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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

[University Development in New Zealand]

The lines along which the University of New Zealand has developed have been practically determined by the geographical configuration and the political history of the colony. Early settlement in New Zealand did not radiate from one single point, but from several. Each group of settlers looked to the spot where they had first landed as a kind of little metropolis, which was to be the centre of their civic life, and the focus of their struggling interests. Thus the country was pierced at many points; and those who spread inland from each point were bound together by a certain community of interest, out of which fellowship grew a local patriotism and a sense of political union.

It was in this way that the foundations were laid for provincial government, which formed a vital element in the constitution granted to the colony in 1854. The ports became capitals of provinces; each had a legislature, whose business it was to promote settlement within its boundaries, to frame ordinances for government, and provide for the intellectual requirements of the rising generation. For many years it was the provinces, far more than the general government, which did the work of building up the young community. For education provision was made by each, in different degrees, according to the spirit and sense of future needs, which animated each. On the whole, primary and secondary education were fairly well provided for from the beginning; but, though university education hovered as an ideal before the best minds, naturally many years elapsed before there could be any concrete embodiment of their aspirations. The first definite move in this direction was made, not by any province, but by the General Assembly. In 1867 a Joint Committee of both Houses was appointed to consider a proposal for establishing scholarships to enable young New Zealanders to proceed to universities. The Committee enlarged its order of page 258 reference into an inquiry into the feasibility or advisability of establishing a university in New Zealand itself. Its report was adverse to such a scheme, but it recommended that provision should be made, in the form of land reserves in different parts of the colony, for any future university that might be set up. Effect was given to this recommendation by the "University Endowments Act" of 1868.

While things were at this inchoate stage, the practical initiative passed into the hands of a province. In 1869 the University of Otago was founded by an Ordinance of the Provincial Council, and in 1871 it was opened with a staff of three professors, and power to grant degrees in arts, medicine, and law. This settled the question of feasibility, and in 1870 the Parliament of the colony responded with a New Zealand University Act, creating an institution with power to grant degrees in arts, medicine, law, and music, and empowered also to affiliate schools and colleges in different parts of the country. The extraordinary spectacle was thus presented of two universities for a mere handful of people grouped round ports separated from each other by hundreds of miles. The New Zealand University was dragged down by having affiliated a number of secondary schools, and the whole position was very anomalous. In 1873 a way to a more symmetrical arrangement was opened up by the establishment of a university college for Canterbury, the intention being that it should be affiliated to the New Zealand University. Negotiations were entered upon between representatives of Otago and Canterbury on one side and the Senate of the University of New Zealand on the other, with a view to amalgamation. The negotiations were protracted, and not always harmonious. At length a scheme was evolved, which practically laid the foundation of the present New Zealand University system. Put briefly, the terms of agreement were as follows:
(1)The University Act of 1870 was to be repealed, and a new Act promoted, reconstituting the University of New Zealand as an examining body, with no power of interference in the internal affairs of the affiliated colleges, such as finance, or the appointment of professors.
(2)The model to be kept in view generally, in fixing standards and drawing up statutes, was to be the University of London.
(3)The University of Otago was to surrender its power of granting degrees, and put in abeyance its claim to a charter, and, with Canterbury College, was to be affiliated to the New Zealand University.

Legislation on these lines was passed by the New Zealand Parliament in 1874, and in 1877 a Charter from the Crown was ssued to the New Zealand University.

So far the affiliated teaching colleges were confined to the South Island, that is, roughly, to one-half of the colony, and nothing had been done at Auckland or Wellington. In 1879 page 259 a Royal Commission recommended that the scheme should be rounded off by the establishment of university colleges at these centres also; and, pursuant to this, in 1882 a college was founded at Auckland, with a statutory grant from Parliament. But Wellington was to have its hopes deferred for many years more, while these hopes were kept on the stretch by various abortive legislative experiments. At length in 1898 provision was made for a college on somewhat similar lines to that of Auckland, and the university system of the colony found itself firmly planted on its four legs.

This is the system under which the work of university education has been, and is being, carried on in New Zealand, The University and its colleges, although technically distinct, have profoundly influenced each other, and the progress and expansion of the one have contributed to the progress and expansion of the other. The University has, in the course of time, obtained considerable enlargement of its powers as a degree-granting body, and now confers degrees in arts, science, engineering (mechanical, electrical, civil, mining, and metallurgical), agriculture, medicine, dentistry, law, commerce, and music, with a diploma in journalism. This list may be taken as fairly representing the practical tendencies in the university development of the colony. Such tendencies are natural enough in a new country, and would find a large body of expert university opinion in their favour at the present day. The total roll of graduates now numbers about 1,300. No discrimination between the sexes has been made either by university or colleges.

But it is in the teaching colleges that the real evidence of progress is to be sought. From very small beginnings they have made a steady advance, until at the present time the average number of students attending at each of the four is over four hundred. Buildings have been extended; a wing added here, a new block erected there. Every faculty represented in the diversity scheme of degrees has its teaching machinery, on a smaller or larger scale, in some one of the colleges, and many of them in all four. This, of course, entails a good deal of overlapping, rendered inevitable by the fact that each institution has to consider the needs of its own part of the country. Owing to the distances which separate them, each college acts quite independently of the others in building up its schools and faculties. Yet a certain amount of faculty-specialization has been evolved. Otago has had a medical school from the beginning, and at different periods since has added a mining and a dental school. Canterbury College has had a school of mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering for twenty years, and has recently added schools of commerce and music. Victoria College, Wellington, page 260 concentrates a good deal of its energies on its law school. The Auckland College has schools of commerce and music, and carries the university syllabus in the various branches of engineering up to a certain stage. Of course the preliminary arts and science portion of all professional courses can be taken at any one of the colleges.

With regard to the composition of the teaching staffs of the colleges, the following statement, grouping the professors and lecturers under the universities to which they respectively belong, might be of interest.*

  • Otago (including medical).—New Zealand 11, Edinburgh 9 (5 medical), London 3, Aberdeen 3, Cambridge 2 Birmingham 1, Dublin 1. No university degree, but diplomas of other kinds, 5.
  • Canterbury.—New Zealand 13, Cambridge 3, Manchester 2 Liverpool 1, Oxford 1, Edinburgh 1, Giessen 1, Adelaide 1, no university degree 2.
  • Wellington.—New Zealand 10, Oxford 2, Cambridge 2, St. Andrews 2, London 1, Edinburgh 1, Glasgow 1, Sydney 1, Würzburg 1, no university degree 2.
  • Auckland.—New Zealand 5, Oxford 4, London 3, Cambridge 1, Dublin 1, Sydney 1, no university degree 2.

Apart from New Zealanders, it will be seen that Otago and Wellington have between them sixteen Scottish graduates, while Christchurch and Auckland have but one; that Oxford is represented by seven (four being at Auckland and none at Dunedin), Cambridge by eight, London by seven, the younger British universities by four, Australian universities by three, Dublin by two, German universities by two, while ten have not graduated at any university.

The University of New Zealand has now reached a critical stage in its development. So far it, in conjunction with its colleges, has satisfied fairly well the requirements of the country. It has turned out a large number of lawyers, doctors, engineers, schoolmasters, and ministers of various denominations. Its graduates are a useful element in the New Zealand Parliament. It has imparted a certain uniform stamp of culture, which is as unmistakeable in its way as the Oxford or Cambridge touch, Educated New Zealand, at least the present generation of it, has New Zealand University written all over it. Modifications are largely due to variations in spirit and temperament between the different colleges; but there is a solid substratum of identity. There has not been time yet for extensive differentiation of type, and, what is equally important, there has not been scope for it.

New Zealand life and society, themselves, still run in limited and well-defined grooves, as compared with the endless varieties, which the centuries have developed in the older civilisations. The page 261 university in this respect reflects the community. And, so far, the country has not been able to absorb its own most brilliant graduates. Rhodes scholars and research science scholars do not return when their scholarships have expired, except as a counsel of despair. New Zealanders are to be found in many positions, professorial and other, both in England and in America. But the highly specialised men find themselves adrift in their own country; many of them are to be found doing the most incongruous work in the primary schools.

But, apart from the practical question of occupation, which confronts the educated of every country, perhaps the most interesting problem before the University of New Zealand at present is, how to develop a more varied and original culture in its students, and, through them, in the community generally. The country which exhibits a certain amount of originality in its industrial and social legislation, and in mechanical appliances, shows very little in science or literature. Various reasons are assigned. One is, that lack of means cripples the equipment of the colleges in the matter of laboratories and libraries. Another is, that the system of having a body of outside examiners for degrees tends to cramming, and kills the free play of individuality, both in teachers and students. Another is, that the New Zealander, like the Irishman, requires to go to some other country to show what is really in him.

As to examinations, this is not the place for a discussion of the academic aspects of the question, nor am I disposed here to take a side in the controversies which have recently been agitating the academic world on the matter The examination system has laid its grip on the whole British world; and, if the system is pernicious, New Zealand suffers in company with the rest of the Empire. There is, really, plenty of outside influence being brought to bear on New Zealand University education. The bulk of the degree examinations are conducted by men in the Old Country; and, notwithstanding the large infusion of a New Zealand element in the college teaching, the full-time professorial chairs are still mainly filled from the universities of England and Scotland, There should not be much danger either of stagnation or of crystallisation; unless it be that, as Radical commoners become Conservative in the House of Lords, so a new professor, buoyant, hopeful, and greatly daring, gradually becomes infected by the lethargic poison of routine.

The truth seems to be that the New Zealand atmosphere, itself, is not yet charged with that intellectual buoyancy and energy which make for scientific discovery or literary creation. As a new country, it is mainly occupied with the problems of its own practical development; and for such a stage the present page 262 work-a-day university system seems to be adequate and appropriate. No university, however ardent and idealistic, can afford, any more than a statesman, to out-strip by too great a distance the average state of the public mind. If the hopes of higher educationists in New Zealand are to rest on a firm basis, it must be found in the gradual and progressive development of the teaching colleges, proceeding pari passu with the awakening intellectual needs and practical requirements of the country. It is rather an unprofitable business quarrelling with the organisation under which one works. Proposals for drastic change in New Zealand are confronted with practical difficulties of the gravest character, a full discussion of which would require a space disproportionate to the general character of this Review and its readers' interest in the subject.

J. W. Joynt.