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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 8. 10 June 1970

Response to reform needs

Response to reform needs

It is to me striking that in the years over which I have been associated with this university, there have been major revisions of the degree statutes in all of the faculties with professional affiliations—law, architecture, engineering and commerce, whereas the B.A. remains hardly altered, and the B.Sc. only recently by a partial and rather messy development of an honours stream in some subjects.

It could be argued that the ability of the professional schools to introduce reforms is a function of their small size as much as of their responsiveness to the demands of the professions. It may be so, for at Auckland both the fine arts and music faculties have also introduced major changes. The two factors are not unrelated., however. The arts faculty is large because it spans such a broad range of subjects. It is the same breadth of interest that makes its teaching objectives so diffuse. Its members have a commitment to no employer, no group of employers, no particular profession. The largest single employer of arts graduates is, I suppose, the Education Department, but no special service is offered in the form of a degree structure tailored to suit intending teachers. Indeed this university recently declined to develop such a degree.

Photo of university building

It is not hard to think of areas in which there is need for well qualified persons with a specific training at the level at which the university operates, but which it does not currently serve. Many of these cut across the traditional subject boundaries, that is are interdisciplinary in nature. Local-body and government administrators, social workers of various kinds, persons to work in industrial relations and personnel management are but a few examples besides teachers. The universities could produce such people, but are making, so far as I know, little attempt to do so. The holder of a general B.A. is not trained for such jobs. He or she may have the right talents, but hardly any of the formal subject matter of his or her B.A. will be of the slightest direct use. Moreover, further study for an M.A. is altogether too specialized, and is quite the wrong way to go. The hoary old chestnut that the BA produces a trained mind will not do for an answer. The employer rightly asks, "Trained for what?" According to my reading there is not much solid scientifically respectable evidence to support the contention that a training in one field fits a person to perform well in another.

Members of arts departments seem to have such a strong discipline fixation that they are unsympathetic to the notion of a vocationally oriented degree, even though it be arts-dominated. Vocation seems to be a disreputable word. The University of Auckland has over 3100 arts students. When those heading for teaching are subtracted there is still left a goodly total. What are they going to do on graduation? "What docs it matter?" you may say in answer. "They have a good general education." They night, however, have been given both a good education and a specific training in a field of immediate use. The women amongst them might not then have had to go straight to a secretarial college in order to learn enough to cam enough to support life.

If I am critical of the arts degree, let it not be thought that I am delighted with the sciences. In science there is an almost equal discipline fixation. Added to it is the belief, religious in intensity, that science is dedicated to unravelling the mysteries of the universe. With the latter I agree. Who am I to argue with Karl Popper: "All science is cosmology, the problem of understanding the world, ourselves, and our knowledge as part of it."

But this, of course, is not the popular view of science. The popular view confuses science with technology. A flight to the moon is hailed as an achievement of science whereas it is nothing of the kind. And it has to be accepted that most science graduates will not be helping unravel the secrets of the universe. Indeed most are not capable of it If they are not teaching, they will be working in industry. They will be employed as applied scientists—technologists. But how many science departments in the country offer any courses in the industrial application! of their subject? I can name some, but not many. How many, for that matter, combine their courses with teacher-training courses to suit the many page 14 science graduates needed in secondary schools and technical institutes?

I would not advocate that the universities should enter into teaching vocationally oriented arts and science degrees if I thought that doing this would endanger the primary commitment of the universities to scholarship. I have already said, and I want to repeat it, that utility and scholarly endeavour are not incompatible. They never have been. The first western universities were vocational in character. I wish I could say with my hand on my heart and looking the Minister of Finance straight in the eye that our universities were fulfilling their role of serving the community to the uttermost limit consistent with their pursuit of knowledge. Frankly, I think a sizeable section of the university is wasting the taxpayers' money. Too much of the time of too many of its staff is devoted to formal studies that, while worthwhile in themselves, are not intrinsically more worthwhile than other studies of more use to the community. I would like to see the universities introduce a range of degree structures solidly grounded in arts and science but with clear vocational ends. I think the need is overdue, and I think large numbers of students as well as employers would welcome such a change. Doing this would, moreover, combine the activities of arts and science departments with those of the professional schools. This, in itself, would produce an uncountable gain in communication across boundaries that are by tradition seldom crossed.