Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 18, No. 12. September 6, 1954
Oddments Page — The University of New Zealand — The Quality, Standing and Public Relations of the University
The University of New Zealand
The Quality, Standing and Public Relations of the University
. . . During the Past Year, two overseas visitors of distinction have given us the benefit of their views upon our University. We welcome this opportunity of seeing ourselves as two experienced academic persons see us.
"My next reaction concerning the University was with respect to its place in the community. Many of you both on and off the staff mentioned to me several times the impression that you in New Zealand take your professors much more seriously than we do in the United States. I must be frank to say that I had exactly the opposite reaction and this was rather to my surprise. It does not seem to me that New Zealanders in general hold University education high in their list of values. The relatively low position the University has in the list of priorities for capital spending and even for ordinary government funds and the relatively insignificant place of the University administrator and professor in public affairs seemed to me to bear out my impression.
"This is partly due I believe to the fact that that type of research from which the public can observe the results (i.e., applied science re-search) is almost exclusively the monopoly of a government department and not in the hands of the professors. It is also due in part I believe to the prevalent attitude that the function of the University education is to train a special type of artisan or skilled tradesman who for reasons of English tradition are trained at Universities and not at a training or technical college. . . .
"Since my New Zealand experience is the first with 'part-time' students that is one of the facets of your education to which I have a reaction. Now it is true that a very high percentage of our alleged 'full-time' students work at least part of their way through university. Perhaps we should define a university with full-time students as one where the university schedules its classes for its own convenience and the students fit their Jobs into the vacant periods, and a university with part-time students as one where the classes are arranged to fit the free time of the working students. There is more of a difference than this, of course. At home we in law at least impose formal requirements, so that a part-time student cannot proceed as rapidly as a so-called full-time student and we generally separate the two kinds of students into different programmes and consciously or unconsciously a professor compensates for the fact that his students have full-time as distinguished from part-time jobs."
"But—and here is a contrast rarely pointed—in New Zealand he found a complete lack of comprehension among all classes of the pensates for the fact that his stud-in the national life. The most significant indication of this, said Sir John, is that not one of New Zealand's four colleges was included in the itinerary for the Royal tour. Partially to account for this, he explains that the university there has many very special and particular problems.
"It consists of four colleges which until recently had a principal each, but no vice-Chancellor or equivalent head common to them all. Grants were made collectively with the general grant for schools, and were meagre in the extreme. Further, very few of the students had any sense of the university as anything but a kind of cramming establishment where they could take a course that would equip them with a certain skill or make them proficient for a certain profession. There were among them almost no idea of the kind of corporate life that is peculiar to universities and so vital a part of the blessings that they endow.
"The clearest sign of this attitude lay. Sir John found, in the views of the part-time students. There were in some colleges almost as many of these as there were full-time students, and none of them seemed to feel that they were missing something that the others were getting."
According to the report, Sir John further found that the University of New Zealand had failed to integrate itself into the wide and deep cultural interests of the New Zealander, as evidenced by bin observation of the number of bookshops in the country and by his conclusions that poetry seemed to be more widely read in New Zealand than in England and that bus conductors, shop assistants and waiters appeared to be on far better terms with the world of literature than their equivalents in Great Britain.
Quality of Education
These criticisms seem to raise three main points—the first as to the quality of our university education, the second as to the standing of the university with the Government and the third as to the standing of the university with the public.
Upon the first question we might enquire whether, as Professor Dunham says, the prevalent attitude in New Zealand is that university education must be practical, or whether as Sir John Stopford says, very few of the students have any sense of a university as anything but a kind of cramming—establishment where they can take a course that will equip them with a certain skill or make them proficient for a certain profession? What do we think about these matters? My own opinion is that the charge may be more applicable to part-time than to full-time students, but that even many of our full-time students look upon their university course as a means of acquiring qualifications for earning their living. So also, however, do students at British universities, most of whom are, I believe, full-time students.
"The motives for which students enter universities have always varied, but nowadays the great majority particularly of the men, regard a university course as a means of aquiring the necessary qualifications for a career. This is not only true of science and medicine. For Arts students also a University degree is commonly a means of chaining employment. Social and economic changes in recent yearn, as well as the ever expanding demand for experts of all kinds, have tended to emphasise the vocational aspect of university education."
"Yet the broader purposes of a university education were never more important than they are today. Society requires of the university graduate much more than his degree or his expert knowledge in a particular field. It also requires the breadth of outlook necessary for those Who are to fill positions Of responsibility, and a university cannot be said to have risen to the height of its obligations until it has designed its teaching as to ensure for all of its students who use their opportunities the chance to become, in words spoken by J. S. Mill more than eighty years ago, 'capable and cultivated human being'."
Then it is correct, as Sir John Stopford says, that our students have almost no idea of the kind of corporate life that is peculiar to Universities and be vital a part of the blessings which they bestow? it is correct that the Quality of our university education is reduced, as both Sir John and Professor Dunham seem to think, by the existence of our typo of part-time students? On this matter, having been for a greater part of my own law course a part-time student, I have an opinion. At great cost in time and labour, a part-time student living at home or in lodgings, can undertake his University course, can participate in the principal College societies and can make life-long friends and can talk till the small hours on all subjects under the sun and can enjoy it all immensely. His academic achievement may not be high but so long as he has learnt how to study he may pursue his professional studies in his postgraduate years. I think, however, that comparatively few part-timers are prepared to pay the price required for combining hand study with substantial participation in College life and that part-time students in general tend, consequently, to regard the University mainly as a kind of vocational training school.
If this criticism of our type of part-time student is valid, is there any remedy? Would it be desirable and practicable to encourage our part-time students to become part-time students of the American type? Could they be encouraged to earn enough money during the College vacations to enable them to maintain themselves during the College sessions? Would some College fund to assist students who feel the pinch on this basin of study, be desirable if it could be obtained and if it could be administered in confidence?
On the second main question: What is the standing of the University in the eyes of the Government? (I use the word 'government' to include the Government of any party), we ask whether the Government grants are, as Sir John Stopford is reported as saying, "meagre in the extreme" or, as Professor Dunham says relatively low in "the list of priorities for capital spending and even for ordinary government funds." Government knows, of course, that the country must have an adequate number of University graduates in order to staff the teaching profession, to provide scientists and also the [unclear: actising] members of various [unclear: professions], without whom the civilised life of the country could not continue. The University is assured [unclear: of] at least a minimum establishment which the Government knows must be maintained. Moreover, if Government wants more graduates for implementing any policy of its own, as it did when more medical graduates were required for the fulfilment of the Social Security scheme, Government will provide both capital and the recurrent expenditure which will be required. Furthermore, since World War II, Government has shown an increasing appreciation of the needs of the university. First, the re-current grants Have been substantially Increased so that, on a reasonable basis of comparison, they are now about the level of income for current expenditure of some of the provincial universities of Great Britain. Secondly, we have now the beginning, at least, of a policy of regular capital expenditure on urgently required large buildings. I would disagree emphatically with Sir John Stopford's criticism though I would agree with Professor Dunham's comment so far as it applies to capital expenditure prior to the recent authority for the plans for four major page 5 buildings. We shall see what priority is given to the construction of those buildings.
What is the standing of the University in the eyes of the public? Is Sir John Stopford correct in thinking that there is a complete lack of comprehension among all classes of the part that the. University can play in national life? Is Professor Dunham correct in thinking that New Zealanders do not in general hold University education high in their list of values? Is he correct in thinking that his view is supported by what he calls "the relatively insignificant place of the University administrator and professor in public affairs?"
An obvious comment upon Sir John Stopford's view is that if New Zealanders in general do have the wide and deep cultural interests which Sir John thinks they have, then one would expect that they would take some interest in their University, and would have some idea of the part that is could play in the national life, instead of having none.
That New Zealanders do, in fact, take more Interest in their University than our visitors think, may be inferred from a survey of public opinion in relation to the University conducted by the Department of Psychology of Victoria University College during 1953, A sample population in the Wellington suburbs of Newtown and Wadestown was selected . . . The report on the survey states that a test of the reliability of the results indicates that the findings are likely to be correct with-in a range of 3 per cent.
The sample population was asked questions concerning: (a) Who should be entitled to enter University? (b) What is the function of University training ? (c) What is the value placed on the University trained person? (d) Where should the cost of University administration and training be placed? (e) What opinion was held about students' extracurricular activities? (f) What opinions were held about University Students and (g) What is the public interest in Victoria University College.
I do not suggest that the answers of the sample population to these questions would prove a valid guide to the development of University education, but the answers to some of these questions should show reasonably well the attitude of the sample population towards the University.
On the question as to what is the value placed on the University trained person, one of the questions asked was this: "At election time would you prefer your candidate to have had a University education or would you prefer him not to have had?" About 40 per cent of the sample population preferred their political candidate to have had a University education. Only 4 per cent preferred him not to have had. Just over half of the sample indicated that they were more likely to be influenced by the personal qualities of the individual rather than the acquisition of a University education.
Upon the enquiry as to what is the public interest in Victoria University College, detailed questions were again asked. The answers may be summarised by saying that discussion on student activities and other University matters was reported in seven out of ten professional house-holds, but in only about one quarter of the households in the unskilled group. Over the whole sample population, discussion of University matters occurred in about half of the households.
The answers to the other questions with which the poll dealt but with which I have not the space to deal, would, in my view, confirm an inference that a genuine interest in University affairs was taken by about half of the sample population or Wellington. It would not be surprising if the public interest in the University cities was at least as great as it is in Wellington. In my view, that interest would be greater in Dunedin and Christchurch and perhaps, about the same in Auckland.
The conclusions to be drawn from our local "Gallup" poll indicate a public interest in the University which is much greater than the public interest which appeared to our visitors.
With regard to Professor Dunham's implied statement that the University administrator and professor occupies a relatively insignificant position in public affairs, I refrain from any comment concerning the administrators, among whom we are numbered I think that in New Zealand, in times of peace University professors arc not used to assist in the administration of public affairs to the same extent as they are in Great Britain or in the United States of America.
I think the reason why their assistance is not sought in this country, to any material extent, in times of peace is partly due to the fact that there is no tradition in the matter and partly to the fact that the selection of any individual for the purpose of advising on public affairs depends upon his personal qualities. The more a professor aquires a reputation not only for his professional knowledge but also for his wise judgment, the more is he likely to be asked to render public service. On the other hand, we should not forget that a professor's primary obligation is to do his own work and that any other work which he does will generally be justifiable only insofar as it does not interfere unduly with his professorial duties.
Having regard to the comments of our visitors, we might pay more specific attention from time to time to the real quality of the University education that we provide, to any improvements in that quality that are practicable and to any improvement in our public relations that may be brought about without the sacrifice of the freedom which is so vital a characteristic of a British University.
On the subject of public relations, I would add that each University College has probably much greater scope for action than the University at the centre. Perhaps each college could give some thought to this matter. Friendliness and knowledge deem to be the basis of good public relations. In Great Britain, it is easy for a. University to build on its foundation. A public man who is a graduate often returns to live in his College for a short period. Even if he is not a graduate, he is happy to take part in some important University function and to stay with the Vice-Chancellor. We have not these advantages but the University Colleges may find ways of showing courtesy to public men on important occasions. Information in the public Press would be very, valuable for reaching the public. So also would a College display of activities with explanations, over a period of several days. In the past, a conversazione of this kind has attracted many citizens. No doubt it means a lot of work and interferes with the College routine but a conversazione might be worth while at intervals. Could each Constituent College undertake one in rotation?