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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 15. August 4, 1971

Planning and Education

Planning and Education

Planning is now fashionable and people of all shades of political opinion find it respectable. In New Zealand we talk of 'indicative planning" which puts us in the teasingly playful state between virginity and surrender we think about it but don't do it.

Yet planning will, and must increase. Whether it will be determined by economic goals and values to which people are fitted, or towards human goals and values to which the economy will be fitted is unclear. This is a value-judgment yet to be made, though the pressure to fit education to immediate economic needs is considerable.

One aspect of this is the concept of accountability which requires that goals (preferably, utilitarian) should be specified, and that output be measured against them. It is a neat balancing of usefulness and cost. In the U.S.A. some education is now being conducted on a contract basis, the contractor being paid only for those students who achieve the specified goals. The limitation of this sort of education is its restriction to easily measurable goals. Where education is regarded as training, this is the way to go, but, where it is regarded as varied or comprehensive growth, there need to be other ways of doing it.

This comes into sharp focus in the University, particularly with degrees in Arts. In terms of accountability they would be measured by their vocational usefulness.

One of the great dangers facing the Universities is the high money value attached to a degree. They have been so successful in selling their product that the financial rewards have become a major motive for a University education. This is a peculiarly corrupting influence because the Universities, while claiming much loftier aims, are, in effect, up to their necks in commercialism.

This is not to deny that there are spin-off values in a University education no matter how restricted or utilitarian. Nor is it to deny that many students in liberal arts become committed to nothing but themselves. But these effects are peripheral rather than central - at least, I hope so.

Recently, some seventh-formers spent several days in this University attending classes and talking with students and staff. They had no careers in mind, but had been looking forward to taking a degree with no purpose except the pleasure and satisfaction of ideas, knowledge and expanded vision. Commendably old-fashioned though not altogether unique.

After observing the place at work they were depressed and bewildered by what they described as the "unresponsiveness of the students" and the "dullness of the teaching". They may have been unlucky in the classes and the tutorials they attended, but they were smart enough to recognise the same old conveyor-belt they had been on for years.

What do you say to such people? What advice can you give? Eventually it depends on each person what he makes of it because, in this regard, the University is impersonal and detached. It is conscious of what C. Wright Mills called its 'noble if chilling ideal of the academic mind". Some students are repelled by this and would prefer that the University be marked by a "free-ranging and responsible play of intelligence informed by passion." But objectivity, so dear to the heart of academics, is endangered by passion and feelings.

Whether this traditional concept of a University can survive with any real significance alongside its growing vocationalism is a moot point. In the meantime, students who seek the 'free ranging and responsible play of intelligence" on the action and passions of their times may be disappointed.

It does come back to the individual. Those who are here for a ticket, are with the majority and will probably get as much out of it as anyone else like them. Those who don't know what they want to do and are waiting for something to turn up, may be disappointed. A University degree, especially in Arts, is not a specific vocational qualification. Those who are here to find out more about themselves and the world are likely to find it a satisfying experience. There must be some like that.

In essence. University education should be concerned with qualities, attitudes and intellectual skills:

The ability to think clearly,
The ability to grasp principles and concepts;
The capacity to assess evidence;
A certain intellectual curiosity;
A continuing scepticism;
A concern for accuracy;
A regard for imagination;
A sense of taste and discrimination.

These are for living, not just for work and should be so valued.

A University which does not have a primary and continuing concern for these, or similar, criteria is no more than a factory. If it has them, but does not make them clear to its students, it fails the students, itself and eventually, the whole community.

Planning, whether national or institutional, will go for the immediately useful, unless the planners are persuaded of the value of the above criteria, and this, in turn, depends on the degree of commitment of those in the general educative process. Another form of accountability?

Perhaps the way out is to base vocational training on a general education and to regard a B.A. as a springboard. The game's afoot and if those in it don't have opinions and live by them, then others will prevail.