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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 17, No. 4. March 25, 1953

The University of Wellington?

The University of Wellington?

The Editor has asked me to write some comments on Professor Cordon's article written in 1946 on "The University of Wellington." Fortunately for me, Professor Gordon has commented already in the March 4 issue of "Salient" on his earlier statement, and since having seen the working of the University from inside a College and inside the University itself, he is much better informed on the subject than I am, I refer you again to his recent article, and content myself with some desultory comments on matters which strike a comparative newcomer.

I find myself in almost complete agreement with Professor Gordon's last contribution and you will see from it that many, perhaps most, of the disabilities of the federal system outlined in the 1946 articles have now disappeared.

Now I believe, as I think everyone in the University does, that the true universities "where young and old are Joined together in the imaginative contemplation of learning." to use Whitehead's phrase, are the Colleges. A university is a place for the transmission of knowledge and the discovery of now knowledge; a place where teachers and students meet to pursue learning and where research goes on and that description fits the Colleges and does not at the office of the University of New Zealand. However, the University of New Zealand does perform many vital functions, some of which I may mention later, and through the exigencies of history is the body which has the power to require certain standards of academic attainment for admission to courses and for passing examinations and it is the only place in New Zealand with a charter for conferring degrees.

Is it justified in being a university at all? is a question you may reasonably ask. I cannot comment on this question: the University exists and the Senate is constantly striving to do its best to shape it into the most effective instrument for fulfilling its functions under the acts which set out its powers and duties. The central question you may really want me to answer is, Would the University Colleges (more specifically Victoria University College) be better as separate universities rather than as Constituent Colleges of the University of New Zealand?

My answer to that question can be neither yes nor no because nobody knows the answer, nor is it likely that a simple answer is even possible. For some things the Colleges might be better off if they could be separate, for other things they may be stronger linked together, and there are some central functions that may remain central even when they all become separate universities.

Fully Independent universities in Dunedin, Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington will almost certainly come, but when, no one knows. They should arise, one would expect, when a majority of people who have the say in such matters—and that means mainly the Colleges, the Senate and the Government—are convinced that university education and the advancement of learning will be best served by separate institutions.

In the matter of scholarship, I personally believe that academic work is at its healthiest and most vigorous when each centre feels free to teach, learn and experiment in the way which its scholars think best. Even that statement must be qualified by the condition that a certain size, variety and quality of staff is necessary before any college can set its [unclear: standard] of scholarship at a high enough level. I do believe, however, that the University Colleges have reached a size and range of staff sufficient to warrant a large measure, possibly full, academic autonomy; indeed, the University has been moving towards that goal for some years and is even now examining further means of academic devolution.

You know, of course, that the old type examining University came to an end with the 1926 Act and the transfer of examining from Britain to New Zealand, and a new conception of a University rather on the model of the federal University of Wales, was initiated. The examining and degree-giving functions remain with the University and through an Academic Board of College teachers, the academic policy and standards for the whole system are determined. The Senate has the final say but so far as I have seen, the great majority of Academic Board recommendations are accepted even if the process is rather slow. Incidentally, means to speed up the procedures—of which we do make heavy weather—are under discussion at the present moment.

Our University, including all the Colleges, is very much the size of the University of Melbourne, though of a different character. Here are the student statistics supplied to me for last year:
Centre Students part-time Full-time Total
Otago 710 1,595 2,305
C.U.C. 1,071 981 2,052
A.U.C. 2,093 1,139 3,232
V.U.C. 1,735 1028 2,363

Colleges of Agriculture are omitted because their student statistics are rather different from the general pattern.

I must explain that size has little relation to autonomy since some Individual Indian universities, which are all federating-type universities, may have upwards of seventy thousand students. The University of California, which is one University with seven different campuses, has over forty thousand students, while there are unitary universities with less than a thousand students. The University of Tasmania has less than a thousand students while the University of Sydney has about ten thousand, practically all full-time.

Perhaps it is more realistic to ask whether scholarship is best served in New Zealand by one University or by four, and whether the central University is hampering or helping teachers and students in what and how they teach, and what they desire to learn? Again the first question is not a simple one since a single approach through a central Grants Committee to the Government for finance is imperative; the Special Schools have to be allocated from the centre; the interests of students who move between Colleges (and there were seven hundred of them this year) may be best safeguarded through a central body; Government departments are best dealt with centrally and there are other functions which would appear to be central of necessity. On the other hand teaching, examining, the recording of students results and so on are probably best done in autonomous colleges. Although the very core of scholarship is the vital spark which passes between teacher and student, the availability of books in the library and the impact of student upon student—all the function of the Colleges; yet you can see that there are many other things contributing to scholarship which may be best carried out by a central body, whether it be called a university or not.

When I speak of contribution to scholarship, I mean contribution to the well-being of scholars, for I believe that administration which is inhuman is bad administration. Administration is the art and science of most efficiently, speedily and economically applying available means to produce desirable ends. The end product the University seeks is scholarship, but that can only be gained through contributions at various levels to the well-being of the people who are the scholars.

In a limited academic sense the answer to the question "Would Victoria College be better as the University of Wellington?" would probably be Professor Gordon's qualified "yes." but of course the question cannot be set as a limited one.

The history of the provincial development of the Colleges, things as they are in our present acts, the central Dominion Government with one central purse, the problems of equivalence of standards and other areas in which co-operation is desirable, conspire together to prevent the question from being a limited one.

The Colleges have made big advances towards real independence in the last few years with the appointment of full-time executive heads and even now it is hard to see any real difficulty which the University places in the way of any teacher presenting what material he wants, in the manner he wants, before his students, or in the way of any student to pursue without hindrance a course of study he may desire Perhaps the titles don't matter if the functions are being performed well.

It is not in a negative way that I regard the University, however. Only by positive contributions to the promotion of learning can the University justify its place, and only by constantly adjusting itself to serve best the changing requirements of scholarship should it survive. In common with colleagues in the Colleges and on the Senate we are engaged in trying to do those very things, to adjust our constitution and procedures to be of best service to University education in New Zealand. The details of that are too long and complicated to go into here. The Senate itself has a majority of persons connected with the Colleges on its membership, so the shape of the future will be largely the shape for which that majority works. I am confident that if the Senate were convinced that the best service could be done to higher learning by pressing for the Colleges to become separate universities at any time, that course would be followed.

Meanwhile, speaking personally, if I may be permitted to do that I find that all my activities—and I've had no time to be idle since I came here—have been directly, or indirectly, related to the well-being of students, helping to provide the beat conditions available in which teachers, students and research workers may pursue their studies, and not to empty routine.

I miss greatly the opportunity for daily personal contacts with students and teachers. Compensation lies in the opportunity this central position gives for a service to the scholars in the Colleges which could not be rendered anywhere else. You may have to accept in simple faith my statement that I do find here opportunity for real service to the University which, though more remote from the student than that of a teacher and of a different kind, la, I firmly believe, equally significant.