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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 21, No. 7. June 11, 1958

Forecast of Overcrowding

Forecast of Overcrowding

In its Annual Report to the University Council, presented in May, the Professorial Board drew attention to the fact that "Unless the Government authorises an immediate start on the University's building programme the University will be driven within a short time to limit student enrolments."

Forecast Student Numbers

In 1955 the Education Department produced an estimate of student enrolments at the constituent institutions up to the year 1965. These figures showed that Victoria University, from an enrolment of 2,300 in 1956, could expect an increase to 4,000 in 1965. Subsequently, in November of last year, revised estimates were produced which indicate that in 1965 we can expect between 4,330 and 5,190 students, and by 1972 between 5,650 and 7,250.

Enrolments in the years immediately preceding World War II were of the order of 1,000 students. During the war numbers fell somewhat, but from 1946 onwards the rush of returning servicemen increased the numbers to a little in excess of 2,000, a figure which remained stable for the next ten years. It was at one time expected that as the demand from ex-servicemen was satisfied the student members would revert to something near the pre-war figure, but as this group of students began to diminish, numbers were kept up by new entrants from the schools, reflecting the increased birthrate of the post-depression years.

This article was specially written for "Salient" by Dr. Culliford, Part-time assistant to the Vice-Chancellor, Public Relations Officer for the University, and a Senior Lecturer in the English Department.

The rapid increase, however, is just beginning. Student numbers increased by 150 in 1957, to give the highest enrolment ever at this University. This year they have increased by a further 250, and, as the Education Department's forecasts indicate, we can expect an annual and substantial increase in student numbers for many years to come.

There may be economic or political developments that will affect these forecasts, but the people upon whom the forecasts are based are already born, crowding the schools, and about to crowd the universities. Victoria is not alone in this problem. The increases Auckland has to face are greater, and Canterbury and Otago, in a more modest fashion, can look forward to a similar experience.

University Buildings

At the end of the war this University had, for teaching purposes, the main Arts building, begun in 1906 and added to in 1920 and 1921; and the Biology Building, two stories of which were completed in 1938. To cope with the immediate post-war increases a number of steel, huts were erected both on the University site and on City Council land, and the wooden Little Theatre Building was constructed for the joint use of the University and the Teachers' College. Since then two houses have been purchased in Kelburn arade, a third floor added to the Biology Block to compensate for steel huts removed to make way for the Science Building, and the Science Building itself is nearing completion.

The Present Situation

At first sight it would appear that the massive Science Building, dominating the University site, must provide an answer to accommodation problems for some years to come. But in fact the relief afforded is not great. The Departments of Chemistry, Geology and Geography can expect to function effciently and handle a good many more students than they have at present, and the nine extra classrooms in the building will provide a solution to one problem that was becoming urgent.

As enrolments have increased, so there has been an increase in the size of a number of small advanced classes that have been normally held in Professors' studies. The need to hold such classes in lecture rooms has led to a steady pressure on teaching space, with the result that on most evenings in the week every classroom is in use, and classes effectively too large for studies nevertheless have to be squeezed in to them. The new classrooms in the Science Building will ease this pressure.

Otherwise the gains for general teaching purposes are small. Apart from the fact that the huts formerly occupied by the Departments of Geology and Geography had arrived here after arduous service with the American Army in the Pacific, and have now completely outlived their useful life, the lease has expired on the City Council land where they are located, and the University is obliged to dismantle and remove the buildings. So the only gains in space for general purposes are the two floors of the present Chemistry Wing, erected in 1906 and designed for the teaching of Science; and four classrooms on the top floor of the Science Building.

Future Problems

The effects of the imminent substantial increases in enrolment are going to be felt in two ways. In the first place the Library, built in 1920 when the total enrolment was of the order of 600 students, cannot seat more than 200. By accepted standards a University Library should be able to provide one seat for four students; this year the Library can provide one seat for thirteen, and unless there is some relief the figure will reach one for twenty.

In the second place the number of teaching staff is related directly to the number of students, and as enrolments increase, so do the number of lecturers. With the normal forecast increase in staff, every staff study will be occupied by the end of 1959, with every room that can be shared being shared.

These two are the main factors leading to the, consideration of limiting student numbers. This University has never turned students away, but the question of the University's obligation to the student body is becoming more pressing. At what point does the swamping of Library facilities lead to a deterioration of standards that can only be detrimental to all students attending the University? And at what point does an adverse staff-student ratio bring about the same effect?

The Building Programme

With these two needs in mind the University requested the approval of the University Grants Committee, in 1955, for the planning and erection of a building to house the Library and provide for classrooms and substantial accommodation for members of staff. This was wholeheartedly supported by the Grants Committee and recommended to the Government, but consideration was deferred. The question was reopened last year, and the matter is at present under the consideration of the Government.

The proposed site of this building is to the east of the Science Building and beyond and encroaching on the Little Theatre Building, so that use can be made of the gully here to provide as much open fronted basement area as possible. The Library portion will have seating for 1,000 readers and storage provision for a stock of 200,000 volumes. It will be so designed, however, that it can be readily expanded to accommodate 1,500 readers and 500,000 books.

There will be studies for 140 members of teaching staff, a number of classrooms of various sizes, and special laboratory and other provision for the Department of Psychology.

Such a building, however, will be a major undertaking, and in view of past experience will take at least six years to complete from the time that the Government gives authority to proceed with planning. But in six years' time the roll will have almost doubled.

In the meantime it may be possible to make some small increase in reading room space by using the Cafeteria-Common Room area that will become vacant when the Student Union Building is completed. This will not, however, solve the problem of staff accommodation. To meet this need the University Council has proposed to the Government an extension of the present Biology Block, this to be used in the meantime largely for staff studies.

The Departments of Botany and Zoology have outgrown their present premises, but their needs can be met in the meantime by the provision of one further laboratory and certain ancillary services. By 1965, however, extensive further provision will be called for. If permission is soon forthcoming to make a start on the Arts and Library Building, this building can be completed by 1964. An extension of the Biology Block, if started soon, could accommodate the extra staff due to arrive between 1959 and 1964. When the Arts and Library Building is completed these staff members will occupy the studies in this new building and the entire Biology Block will be converted to meet the needs of increased enrolments in Botany and Zoology. In this way the University can to some degree meet the problems of the immediate future.

The Result of Delay

If the Arts and Library Building had been approved in 1955, it could have been completed in time for use during the session of 1962, when the maximum forecast enrolment is 3,900. If it were approved today it could be in use for 1965 when the maximum forecast enrolment is 5,190. Each year's delay now means a further increase of 400 in each of the years following 1962, and an overloading of facilities to an extent that can only deprive the students in our University district of what they have a right to expect.

The Council and the University Grants Committee have pressed matters as far as they can, and the decisions now are to be made by the Government. Provision of more accommodation is a matter of the greatest urgency, but in view of the delay over the Arts and Library Building it is a matter of some doubt as to whether the nature of this urgency is yet fully appreciated in Government circles.

Is Victoria a Glorified Night School?

Where is the prestige of Victoria in the capital? Why are students all treated as though they are attending a glorified night school and not a seat of learning as Victoria should be?

The first answer that we can give to this is shown in a recent edition of the "Evening Post." Look at the figures for attendance at the University. Out of a total roll of over 2,500 only a mere 800-odd are full - time students. Can it be that the students themselves do not treat Victoria as a University at all? Surely it is not true, that we are only attending a night school. But if we are not then why is it that in the Calendar every year we find that most important units (or rather units that are taken by a large number of students) are all after five in the afternoon. If this is not to enable the students to attend the university after their normal day's work, then what is it? It should be that the students are putting their university studies first but, instead, they are going off to work —and the studies are only second to this. And not only that. The powers-that-be condone this. Otherwise, why the timetable as it is?