of men noted for their work, but who could take part in preparation of students for University examinations, are all signs of the dry-rot that University organisation has helped to produce. (3.) The educative value of University life, outside the lecture room, has been thrust into the background. It is probably true that, under good conditions, students learn more from their fellow students than from their teachers. The dangers of narrow, special training are obviated. If all the schools of a University are located in the same place, There is contact of mind with mind that stimulates thought and broadens the mental horizon. (4.) The system has tended to foster the idea that a University education can be obtained in the spare moments of a few years. The provision of older Universities for extending their worth to those more mature minds who were excluded by the struggle of life from the possibility of a full University education, was a noble conception. The University Extension System and the U. G. A both give evidence of the fruitful nature of such work. But in New page 28 Zealand the organisation of the university has induced immature youths to engage in an occupation under the idea—directly fostered by the university—that a university education can be obtained by devoting one's —spare moments to study. Nothing could be worse for the students, for education, and for the welfare of this dominion. University education has become an "extra."

These results are not peculiar to New Zealand. Wherever the purely examining university has been held in London, India, S. Africa, as well as in New Zealand, the same dire effects have been produced. Many quotations might be given to justify this statement—one from the "Times" is all that space will allow: "It is the most profound condemnation of the Indian University system that its whole tendency is to sterilize the mind of the pupil, to kill intellectual curiosity, to destroy the critical faculty, and to enslave the intellect to the letter of the printed word."

What ought to be done? I believe that even now it is advisable that a Teaching University of New Zealand should be founded and properly endowed. An area of land should be set aside as a site, and all the schools and faculties be located there. The present buildings in the four centres could be used for the secondary schools and technical institutions that we shall require after the war, if we are not to form the rearguard in the march of civilization. It is no use pleading that such a scheme is too costly; a fraction of the yearly drink bill or of the war-profits would provide the buildings and an adequate endowment. If we do not do it, it is only because we do not desire it. "In our day," says Lord Morley, "communities and men who lead them have still to learn that no masters so profuse and immeasureable, even from the material point of view as that of intellectual energy, checked, uncultivated, ignored, or left without its opportunity." If a Teaching University for New Zealand is not founded, we should certainly constitute the four Colleges the University, and give it a body and a soul.

War after war—not so much upon our enemies or our rivals as upon ourselves, our own old ways, our own old prejudices and preconceptions, social, industrials and educational, but above all educational, is the only road to future peace, future prosperity, and future power,"