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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 18, No. 10. July 15, 1954

The Department of Education

The Department of Education

Most people in the University are rather interested in the relationship apartment of Education, which is somewhat different in this country from the situation found elsewhere in the British Commonwealth. In New Zealand moneys are found for the University through Vote Education and the Minister of Education is named in the University Act. For reasons which can be found in the historical development of the University from 1870 until 1926 when it was a purely examining body, the Minister has formed the habit of referring University mutters sent on to him from the Senate or Colleges to his Department for advice. The Minister, of course, is entitled to seek advice where he thinks fit, but the position here is different from the established practice in other Commonwealth countries since in universities elsewhere, apart from representation on the governing bodies, Departments of Education play little or no part in university affairs. We are working out steadily, step by step, that form of collaboration with the Colleges and the Government which will at the same time give the Colleges the maximum autonomy in carrying out their proper work of teaching and research, and will give the University a system as great an amount of freedom in the use of its funds and in the development of its educational philosophy as is healthy in our democracy and in keeping with the dignity of the University an an autonomous institution.

Before considering the future shape of the University, I would like to spend a few minutes on a consideration of a problem which is exercising the minds of many people in New Zealand today: do we allow too many students into the University and so increase unduly the costs to the taxpayer? There are many approaches to this problem and one of them is naturally to ask whether our Entrance standard is as high as it should be. It is now roughly comparable with the entrance standard to universities in other parts of the Commonwealth, though not so high as that required in certain ancient universities in England and except in one or two professional courses we do accept all comers, whereas many universities in the Commonwealth restrict their entry, even although the applicants may have passed the Entrance examination. It may be desirable to raise our standard of Entrance further and close attention is being given to this problem at the present moment by the University.

Looked at from another point of view it is interesting to note that the proportion of genuine full-time students in our University relative to the general population is rather lower than it is in the universities in Scotland or in most States of Australia or in Canada. Moreover, we spend less on each genuine full-time student than is spent in Great Britain or Canada. When we include part-time students, however, we have a somewhat higher proportion of our young people at the University than in England, Scotland or Australia, although not so high as in Canada. A recent survey of some half million young people in the United States discloses that of those who were judged fit by intelligence tests to attend universities, only 40 per cent, did in fact study at the universities and only 20 per cent, graduated. Considering that about one in each 75 persons in the United States is attending a place of higher learning at any time compared with one in 200 in New Zealand, we would not appear to be training too many here.

Another question is whether we think a university should restrict its activities to training the numbers of young people needed for professional work to serve the nation both in peace and war, or whether it should serve the demands of higher education for those who seek it and can prove their ability to benefit from it? It is the last interpretation which we seem to place on this aspect of things in New Zealand and indeed, in most Commonwealth countries. There is no simple approach to nor simple answer to the question of how many should be admitted to the privilege of university education: it is a question of economics as well as philosophy and social attitude. It is certainly true that the quality and character of a community can be judged in great measure by the quality of its universities.