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The Spike [: or, Victoria University College Review 1957]

The Reform of the University of New Zealand

page 2

The Reform of the University of New Zealand

At Its 1956 Meeting the Senate of the University of New Zealand resolved to promote legislation with the object of changing the titles of the constituent Colleges from "University College" to "University" in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Otago, since its foundation, has been The University of Otago. This year's Parliamentary session should see the passage of the legislation, with the resulting disappearance of Victoria University College and the emergence of The Victoria University of Wellington. But at the same time Senate resolved that the change of title should not of itself involve any changes in the powers and functions of the existing university institutions.

What then is the purpose of the change of name? In the first place it is the recognition of the fact that the Constituent Colleges have attained full University status. In the second, it represents a further step in the devolution, by the University of New Zealand, of its powers upon the Colleges themselves. It marks the fact that the reform of the University of New Zealand is, in academic matters, to all intents accomplished.

The University of New Zealand was originally established as an examining University, with a charter which empowered it to grant degrees as an inducement to those who wanted to study in the Colony. The University of Otago, already established, became affiliated to this institution, and the University Colleges, as they were founded, became affiliated in their turn. In the early days the system was adequate for its purpose, but as the Colleges grew so did their dissatisfaction with a system of control, in academic matters, imposed on them from above. This dissatisfaction led to a Royal Commission in 1925, and consequent legislation in 1926 which was intended to create a single unified University of New Zealand, of which the Colleges were an integral part, Constituent Colleges, and not merely affiliated institutions. The Colleges were at the same time granted considerable powers. Professorial Boards could, through the Academic Board, make recommendations on any matter affecting the University, and in particular could specify courses of study and the subject matter and content of examinations. The Academic Board could, in the first instance, only recommend to the Senate, but the latter body had the right to delegate certain of its powers relating to academic matters.

Over the years there has been a sedate and gradual delegation of these powers, and, since 1954, the process has been carried still further. By regulations approved in 1955 Senate has delegated to College Councils its powers to prescribe courses of study; and to the recently established Curriculum Committee its powers to approve such courses. The Curriculum Committee itself is composed mainly of representatives of the Colleges.

In fact, then, the Colleges are free to draw up their own courses, conduct their own examinations, carry on their own teaching and promote their own research. These are the functions of a University, and with Senate's act of abdication page 3 in 1955 the Colleges have become autonomous institutions. Hence the change of title.

But the four separate universities will still have their existence within the framework of the University of New Zealand. Although the administrative machinery has undergone steady modification through the years, and although the role of the University of New Zealand has changed from a controlling to a co-ordinating one, it has been for a long time clear that students, graduates and staff have owed no allegiance to the central body. The Colleges have never become members of the corporate body that was envisaged by the 1926 legislation, but have continued to emphasis their independent existence.

With this in mind Senate is investigating further the twin questions of the continued devolution of powers to the Colleges and the nature of central or co-ordinating bodies that will carry on some of the important functions that are at present the concern of the University of New Zealand. Present thinking is in the direction of a federation of universities, each a separate, autonomous, degree-granting institution. Experience both in New Zealand and overseas has shown that there are certain activities which can be performed more effectively by a central body on behalf of the Colleges than by the Colleges themselves, and that there is need for some form of co-ordination of the activities of the Colleges in order to maintain standards and to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort. Some such central body will be needed, for instance, to discover the financial needs of the entire University system and to advise the Government of these needs. This is the task of the present University Grants Committee, and is clearly one which is better carried out by a single body. Similarly the University has a responsibility to maintain a supply of people trained in a number of professional fields. The siting and development of special schools is a matter that affects the country as a whole, and can best be determined within a broad framework of academic policy, which in is turn can only be decided by the combined universities.

These and other considerations will influence the future development from the University of New Zealand to the Central Council of a Federation of Universities. Such a development must come gradually and the final form must be the outcome of experience gained by both the Colleges and the University. While analogies can be drawn with systems of university administration and control in other parts of the world, the system that will finally emerge will be New Zealand's own, based on the particular needs of our universities and of the country itself.

In the twenties the reform of the University of New Zealand was a burning issue and the source of much bitter conflict between the Colleges and the central body. Thirty years later there is co-operation and a logical and steady progress towards complete local autonomy. In the foreseeable future the University of New Zealand will have been reformed out of existence, but it is from this body that there will emerge the new organisation, more suited to the needs of the Universities and of the country.

S. G. C Ulliford