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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 12 June 11, 1968

Student Leadership: Who is leading whom?

page 5

Student Leadership: Who is leading whom?

Photo of male student at a desk

Preparations are under way for the education battle which will be fought later this year.

The issue at stake is whether the universities are properly fulfilling their role and the battle will be won when it is decided whether their future will be governed by rational educational evolution or by financial panic and political expediency.

The rise of tertiary, non-university higher education has been a trend for many years, but it has been hustled into the public domain by the announcement of the National Development Conference in August. It was not completely clear what line the government would be pursuing in the educational sector of the conference until Mr Muldoon made his now famous comments about the cost of failure, and the need for more technical education, and when he asked whether the universities did not in fact have many students who could be better catered for in other educational institutions.

Mr Muldoon stressed repeatedly that he was only asking questions and provoking comment rather than supplying answers, but it is clear that he expects the Development Conference to provide the answers he requires.

In a time of economic down-turn, when the cry is for value-for-money and for the type of education most useful to the economy, Mr Muldoon's appeal is largely on the grounds of finance. Except for Professor McDougall, President of the Association of University Teachers (who mistakenly replied to Mr Muldoon and refuting that there is really a brain-drain only by attacking his statements), the response of those most affected has been on a non-financial plane.

It was a remarkable coincidence indeed that the AUT held a seminar on May 16 and 17, the subject of which was "Aspects of Tertiary Education". One speaker—Dr I. W. Wark, chairman of the Commonwealth Advisory Committee for Advanced Education from Canberra—outlined the development of Australia's Colleges of Advanced Education in the early 1960's, as a result of arguments almost identical to those now being bandied around this country.

Dr Wark did not actually advocate the Australian system for New Zealand, but concluded—"We are, in Australia, on the verge of remarkable advances. I hope that I have been able to give to you some idea of how exciting and stimulating has been the work of those moulding the destinies of the colleges."

Several speakers at the Seminar recognised the need for more developed technical education and seemed to favour some change. The AUT however moves very slowly and has not yet officially decided even to make submissions to the conference.

There is considerable disagreement in the AUT about the issue, and it is not clear that there will be sufficient unanimity to agree on the content of submissions, presuming that it is agreed to make a submission at all.

At the moment an AUT sub-committee is "investigating the possibilities".

NZUSA has perhaps more plainly seen the dangers ahead and is preparing itself for action. The decision to appoint a paid Education Research Officer was taken, in part, with the Development Conference in mind, but it seems that the Conference will be upon the officer, yet to be appointed, before he has time to draw up a convincing case.

NZUSA is, however, moving towards a new role as a strong pressure group. The recent Student Leader Seminar rammed this point home. One speaker was Mr E. A. Simmons, Secretary of the New Zealand Educational Institute, whose address was a virtual strategic blue-print for how best to operate an effective pressure group.

Keep your objectives limited and simple, was his advice, and before the Seminar was over it was agreed in principle by delegates that NZUSA limit its objectives and draw up a list of educational priorities for action in the future.

Mr Robin Bromby of the Sunday Times also spoke to the Seminar. His address followed on from that of Mr Simmons and he advised delegates on the best way to use the mass media for achieving their objectives; how best to win co-operation from editors and staff and how to push press statements through the newspaper pipeline with the minimum of cutting and the maximum effect.

Despite surface appearances NZUSA's constituents agree widely on most issues and, led by President John McGrath who is rapidly developing his personal power and influence, it could develop into a dynamic pressure group.

If anyone can pull it off it will be John McGrath, but only time can tell whether his bulldozing chairmanship tactics can be transposed on to the national scene.

The University administrators have already conceded defeat. The plan put forward by Victoria for a preliminary coference to "pinpoint the weaknesses in the university system and to grapple with the problem in a constructive way" has been postponed by the Vice-Chancellors' Committee until it will be too late.

It seems the administrators are "too busy" and will passively await the judgment of the national conference.

It has been argued that the Vice-Chancellors" Committee has not got the facilities for extensive educational research, but if this argument is the basic one why are they going to reconsider the proposals in September, when the "dust of the National Development Conference has settled"?

Vice-Chancellor N. C. Phillips of Canterbury however is not going to follow this lead. He has categorically stated that the universities are operating as efficiently and economically as possibly, and he has furthermore categorically denied that university admissions are too liberal.

The battle ahead is a complex one. Both sides agree generally that more technical education is a good thing, but it is the method of its implication that is important.

The battle will be fought, to a great extent, in the headlines. The economy-conscious public will read statements like that of Mr J. A. Bateman of the Central Institute of Technology in Petone describing the growing trend toward non-university higher education, and they will reach the conclusion that technicians can better pay for themselves than political scientists. This is just the conclusion that Mr Muldoon wants them to reach.