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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 14. 1966.

Modern Oxford

Modern Oxford

The Student interested in the problems and future of university education will find the "Franks Report" on the University of Oxford an interesting and impressive document. Not only does the report describe the structure and functioning of Oxford but it also offers useful insights to the ferment of discussion on the future of the British universities which alas has hardly impinged upon New Zealand.

The commission was set up to investigate the administration of the university and to discuss the university's development. Evidently Oxford has been in an administrative muddle for perhaps as long as 700 years or so. The university has been accused of being too slow and too obscure at making decisions, although we could perhaps charitably argue that it is no slower or more obscure than a New Zealand university. However, the commission was not satisfied with this situation and spent over two thirds of the report describing and disentangling the administration. Despite the recommended modernisation (and may we add as an aside—increased centralisation) some of the quaint pieces of snobbery, which are an integral part of all British universities, old and new, are maintained. To become a member of the congregation (which has ultimate control of the university) one has to hold Masters or Doctors degrees from Oxford, but sensibly the strictness of this condition is ameliorated by awarding a Masters degree to anyone who is otherwise eligible to become a member.

The commission envisages Oxford increasing its roll by about 30 per cent in the next 15 to 20 years to 13,000 students—that is, to remain a medium-sized university. The major portion of this increase will be post graduate students and the rest female undergraduates, while the number of male undergraduates will remain about constant. Thus about a third of the student body will be postgraduates and the proportion of females will be increased from the 17 per cent of today's Oxford to a whole 21 per cent in 1985—21 per cent being the present inadequate figure for most New Zealand universities.

It is also hoped to increase the proportion of entrants to the university from the State-maintained schools and to reduce those from the more privileged independent (i.e. privte) schools, and that the proportion of science students will increase to 44 per cent although the British average is more likely to be 63. In this way Oxford attempts to maintain its eminence and individuality and yet to meet society's demands of technological advances and education for all people, irrespective of class or sex.

It was a desire to maintain individually that must have encouraged the Commission to recommend the five "super faculties" of:

  • • theology, philosophy, history and music
  • • languages and literature, including philology
  • • social studies, including law
  • • physical sciences, including mathematics and geology (sic)
  • • biological sciences, including medicine

No doubt having heard of the exciting interdisciplinary experiments of the new British universities, and not liking the "do-nothing" of some universities (including characteristically most of the New Zealand ones) the above regression into the future was proposed. Apparently mathematics has little to contribute to either biology or the social studies; chemistry nothing to biology, and history nothing to social studies, While the problem of the place of geography is dismissed as a minor administrative matter. However, it would be fun to be on the theology, philosophy, history and music faculty board and the mind boggles at the interdisciplinary courses that might be created.

I hope it is clear that there is a lot of fun and a mine of information to be found among the pages of the report. I look forward to 600 years time when our New Zealand universities have their own Franks report to straighten up their own 700-year-old administrative muddle, to try and meet the demands that society requests of them, and to modify the present rigid faculty approach to learning.

Report Of Commission Of Inquiry, University of Oxford. O.U.P. 50/- in England. Reviewed by Brian H. Easton.