Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Spike [or Victoria University College Review 1954]

Science at Victoria

page 8

Science at Victoria

In fifty-five years, science at Victoria has come a long way. Viewing the present development, it is hard to believe that so short a time ago were the simple beginnings when the first science professor met his small group of students in a rented room, equipment was less than modest, and research little more than a dream for the future. Now, there are over 500 students enrolled for undergraduate tuition in science. Victoria is producing more graduates at M.Sc. than any other institution in this country. There is a richness and variety of research such that it is difficult to describe. The degree of Ph.D. is being actively pursued. Staff research is becoming more the rule than the exception. Still did Easterbrook, Laby, Kirk return to this the scene of their labours, they would find a common ground for discussion with their followers, for in the growth which the Departments have made, there has never been relief from the traditional problems of science at Victoria: meagre equipment, inadequate staffing and overcrowded accommodation.

The story of what happened up to recent years has been well told by Beaglehole and others from the general aspect of the history of the College as a whole. It differs in major features from the development of science in other universities in one respect. It has all happened in such a relatively short period, and in a period the shorter for nine years of war and five of financial depression, years in which normal development was largely impossible.. A university is started when there is a demand for higher education. This provides an instructor and a group of students, the need for a library; but when this is all, there is created only a unit which may differ little from the unit in secondary schools or at lower levels where a tutorial element may be even the stronger.

Victoria was fortunate that in the formative years, the professors selected for science were men who were able to place their units not just at the top of a secondary school scale, but to start them within the university scale. They were men possessed of the research outlook. In their early research papers, in their participation in the activities of the scientific community, and in other ways, these men were far removed from those who can impart only the knowledge they have gained from books. These men inspired research. From the start, science at Victoria had all the elements of the university standard. The founding of the Sir George Grey Scholarship in 1900, of the Jacob Joseph Scholarships in 1903 for post-graduate work, researches published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand from 1901 on, these and much else yield ample evidence that science was soundly established here at the start.

During the early years there was a slow but steady increase in the enrolment of undergraduates in the laboratory sciences, an increase which in the last years of the twenties had begun to accelerate so that in 1930 the roll in science stood nearly at 200. The depression led to a drop but only of the most temporary nature, for in 1932 the roll commenced to rise again, and significantly it resumed its previous accelerated rate of increase which continued with reasonable conformity to a curve in the vicinity of a 9 per cent, compounding increase per annum until 1941, when the enrolment stood at 275. Then in the middle of page 9 the war, the boom started which carried the enrolment in science to a peak of 660 students in 1949. These were years in which courses were rationed for first year students, laboratories were triplicated, and problems of staffing, accommodation, materials and equipment became insoluble.

The first relief from this intolerable overload came with the fall in numbers in 1950 to 570; next year to 512; and in 1952 to 486.. These two latter figures come within the vicinity of the line projected from the rising enrolment in the thirties, and it is again of major importance to recognise that we find the enrolment in 1953 rising again to 512 and conforming to the projected curve.

Fig.1: Undergraduate enrolments in science at Victoria from 1928 to 1953.

Fig.1: Undergraduate enrolments in science at Victoria from 1928 to 1953.

It is reasonable to regard this curve based on enrolments over 26 years as giving a fair guide to future estimates. Projecting the curve conservatively, we can anticipate an enrolment in science in the vicinity of 575 in 1956, and to reach 650, which is of the order of the peak of the war-time boom, before 1960 if a normal rate of development is permitted by a peace uncomplicated with economic slumps. The latter, from the evidence of the previous slump, cannot depress the increase sufficiently to postpone or solve the difficulties from over-crowding such as we have so recently experienced and from which we suffer to a considerable extent still in the duplication and even triplication, of classwork which places heavy demands on the time and energies of students, diminishes the page 10 opportunities for staff research, and hinders proper attention to the work of students at higher levels.

Overcrowding is adverse to reasonable and proper instruction in science. The consequences are many. Students working Chemistry are in the greatest physical danger when in the overcrowded laboratory there is little opportunity to supervise the work of the individual and to safeguard against accidents which can happen so easily if one student bumps another holding dangerous chemicals. Even the commonest acid can be a major danger under such circumstances.. In Physics, there is overcrowding when equipment cannot be adequately arranged without interference with other set-ups. I always marvel that our laboratories have been able to give instruction on experiments of an elementary nature such as those involving the detection and measurement of magnetic fields in relation to the flow of electricity when set-ups are crowded so that one compass can hardly be free from the magnetic fields in the next set-up. Other experiments present similar problems. In Zoology, four students depend on one light for illumination of their dissections, and for their microscopes. They are crowded together as in the old days when at home the family huddled to read from the one oil lamp.

Overcrowding is well indicated in the following figures. In 1930, the Physics wing housed Physics and Geology. Chemistry and Biology were in the original Science wing built in 1910. This space provided "accommodation" for staff, store and other service rooms, lecture rooms and laboratories. It could not be termed adequate. Many facilities were absent. Kirk's major storage was a loft above the Chemistry laboratory, dissection material was housed in wooden boxes, and I imagine much of his excellent teaching collection was even then on the stairway. Biology had nearly 90 students enrolled in its courses, Chemistry 130 (over twice the number for which its space originally had been intended), Physics 65, Geology 19. From the figures available, there was 181 square feet for each student of the 191 enrolled in science for that year.

In 1939, the total roll had risen to 252 and there was then 137 square feet per student. The addition in 1940 of the Biology Block to the accommodation raised the figure to 190 square feet but of course without benefit to work in Chemistry where the class roll was now 200. The onset of the war boom saw the space per student drop to 89 square feet in 1945 and to the low of 77 square feet in 1949 in spite of the removal of Geology to two huts.

The space available per student in 1954 was 99 square feet, one half that of the space per student in 1930. To give this some of its true weight, it can be pointed out that about 8 square feet is the allocation of space for a student in a lecture room. We are left then with an area per student of about 9 feet by 10 feet which is to be divided to provide laboratory space, quarters for graduate students, museums, stores, preparation, staff accommodation, technicians' quarters, class library, the usual conveniences and other amenities. It is not surprising that the latter are absent, that there are no reading-rooms, common-rooms, cloakrooms and other customary provisions for the work, the comfort and the convenience of students. We can recognise that the situation was not good in 1930 when there was an overall of 181 square feet per student. It was bad enough in the thirties, that when the figure dropped to 140 square feet the situation was recognised page 11 and a new building, the Biology Block, was commenced. Then we can understand how dramatic is the situation in Chemistry today when there is only 48 square feet per student attending classes in Chemistry, and even in the Biology Block for the combined Departments of Botany and Zoology, which together in 1953 had only 30 students less than Chemistry. In the Biology Block there was only 67 square feet per student in the classes for Botany and Zoology. This figure is lower than the minimum of the overall figure of 77 for the science departments during the boom and to all practical purposes no better than during the peak, when the figure for the two Departments in Biology dropped to 57 square feet per student.

Some will immediately say that the criterion employed here is unreliable since if we use a lecture seat and a laboratory place once in a day, these same places are available at least three more times during that day, and so the load in a building can be tripled or quadrupled. Such an argument is valid in circumstances other than those known at Victoria in the past fifteen years. At the present time, there are few laboratories which are not under almost continual use. This is only too well known from attempts to rearrange the time-table to redistribute the load for students. If those who are canny of broad figures such as used above will recognise that the case is not made out on minor differences, but that even for Botany and Zoology which appear lavishly housed the space per student today is about one third of the space per student in 1930, then even the harshest critic will find that this evidence of overcrowding in science at Victoria is not to be casually dismissed.

Even if gross overcrowding in undergraduate work can be inadequately met with by dividing classes into sections, duplicating and triplicating instruction, and loading the staff so that research becomes, as it is, a matter of great personal sacrifice and strain, the handling of advanced students and graduate work cannot be coped with in the same way. The graduate must have his own research space and facilities available to him for the full day and for each day in the week throughout the year.

Victoria in the past fourteen years has achieved an objective clearly in the minds of the original professors. Victoria has become an active centre of research. Although the youngers member of the University of New Zealand, Victoria is now the leading training centre of young scientists in this country. This may result from some accident of location or some other factor external to Victoria itself; it certainly does not result from reasonable accommodation, equipment and other facilities. But the facts are that from 1940 to 1952 inclusive there were 560 graduates in the laboratory sciences at the level of M.Sc. from the University of New Zealand. Of these, Victoria graduated 184 (32.8 per cent.); Auckland, 152 (27.1 per cent.); Canterbury, 127 (22.6 per cent.); and Otago, 97 (17.3 per cent.). Victoria's status in this respect is quite clear. If we take the total figure of 560, the average production of M.Sc. in the laboratory sciences from the University as a whole over 13 years has been 43 per annum, which can be takea for the present purpose as 11 per annum per college. When we set out the production each year above this average for the different Colleges we find that the high production at Victoria is not a passing event, not a part of the post-war boom, but one which is continuing and will continue.

page 12

Production of M.Sc. in the Laboratory Sciences above the Average of 11 p.a. per College

A.U.C. V.U.C. C.U.C. Otago
1941 12
1945 16 16
1946 14 18 17 12
1947 16 25 21 15
1948 24 17 12 20
1949 23 20
1950 19 15
1951 16 21
1952 19 18

The above table presents a picture of the development of graduate work at Victoria which differs markedly from ordinary ideas. The period is selected because the onset of war broke the old practice where graduates went overseas. In 1940, Victoria graduated 10 at M.Sc., but manpower direction removed our students as they graduated at the B.Sc. and in 1941 and 1942 few were available for higher studies. It was actually in 1943 and 1944 that the numbers enrolled for this degree began to return to normal, so that in 1945, and before the war-boom enrolment could affect this level, the production of M.Sc. graduates was resumed.

It is important to recognise this fact. The production of M.Sc. graduates at Victoria as the war ended was not related to the war-time boom, and it has continued with little evidence of a peak related to that peak in undergraduate enrolment. Graduate work must now be accepted as an important and continuing activity at Victoria.

In those 13 years, there have been 80 graduates in the University of New Zealand at this level in Botany. Victoria has graduated 35.7 per cent. of these. There were 267 graduated at M.Sc. in Chemistry, and 28.7 per cent of these were from Victoria. Victoria graduated 29 per cent, of the 112 M.Sc. granted in Physics, and 34 per cent. of the 38 graduated in Geology. There were 63 graduated in Zoology, and of these 55.5 per cent, were graduated from Victoria. These figures show that Victoria is well-balanced in the production of graduates from her departments of science.

Since graduate work in the laboratory sciences is now a permanent feature of Victoria, it is worth examining other aspects of the situation. Such a development in work at this level was never allowed for in planning the space for these departments. Today graduate work is a major embarrassment now that Victoria is carrying a proper load in this respect instead of shipping the majority of her graduates overseas and letting other institutions shoulder this burden.

Certainly, there is no reason to believe that adequate accommodation and facilities are attracting students to Victoria. M.Sc. students are working in the page 13 space under the wooden floor of a lecture theatre; twelve are crowded into a room originally intended for four. Service rooms have been taken over to provide space. Nowhere is there anything in the nature of adequate or suitable accommodation.

Augmenting this situation is the development of work for the Ph.D. If plans to provide for the burden of M.Sc. students were deficient, when we judge from present evidence plans for Ph.D. work were totally omitted from all calculations. In the early years with few M.Sc. students, and many departing to universities in other countries, departments here were required to provide space for a student proceeding beyond the B.Sc. for a matter of one or two years. Then the space became available again. Now with the Ph.D., the department must provide space for from two to four years beyond the M.Sc. One postgraduate will occupy a research place for from two to six years. With the high numbers of M.Sc. candidates to be catered for each year, with the occupation of research places for long periods by candidates for the higher degree, places for graduate research are becoming dangerously full.. In the Biology Block, all research places are now full and there is no accommodation in sight for all of those from the present senior classes who seek to advance to the M.Sc. next year. If we look back to the figures of the numbers graduated in Botany and Zoology from the University as a whole, we see that of a total of 143, Victoria graduated 63, which is 44 per cent, of that total. It might appear that Victoria is adequately contributing to the national requirement for trained zoologists and botanists, and yet there has never been a year in our experience in which the demand for graduates in these fields has been satisfied. If we are unable to continue the expansion of graduate training through inadequate accommodation, it is not Victoria which suffers, other than in the thwarting of a natural and proper development. It is the impedence of research development such as agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, wild-life control, forestry, soil microbiology, wool research, and as many other and more fields of some national importance. It is the supply of qualified and reasonably mature biologists as teachers for the secondary schools which is limited. These have all accepted our graduates, and seek more. The case is equally strong in the other science departments. Those who fail to see that the critical situation at Victoria is not a matter of importance far beyond the walls of the College, should ready their excuses now for the charges which the historian in the future will surely lay against them.

In the path which Victoria now follows, the steps are clear from our own history of institutions in older centres. First there is the establishment of undergraduate teaching, the young graduates for the first part going to other older-established and highly developed institutions. Then, just as the development of undergraduate teaching is slow, there is the long period in which graduate instruction quietly but steadily develops, and a new atmosphere appears as small groups of developing maturity form in the different departments. The increase in undergraduate teaching leads to an increase in staff. It is this formation of a group of maturing and mature individuals with a research outlook which is essential to the completeness of a university department. There is no way in which there cart be an atmosphere of enquiry, if the work of a department is entirely the teaching of undergraduates. The true atmosphere comes when page 14 graduate training and staff researches are fully developed, and fruitful. It is then that a new spirit appears in a department, a morale which reflects in the work of the department at all levels. Undoubtedly, one of the great contributions to this morale is in the presence and activities of graduates working to the Ph.D.

Consider a department at its inception. Maturity and research are limited and little more than the prerogative of the senior staff. In a fully developed department, there are the students at all levels of maturity, there is a breadth of research activities which not only extends the atmosphere of enquiry but exposes all to new problems, new ideas, new techniques, and is a constant and refreshing stimulus for all.

This is what has happened at Victoria. The rate of transition from the early stages to the latter situation was tremendously accelerated during the war years not because this led to a boom in student numbers, but because for a time the tradition of exporting our maturing graduates was interrupted. Overseas institutions were overcrowded for some years. Our graduates found that they could continue their training here, and they could train here on New Zealand material and problems.

In 1949, there were four students registered in the laboratory sciences as candidates for the Ph.D. at Victoria. In 1950, the number was 8; 1951, 1952, 7. In 1953, the number was 11. In the course of time, their researches will be completed and each will have made his contribution to the body of knowledge which is science in New Zealand. It is easy to see the benefit we gain in this development.. There is the definite contribution to knowledge obtained in the study of a problem. There is the production of scientists trained in the study of New Zealand problems, in New Zealand. There is the augmentation of the research atmosphere. There is the widening of research activities and interests. There is the stimulation of students at all levels. Such returns are worthwhile and only to be found in the development of a fully formed university department. One department at Victoria has 16 enrolled for higher degrees, 6 for the Ph.D., 10 for M.Sc. Another department has 15 graduate students. The scale of this work at Victoria has not been appreciated in recent years. Few have realised that Victoria as a university has become mature in her science and from now on can grow in stature only as she is provided with means for the further development of this full range of her activities. It is now as important and urgent to provide for graduate instruction and research at Victoria, as before it was important to provide for undergraduates. It can only be hoped that the provision for graduate work will be on a scale more generous than was known for the undergraduates in the past twenty years.

This new phase has great potential value. New Zealand has had little experience of a large, fully functioning university centre. Elsewhere, it has been found that when a university develops to the stage which Victoria has now reached, the research potential of the institution becomes a major asset. In the fully formed university atmosphere, there is room to include enquiry into problems of national significance. Commonly the research interest of a staff member will encourage one or two students to research on such lines for a doctoral degree. This work paves the way for others who join with the group until a unit is functional and the whole subject flourishes under intensive investigation. Having page 15 the freedom for research which is such an important feature of science within the university, the problem can be freely followed even on the most seemingly futile but sometimes ultimately fruitful lines. Such a unit can remain inside the university, or be hived off as a fully formed and active specialised research unit and so continue its development under other auspices. The mature university has great advantages as the home for the inception and development of research. It has freedom to research. It has a qualified staff experienced in research, and, of major importance, staff trained to instruct and encourage others in research. It has the steady flow of young candidates for the higher degrees and the opportunity to match these candidates with research problems. It has a flexibility in research which is an exceptional asset. Of equal importance with all of these, it is charged with and accepts the duty of these requirements. No other institution has the range of these qualifications.

This phase in the history of science at Victoria is now in the process of development. It commenced quietly and in a manner which was not generally recognised, a few years ago when the University of New Zealand set up and financed a University Research Grants Committee which was to make grants to encourage the development of research in the constituent institutions. The work of this committee has assisted staff in their researches in the most diverse ways. It has encouraged graduates to carry on their researches for higher degrees. In brief, aft present it makes possible this next phase in which will emerge small specilised research units in a wide variety of fields, and there will be growth in stature of the university. Fortunately the Grants scheme came in time, but the demands on the resources of that Committee will grow now in a geometric and not in a simple arithmetic proportion.

The view of science at Victoria given above will raise questions in the mind of many, and without doubt, a primary question will be that concerning the future for all these graduates. Few will have had any conception of the number of graduates in science from this one College. The number seems almost unemployable in a community which we so apologetically describe as "small". The New Zealand community is expanding, but of more significance is the fact that the utilisation of scientists in this country is expanding even more rapidly. In 1948, there was published a Report of the Consultative Committee on the Scientific Manpower Resources of New Zealand. This report shows that in 1927, there were 162 scientists employed here. Ten years later, this had risen to 443, and more than doubled to reach a figure of 1,040 by 1947. From these figures and the figures of the intermediate years, it was estimated that the requirement in 1952-53 would be 2,207, a doubling of the employed scientists in five years. The estimate has proven low. In spite of the heavy production of graduates at B.Sc. and at M.Sc, from Victoria, not one science department has yet met the demands from other organisations for graduates in its field, nor does the total output from the University meet the demand. The export of graduates has recommenced and if the previous situation as recorded in the Scientific Manpower report is resumed, a third of our graduates will go overseas and about half will not return. With the present number of graduates, these proportions will now probably be lower, but still significant, and should there be no relief from overcrowding, then as the numbers increase relatively more graduates will be compelled by lack to accommodation page 16 here to seek further training outside this country. So in the near future as we are forced to refuse graduates for higher training because there is literally no accommodation for them, then the export will resume its former level and have its former consequences.

There has been some fear that the increasing number of graduates concentrating in the University is in no small measure responsible for the inability of the University to meet the demands for trained scientists. In brief, that our graduates are largely concerned with seeking a career within the walls of the University. Such an impression is readily gained during a period when the number of graduates continuing to higher degrees is steadily increasing. The real situation is that the advantages to be gained from higher qualification are now fully appreciated by the young graduate. The opportunity exists to obtain such qualification as well here as overseas, and an increasing number of young graduates is prepared to accept a further low income period and to make the sacrifice necessary in proceeding to the higher degree; but obviously, only the merest and an insignificant fraction of the 192 graduates in the laboratory sciences at M.Sc. from Victoria in the past fourteen years have joined the academic staff and the great majority have taken their part in the doubling of the scientific labour force in recent years. Evidence even here to quell any fear that Victoria is a parent fattening on her own young, for the staff of the science departments is now only about 33, of whom over one third originated elsewhere or in earlier years. The number of staff is essentially unchanged in recent years. As our graduates reach the level of qualification which they seek, they depart from Victoria.

Our graduates in science are to be found in nearly every field of research in this country and many are employed in other countries. They are active in administration and liaison, in general agriculture, in animal husbandry, bacteriology, wool genetics, soil chemistry and microbiology, general botany, in inorganic, organic and agricultural chemistry, biochemistry, entomological researches, forestry, general geology, palaeontology, physics, meteorology, veterinary science, wild-life research, primary and secondary school teaching, and in many other scientific activities. It is impossible here to convey a detailed account of the utilisation of our graduates in science. Let it be recognised from the above that there is no narrowness or restrictions in their utilisation such that our graduates are only available for a limited field in the scientific effort of this country. Let is be equally recognised that the demand for scientists exceeds the present production from the University and that the demand is increasing faster than this production. There is no need to argue here the need for this increased scientific effort in New Zealand. It is adequately recognised in the growth of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and in the research activities of other departments such as Agriculture, Forestry, etc. Place against even these few facts, the progress that Victoria has made to become the major producer of trained scientists.

Now consider the present situation at Victoria. If adequate accommodation, staff and equipment are provided then Victoria will make still further progress, not simply as a producer of graduates but as an active participant and contributor to the researches which are essential to the development of this country, as has been the case with so many large and important universities elsewhere. At page 17 Victoria, our graduates will train and train adequately on researches into New Zealand problems. They will enter employment with the background of that experience and with an enthusiasm strengthened in the knowledge that the need for such work has been recognised not just in the setting up of a tiny research unit oustide the university but by the full recognition of the need for trained scientists for such work. Such recognition must include the provision of reasonable accommodation, equipment, and adequate staff. The latter should not be omitted from consideration since it is an active staff interested in and encouraged to research who lead the student through the years of preparation to the fruitful fields of research.

Without such recognition of the place of Victoria in New Zealand science, of the level to which Victoria has now advanced, and of the full potentiality which Victoria can achieve, the production of graduates is threatened, and is limited to a level far beneath this country's requirement.

There has been some measure of abuse directed at the University in its failure to produce the numbers of scientists required for New Zealand's scientific effort, In this article I have shown that at Victoria there has been an extremely short period for the development of the science departments from undergraduate instruction to the final phase of a fully developed university. Such growth was initially slow, but has now come to the abruptedly growing phase, and graduate training and research are flourishing. Victoria has even reached the stage where students from overseas seek to come here for higher degrees, and unhappily some have had to be refused because there is literally no accommodation for them. In this and other ways we are delayed in reaching our proper development as a university of equal standing with many other institutions. Victoria has all the potentiality for meeting a great part of the demand for research workers in New Zealand. There is no question of inadequate quality. Those of our graduates who seek training or employment overseas have no difficulty in finding such and at a proper level. It is fair to state that Victoria has done its part, seeks only to perform its proper function in the future, and is now limited only so far as there is failure to provide proper facilities here for the sons and daughters of New Zealand who seek to serve this country in the fields of science,

L. R. Richardson