The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, October 1909
"The pity of it is that statements written of the great University thirty years ago, apply so nearly to them to-day."
—Professor Percy Gardner in "Oxford at the Cross-Roads."
The point most emphasized by the students' representative at the Capping ceremony was the need for a closer relationship between the people and the University. It is an ideal to be aimed at that the University should be regarded more as a civic institution and not as a stranger within our gates. An increase in the interest shown by the public, means greater encouragement for all connected with the University and University work. The influence of the University trained man is undoubtedly in the right direction, and the aim of the University should more and more be in the direction of producing men fitted to take their place in, and if needs be, to lead public life. At the present time however, the University is not designed for this end. It is difficult indeed to pass through the University without a broadening of thought and outlook; but the system by which this is achieved savours too much of compulsion; the average student is not page 14 inspired with a tremendous love of learning by the fact that an examination is the key to his success.
Even with its drawbacks, however, the present system does and must do good work. But this should not be sufficient: the Senate must see to it that the University, which is daily being opened to great number of students, provides an education which will be at the same time liberal and utilitarian. The public wish to learn the shortest way to wealth, and the University Senate offers them Greek and Latin. We do not suggest that the Senate should adopt the public ideal, but we do suggest that there is a middle course between the two extremes. The University system needs popularising. If the public do not flock the University, the University must be prepared to come down from its eminence and meet them, and attract them to itself. The University house needs putting in order, before the people will regard it as a suitable permanent habitation.
But when setting out on any reform of our present system, there must be borne in mind the fact that a raising of the present standard must always be aimed at. It should, we think, he the aim of the University system to give to every man an education that will help him in his professional career, in whatever direction that may lie; an education that will place his profession above the level of mere rule of thumb; that even though it does not, as indeed no education could, give him a complete knowledge of his profession, will at least show him the broad principles on which it is founded, an teach him to apply to the practical uses of every-day life the theories of the scientist and the philosopher.
A recent newspaper agitation advocating University extension lectures, although it very soon south and found the oblivion that awaits all newspaper agitation, served some purpose in calling attention to the lack to the utilita rain in our present system. The would-be journalist, to take a typical example, sees in our University system to to-day, no defined course upon which he would readily enter. It is true that he could well pick and choose subjects which would benefit him, but there is not in his and may other cases, any course designed for him, and he is therefore satisfied to toil on and learn from a ten years' experience, what a University education should teach him in three. It is the same with many other profession: even some which are provided for, are but ill provided for. There is a degree of Agriculture which no one page 15 as yet has attempted to gain; it is commonly said that the course is too difficult when judged by the value of the end achieved. There is also a Bachelor of Commerce degree which in Wellington itself attracts not half a dozen students and which is held in profound contempt by almost every accountant. As to whether this is justified we are not qualified to speak, but we feel sure that the time will come when merchant will value the clerk with a University training higher than one who has not taken advantage of the commercial course which the University offers. In America this is so to-day; if a man has natural ability, then his ability will be improved and directed along a right channel by a University training; if he is lacking in outstanding ability, then the systematic training which a University course gives, will stand him good stead. This is the point of view of the modern American; if our Senate is alive to its responsibilities, it may soon be the view-point of the New Zealander.
But so much depends on our University Senate. It is remarkable that the educational governing bodies should so often be composed of gentlemen whose views were fashionable yesterday and for the most part lost their utility long since. If it is impossible for the University Senate to move before, or even with the times—and so it seems—that body should at least sufficiently arouse itself from its state of coma, to follow at a respectably close interval upon the heels of modern thought. It is a standing tribute to the strength of human character, but reflects little credit on the educational system, that such a radical thinker as John Ruskin should have been the product of a University training of fifty years ago, or that an educationalist holding the advanced views of A. C. Benson should have outlived the downward leveling influence of a classical training of to-day.
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But in the meantime, the University is undoubtedly doing much good in our midst. While our present system is far removed from perfection, yet it does for the time being fill a want in the community. It is handicapped in more ways than one. Here in Victoria College we are sadly cramped. It is hard for the idealist, the dreamer, to realize that his University education depends for its being on pounds, shillings and pence. But such is the case. The growth of Victoria College as an institution has been abnormal; so much so that the building has long since ceased to provide accomodation sufficient for our needs. Some few months ago it was determined to attempt to raise funds to provide the College's most pressing need. The page 16 Government very generously promised a subsidy of two pounds for every pound collected up to a thousand, so that a thousand pounds given by the public means three times that amount for the intended purpose. The first statement published is indeed promising. A sum of over four hundred pounds has already been subscribed. It is to be hoped that the public of the Middle University District will show beyond all doubt that, despite its frequency, it is an unjust accusation to assert that we have no pride in our public institution and no interest in our educational advancement.
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It gives us much pleasure to welcome to our midst Professor T. H. Laby who arrived at the commencement of this term to undertake the duties appurtenant to the Chair of Physics. His path at present is a difficult one—the aforementioned lack of funds is a serious obstacle to the provision of the apparatus necessary for the proper teaching of his branch of study—but other Professors have met with the same difficulty and it has been overcome. We feel sure that his difficulty will disappear likewise.