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irrelevant to the issue which I have raised. My
objection to the proposed scheme is, not that it applies
the examination test unfairly, but that it applies no
other test. If the condition of passing an examination
be the only one required by a university for obtaining
its degrees, it is plain that the qualities of education
which an examination is competent to elicit are the
only ones which such a university will tend to develop.
The Central Board of Examination would, no doubt,
be perfectly impartial as between the various systems
of which the results would be submitted to it ; but if
its tests are only fitted for the discovery of merit of a
certain kind, it could not but favour the systems which
were most efficacious in producing that sort of merit.
But we need not on this point rely altogether on
speculative considerations. We have already had
tolerably large experience of the working of such a
system in the examinations for the Indian Civil Ser-
vice. These examinations are probably conducted in
a manner as well fitted to defeat " cram " as in the
nature of the case is possible ; and what is the lesson
which the experiment teaches ? I believe it is this,
that in such a contest the places of education in which
collegiate training is enforced are not competent to
hold their ground against the competition of the pro-


fessional " coach." Unfortunately it is not possible to
exhibit the results of the experiment in statistical form,
as it is the custom of the Civil Service Commissioners
to ignore in their returns the places of special instruc-
tion, in which the majority of the candidates spend
two or three years before presenting themselves for
examination. The effect of this is that the work
of the professional trainers is concealed ; the univer-
sities and schools obtaining credit largely for successes
which are in fact due to other means of instruction.
The working of the system, therefore, as regards the
point in hand, cannot be exhibited statistically. I will,
however, quote the opinion of a friend who, with
the advantage of some experience as an examiner,
has watched the experiment. " My own opinion,"
he writes, " is that university candidates are declining
and must decline in numbers ; the Indian Civil Service
examinations are making a sort of university them-
selves. A lad of 1 6 or 17 goes to a 'coach,' and at
the end of a year goes in to the examination to see
what it is like ; he thus feels his way, ascertains his
weak points, and has some means of judging whether
he may be successful in a second or third venture ;
and it constantly happens that a selected candidate
has been up once, if not twice, before. The Civil
Service Halls, Institutes, and what not, are thus in
the same relation to the Indian Civil Service examina-
tion that the affiliated Colleges of London University
are to it. It is quite impossible that the older Uni-
versities can compete with this system." Such, in the
opinion of careful observers, is the tendency of com-
petitive examination in relation to collegiate training
P. E. u


in the most important instance in which it has yet
been tried ; and this may enable us to form an idea
of what would be the result of remodelling our entire,
university system on the plan of the Civil Service
Commission, which is in effect the reform now proposed.
It could only, as it seems to me, discourage, and ulti-
mately lead to the abandonment altogether in the
higher education of systematic training in colleges,
the one effectual safeguard which we possess against
the gravest intellectual danger of the time. The
older universities might, under such a regime, for a
time hold their ground : their prestige would not at
once perish. But for places like the Irish Queen's
Colleges, institutions of yesterday institutions
which, far from being aided by prestige, have had to
struggle against a weight of disingenuous misrepre-
sentation and carefully fostered odium, the result of
such a policy could only be quick destruction.*

Nor would the mischief of this movement be con-
fined to its intellectual consequences. With the
collegiate system would also be lost advantages of
a moral and social kind, scarcely, if at all, less im-
portant than its more direct and palpable benefits,
those manifold helps to the formation of character
which arise from bringing young men together at

* I am inclined, on consideration, to think that it would prove even
more certainly the destruction of " The Catholic University." Over and
above the causes indicated, which would affect this institution (as it also
enforces the collegiate principle) equally with the Queen's Colleges, there
would be the desire to escape ecclesiastical dictation. To the plea of
poverty, with which the recommendation of the priesthood to parents to
send their sons to "The Catholic University" could easily be met, there
would be no effective reply. Hence, no doubt, the strenuous repudiation
by the clerical party of this lay scheme.


the most impressionable period of life, and placing
them under the influence of minds not unsympathetic
with theirs, while instructed and mature. In the
friendly intimacies and honourable rivalries of those
three or four years, what opportunities occur for
lessons in the practical ethics of life ! lessons at once
in modesty and self-respect, laid silently to heart as
the student measures himself against his fellows, and
ascertains his true mental stature lessons in candour
and toleration as he discovers how most questions
have two sides, on either of which good and earnest
men are found to range themselves lessons in the
practical value and skilful handling of the truths
learned in the lecture-room, afforded by conversation
with his companions and by the opportunities of the
debating club ; lastly, lessons in self-reliance, sim-
plicity, and manliness of character, inhaled with the
moral atmosphere of a place in which the only
distinctions known are those which in the actual
arena have made their pretensions good.

These are advantages incidental to the Collegiate
system wherever it is established ; but for a country
like Ireland, long torn with religious dissensions,
where for centuries Protestants and Catholics edu-
cated in opposite camps have learned to regard each
other almost as natural enemies, the system, carried
out as it is in the Queen's Colleges, has manifestly
a special adaptation. What can be better fitted to
qualify the virus of bigotry and engender feelings of
mutual consideration and respect, what better pre-
paration for the duties of citizenship in a country
of mixed religious faith can be imagined, than a

u 2


system of education which furnishes to the youths
of all religious denominations neutral ground on
which they may meet and cultivate in common, with-
out reference to the causes which divide them, those
pursuits in which they have a common interest ?
It is a noteworthy fact, and one for which, let us
observe in passing, the authorities in those institutions
deserve some little credit, that throughout the fifteen
years of their existence, with one single and transient
exception,* not an instance in any of the colleges
has occurred of dissension due to religious differences.
And this result has been attained, while religious
controversy has been raging with the utmost fury
all around, and while propagandist societies in the
case of one of the colleges at least, and that one in
which Catholics and Protestants meet in almost
exactly equal numbers have been pushing their
operations almost at the college doors. Yet, in
spite of these provocatives to discord, Catholics and
Protestants have left those institutions, and are
leaving them year by year, having there formed
friendships which will last their lives. f These are

* On one occasion some students, at a visitation of Belfast College,
raised "the Kentish fire." The incident has, I believe, been much
exaggerated ; at all events, it was unique. There was a fine illustration
of the habitual spirit of the place at a recent very numerous meeting of
the graduates to protest against the proposed changes in the University.
Each of the speakers referred to the advantage he had derived from
mixing with men of different creeds, but the tone of the remarks, and
the patient attention with which fhe assembly listened to a solitary
dissentient, were better evidence of their tolerance than any direct

t It will be instructive to contrast these results with the theory of
education inculcated in the following passage from a pamphlet which
has just appeared expressing the views of the clerical party :

"You say young men of different religions mixed together, refrain,

achievements to which the academic system, as carried


out in Ireland through the Queen's Colleges, may
point with pride; and they are such as, it seems
to me, no wise government would lightly imperil or
willingly let die.*

The writer, indeed, whose scheme of university
reform we have been criticising is, as one would

even from a motive of pride for their own religion, from discourses
against religion or morality : that is to say, Catholic youths for it is
chiefly with regard to them that we are discussing what educational
system is the best Catholic youths find the society of Protestant, of
irreligious am I to add, of immoral? youths, provided they are not
Catholics, less likely to lead to irreligious or corrupt conversation, than
the society of young men who have the happiness of professing the true
faith. I suppose, you admit, that ' as there is but one God and one
baptism, there is but one true faith,' and that they who profess it are,
cceteris paribus, better Christians and better men than they who do not.
Well, then, association with those who, cceteris paribus, are better Chris-
tians and better men, is more corrupting than association with others,
who, through God's inscrutable judgment, are in the darkness of error !
In other words, good companions are no longer good companions ; evil
company is no longer the occasion of evil, but of greater virtues. This is
not the lesson which the experience of all time teaches. From it we
learn that of all the agencies for the corruption of youth, evil company is
perhaps the worst," &c. Notes on " University Education in Ireland"
by U. R.

What hopeful promise for future peace and progress in Ireland when
the principle maintained in this passage is taken as the basis of its
educational system, and the youths of each religious denomination are
warned to shun those of the others as they would shun " evil company " !

* One objection to the enforcement of residence in the Queen's
Colleges might be, and indeed has been, urged with much apparent force
that it is unsuited to a poor population. So serious did this considera-
tion seem to the Commissioners who reported on the state of Trinity
College in 1852, that, while expressing in the strongest terms the value
they attached to academic residence, they yet declined to recommend
that it should be made indispensable. Fortunately, the advocates of the
collegiate system are now enabled to meet this reasonable apprehension
with the most satisfactory of answers the fact of success. In spite of
the rule of residence, the Queen's Colleges, as has been seen, have
attracted to their halls quite as large a proportion of the several classes
as the social circumstances of the country give warrant for expecting.


expect, sceptical of these advantages. He tells us :
" It is held that the intimacies and associations thus
formed may be, and indeed often are, as much for
evil as for good, when young men or boys are sent
for three years away from guardians and parents.
Studious and well-disposed young men do not ob-
trude their advice or example on their companions ;
the idle and ill-disposed are always obtrusive, and
their persuasions and example often exercise a most
injurious influence over their companions." Now
I have no hesitation in repudiating this represen-
tation, which one can scarcely believe to be the reflex
of an actual experience, as a fair account of the
influences evolved amid the intercourse of under-
graduate life. At least, speaking from my own ex-
perience, self-distrust and morbid reserve are not the
characteristics which I remember to have observed
in the men who took the highest places in the honour
lists and the foremost parts in the debating club.
Of course, where many youths congregate, there will
be "studious and well-disposed young men" whose
virtue will seek the shade, and "idle and ill-disposed"
who will thrust themselves into the foreground ; but
these, I submit, are not the prevailing types. Self-
assertion, rather than morbid shyness, is the side
on which I venture to think youthful merit, intellec-
tual and moral, is apt to err ; and it would speak
little indeed for the administrative adroitness of those
who bear rule in collegiate circles, if this natural
proneness of the best minds under their authority
to impress themselves on all who come within their
range, were not turned to account in generating a


public opinion favourable to virtue and honourable
distinction. As a matter of fact, I believe that this
result is generally attained. In the great academic
bodies of the country, undergraduate opinion is, I make
bold to say, in the main healthy and sound. If it
is not invariably so, the exceptional result is, doubt-
less, due to an exceptional cause ; to something, I
should conjecture, radically wrong in the constitution
of the bodies which yield the noxious fruits. The
fact, if it be one, ought not to be blinked ; but its
proper moral is, not the abolition of the academic
system in education, but the reformation of the
peccant institutions.

As I have ventured to impugn the theory of
university reform advanced in the proposal just
considered, it may perhaps be expected that I
should indicate, in lieu of the principle I have
combated, what in my opinion is the sound ideal
of a university system. Reverting, then, to what was
said a few pages back, that the true end of univer-
sities is to provide means for the largest and freest
development in all directions of the national mind,
and remembering that culture implies systematic
training, and that distinct forms of culture imply
distinct and independent institutions, a perfect system
for the higher education would, in my opinion, be
one in which university degrees should represent,
not a mere quantum of uniform attainment, but, along
with knowledge, types of culture ; and in which the
number of distinct universities should correspond
with the number of distinct types of culture which


mental movement in a country may assume. Of
course it would be necessary in practice to restrict
the application of this principle to those forms of
mental movement which are sufficiently charac-
teristic, and at the same time the expression of the
intellectual condition of a sufficiently large number
of persons, to make the establishment of independent
institutions for their promotion worth the labour. And
it would also be necessary, in order to the complete
freedom of education, inasmuch as there are in all
communities persons who, whether from narrowness
of means, mental idiosyncrasy, or from other causes,
decline to take part in the collegiate system through
which alone types of culture can be generated and
maintained, that the universities, constituted on the
plan indicated of representing culture, should be sup-
plemented by a university constituted upon that of
representing attainment merely ; or, to state our
meaning in concrete language, that, in addition to
universities of the Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin
type, there should be a university also of the London
type. There is no reason that persons, unable or
unwilling to take part in the collegiate system, on
giving proof that they have acquired a due amount of
knowledge, should not be admitted to the intellectual
rank of university-educated men ; and the natural
and obvious means of effecting this object would be
through a university in which collegiate training was
not imperative. Such a system, it seems to me, would
realize the conditions requisite at once for the
freedom and the solidity of mental progress ; and,
in fact, it is a system of this kind at which in the


natural course of things practice in this instance
as in others preceding theory we have arrived in
this country. Under the impulse of particular
motives, with slight regard to general views, the
founders of our universities, whether private indi-
viduals or governments, have traced out an organiza-
tion of the higher learning which, in its actual con-
dition, does not differ materially from that which
would have been realized if the principles I have
indicated had been deliberately followed. We have
not one, but many universities, which in the main
represent specific and distinct intellectual results.
The culture of Oxford is not the culture of Cam-
bridge ; and both are distinct, on the one hand,
from the culture of Scotland, on the other, from that
represented by Trinity College, Dublin. To these
types of culture we can now add that imparted in
the Queen's University and its Colleges, which I
venture to assert is not less specific and distinct
than any of the better-known forms. It is true it is
not possible, in the case of colleges fifteen years old,
to justify this language by an appeal to experience.
But if the time and the object of the establishment
of the Queen's Colleges be considered the time,
when the modern languages and the physical sciences
had just begun to attract that attention as instruments
of education which has of late been so liberally
accorded them ; the object, to educate the youths
of different religious denominations on equal terms
in common the candid will, I think, acknowledge
that a system of education conducted on a plan so
different from any which has been tried elsewhere,


and which draws its adherents from classes of society
not hitherto reached by the higher education, is not
unlikely to yield intellectual fruits equally character-
istic and distinct. The system provides for wants
not hitherto supplied, and provides for them in a
way fitted to generate and preserve a type of culture
suited to the circumstances of the country and to the
character of the people ; and herein consists its justi-
fication on the principles which have been set forth.
But to return to our immediate point in the main,
according to my view, the several universities of Great
Britain and Ireland justify their separate existence by
representing distinct forms of culture ; while over and
above the universities representing culture, there is the
University of London representing attainment merely,
wherever or however acquired, adapted, therefore,
to meet the wants of all who are unable to find
a place in the more normal institutions. Now, if
these views be sound, it follows that the principle
and entire scope of the scheme of centralization now
advocated for the higher education in Ireland are
essentially a mistake. The scheme starts with a
false ideal ; it moves in a wrong direction ; and,
if carried into practice, it must inevitably issue in
pernicious results. What is wanted in our university
system is not revolution and re-organization, but
remedial legislation, directed to the correction of
inequalities and minor abuses which have come down
to us from ages of bigotry, and embracing no doubt
also the adaptation of its courses and methods to
the advancing conditions of human knowledge.

And from the principles just laid down we may


deduce one or two more conclusions not irrelevant to
the question in hand. We may perceive in them, for
example, a new reason, in addition to that already
adduced, in favour of maintaining the collegiate system
in university education. The connection of univer-
sities with particular colleges, far from being the
factitious and obstructive incident which it has been
represented a hindrance to be got rid of by all means
is, we may now see, in truth an essential condition
to their fulfilment of the main purpose for which they
exist ; since it is manifestly only by maintaining this
connection that degrees can be what they mainly ought
to be the representatives or emblems of culture.
And again those principles furnish the reply to another
question, of which, so far as I know, no intelligible
solution has yet been given the question under what
circumstances and within what limits the competition
between universities or other bodies granting degrees
is productive of good. Everyone recognizes the fact
that in some instances such competition is beneficial,
in others injurious ; but I am not aware that any-
one has furnished an explanation of these apparently
conflicting phenomena. We are now, however, in a
position to do so. Competition will be useful among
such bodies, so long as their number is confined
within the limits indicated by the principles laid
down ; that is to say, so long as they represent dis-
tinct types of culture, or, as we may otherwise state
it, so long as they render distinct services to the com-
munity ; and it becomes mischievous the moment
this line is passed. It will not be difficult to sustain
this position by examples.


Thus a notable instance of the mischief caused
by competition among bodies granting degrees is fur-
nished by the medical schools of the United Kingdom.
There are, we believe, altogether in the country some
nineteen independent schools and colleges granting
degrees in medicine and surgery. Of these the
greater number perform identical functions, and as a
consequence address themselves to the same classes
of the population ; their constituency being one and
the same, their competition inevitably takes a com-
mercial turn, and they seek to recommend themselves
to their " customers " by cheapening the commodity
in which they deal. The result is that which is
deplored by every eminent member of the profession *
a general deterioration of the standard of medical
knowledge. And such inevitably would be the ten-
dency of the proposal which has been advanced of
establishing in Dublin a second university on the
London University plan. Such a university could
only render services already adequately rendered by
the University of London. The two bodies would
stand to each other in precisely the same relation as
the competing medical schools, and, we cannot doubt,
with the same result. Now take an example of com-
petition of another kind amongst degree-granting
bodies the competition of Oxford with Cambridge,
and of both with the University of London, and an
instance more pertinent to our purpose still the
competition between Trinity College, Dublin, and the

* Amongst others I may cite the author of the scheme just consi-
dered. In reference to the evils in question, he observes: "They have
arisen from the competition among the nineteen licensing Universities
and Colleges for the profits arising from candidates and pupils." P. 21.


Queen's University and its Colleges. With regard to
the former, it will not, I imagine, be denied that the
effects of the competition, so far as it is felt, are
altogether salutary ; and as regards the Irish univer-
sities, I can from personal knowledge affirm that this
has been eminently the case. Not only has their
mutual rivalry heightened the esprit de corps of each,
and stimulated the ardour of scientific and literary
pursuit, but it has also borne fruit in substantial
measures of great practical utility. And why is this ?
Manifestly because in all these cases the degrees of
the universities represent something specific and
distinct, and because in virtue of this fact they
address themselves in the main to distinct classes
in the community. The competition under these cir-
cumstances has no tendency to degenerate into a
process of underbidding, but rather becomes a race for
distinction. The graduates of the several universities
meet in the lists of life in the professions, in politics,

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Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 22 of 27)