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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 17, No. 1. March 4, 1953

The Purpose of the University

page 4

The Purpose of the University

The university in the Western world arose as a place for the training of scholars in theology, law, medicine and the arts. From its beginning its purpose was professional training.

In the East it existed to train scholars for certain professions. In China it, trained scholars for Government service; in India it trained priests and technicians.

Everywhere the universities were started to meet a need for trained professional men because the knowledge necessary to practice these professions had become so extensive that it could not readily be handed down like the siklled trades from master to servant and much of the necessary knowledge was contained in written records. Moreover, skilled teachers were able to shorten the time of apprenticeship by their methods of pedagogy.

It was only later in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that an artisocratic tradition arose inwestern Europe by which men of wealth and rank felt that they should send their sons to universities to give them an education to fit them for their station in life.

In the twentieth century we have reverted to the original intention of universities for professional training hut have accumulated certain traditional roles in addition.

In democratic countries the non-secretarian universities' purposes are at present—
  • To train men and women for the learned professions.
  • To advance knowledge by scholarly works of criticism and new writing and by scientific research.
  • To maintain a reservoir of learning both in the library and in the scholarship of the staff available for assisting in the full development of the intellectual powers of students.
  • To maintain the highest standards of scholarship by tests of fitness for entrance to its courses and by tests of the knowledge necessary to gain its degrees.
  • To keep its own scholarship up to world standards by travel of staff and other means of exchange of ideas.

To serve the community not [unclear: one] in the ways set out above but by university extension work and community service though professional schools such as medicine, social science, engineering, psychology, agriculture, adult education and so on. This last purpose is applicable more to state and provincial universities than to places like Oxford and Cambridge.

I have said nothing about the development of character in the student because although the all-round development of the student to be the best kind of human being possible is a general objective of the university, as of all places of higher learning, it is not one of the central purposes in its establishment. The university does not pretend to be an institution for doing the work of the home, the church, the school and the community. Its influence should be for good, but its central purpose is the stimulation and development of the [unclear: intelelect]. It must stimulate the students to think for? themselves it stands for the fearless unprejudiced search for truth. It transmits our present knowledge and culture and points the way to gain new knowledge.

University Needs

These are the purposes as seen by university people and they are the purposes generally desired by the community when it votes funds for the maintenance of the universities. The public intention in university education is all important since the cost of running the establishments has become so high that fees and endowments are quite inadequate for their financing and the public purse has had to meet a large pare of the cost. In our university over 80 per cent of the money used in running the colleges is from Government sources so Government has a legitimate interest in its expenditure.

For its best working the university neews—

Freedom for the teacher to "teach the truth as it is disclosed by scholarship and research.

Freedom for the student to learn without interference.

Freedom of scholars to seek the truth by research and methods of free enquiry. The people need to be taken into the confidence of the university so that they can understand the reason for this freedom and supper it intelligently.

The people must also be free to criticise the university, its work and its efficiency. In the light of free two-way criticism and understanding the university should remain healthy and in good repute with its community. Its central purposes in scholarship cannot be pursued in a modern democracy if it goes into its ivory tower away from the understanding and sympathy of the people.

Apart from the public purposes the university itself in the body of teachers, students and administrators has a conscious purpose within itself to maintain the highest integrity in scholarship. All members of the university must be dedicated to higher learning so that with them the half-truth is the unforgivable sin.

Two Points of View

Within the heart of the modern university today there is a constant adjustment between two points of view in university education which I can illustrate by using as examples the ideas of two men. The Spanish philosopher Otogo Y Gassett and the English writer Bruce Truscott, author of "Red Brick University" and other books.

"The cultural disciplines and the professional studies will be offered in a rationalised form based on the best pedagogy—systematic, synthetic, and complete—and not in the form which science would prefer, if it were left to itself: special problems, "samples" of science, and experimentation.

The selection of professors will depend not, on their rank as investigators but on their talent for synthesis and their gift for teaching.

In contrast to that point of view Truscott holds that the first purpose of a university must be to advance knowledge; that the most effective teachers are those who themselves are active in research and that all teaching should be based on the intention of opening the student's mind rather than filling it with facts already ascertained. The spirit of fre enquiry should be pervasive.

Although these points of view are sharply contrasted we find in practice that there is room in the university for the man who is a skilled and effective teacher but has no aptitude for research, and for the man who is especially fitted for advanced knowledge. It is for the administration to see that a balance is kept which will express the philosophy of the whole group of scholars.

The Central Idea

Training students at undergraduate and at graduate level in the attitudes and the techniques of research, whether in special institutions such us graduate schools or in the colleges at all levels, is a proper duty of universities. Those so trained are needed today in the applied sciences in ever increasing numbers by Government departments and in private firms. In England a recent survey showed that the need for scientists was so great there to serve industry and Government that doubling of the output of scientists from the universities within ten years was recommended. Engineers are in like demand and there is as yet no sign that the demand is likely to slacken.

Before turning to the function of the university as a prelude to the life of the graduate in the community, let me mention in passing some conflicting views by university men about the central idea around which the university should be integrated.

(1)Newman's idea of a university integrated about the idea of the religious interpretation of life and human destiny.
(2)Hutchins's metaphysical idea of integration about the unselfish devotion to truth.
(3)The Harvard reports idea of integration about the unselfish community centred life.
(4)It is possible that increased Government interest in universities may cause integration to be on the basis of what the Government of the day thinks the university should be doing.

Some hold that there is no need to think in terms of any other integrating idea than that of exposing the student to the best scholarship in the university subjects available to him.

Now to touch on the function of the university in relation to the preparation of the individual student for life in his community after graduation. The student comes up to the university usually with some career in mind. Provided he has a reasonable intellectual ability, a real desire to be educated and the habit of work he must get the best possible education for his chosen profession. There is hardly a limit to what he can learn for the wealth of materian in books and in the scholarship of the teachers is usually adequate to stretch the mind of the student to its limit.

Even in professional training, however, there are two clearly defined schools of thought about what should be offered The die-hard intellectuals who believe—as they should—that the most Important things to larn are the principles behind the facts and that the attitudes of intellectual curiosity and clear thinking are more important than special techniques, would restrict the professional courses to basic disciplines. Others who do not wish to launch engineers, for instance, into industry full of theory but weak in practical skills, would extend the courses at the university to include much practical knowledge and many special skills.

Faculties and professional boards can be trusted to work out a balance between these two attitudes.

The University Man

There are certain attitudes of mind which university people would agree should be the mark of university trained men and these are the imponderables which cause more discussion than the content of individual courses.

The British Grants Committee considered that the university should produce graduates "whose minds are rich informed, unsleeping in the exercise of critical intelligence and imaginatively alive to the human issues underlying the decisions they may be called upton to make."

Newman suggested that in the university "A habit is formed which last through life, of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation and wisdom"—high ideals Indeed!

I have profound regard for Dosloievski's dictum that "Every one of us is responsible for everything in everyone else" and a true insight into the mean of that succinct summation of many findings in religion, sociology, economics, psychology and philosophy should in my view be one of the general objectives of university education.

The educated man Ideally should not only be highly trained in his profession to serve the community by his skill, hut he should be unprejudiced in his approach to problems, cultured in his tastes, critical in his demand for quality, excellence and generous in his sympathy and service to his community.

This is a view of Congress Cove looking seawards down on the huts. Curious Cove, as it is known, was formerly on Air Force Recreation Camp.

This is a view of Congress Cove looking seawards down on the huts. Curious Cove, as it is known, was formerly on Air Force Recreation Camp.