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Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 3. 1969.


New Zealand universities have students, staff and examinations, and the three-way relationships these features impose. At the moment, the third feature is facing criticism which, reasonable in some respects, is unreasonable insofar as it seems to assume that one can alter the status of the one feature vis-a-vis the other two without altering the mutual relationship of the other two.

In the triangle of relationships, the examination acts in the interest of the students in two ways:

• It ensures that success or failure depends on performance, not on personal relationships; in other words, it protects certain students from the effect of staff-student relationships and it removes the protection which other students might enjoy. Candidate anonymity, external assessment, number and variety of examination papers and markers, all contribute to make a student's overall performance in examination decide his overall success.

• An examination provides a standard, so that Degree awards in successive years represent a fairly constant achievement.

I cannot see that examinations offer comparable direct benefit to staff: certainly they entail much unproductive labour. In fact, generally speaking, it has never been "persons in authority" who have had advantage from examinations.

In England, before public, competitive examination was introduced. Civil Service posts were filled by patronage. Examinations, for anonymous candidates, were designed, in China, with the specific purpose of choosing a country's public servants according to merit instead of according to personal assessment and "pull" of one kind or another. Certainly public, competitive examination was introduced into England with this purpose, and examination as a test of merit came to New Zealand as a matter of course.

Now it does not seem to me that "abolitionists" have deliberately chosen to go back on the principle of qualification according to merit rather than according to personal influence. Nevertheless the issue is plain for every student Your forefathers gained a certain freedom from "those in authority" by submission to examination. If you get freedom from examination, you will pay for it in increased dependence on "those in authority".