THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
by M. A. McGARVEY, B.A.
IT would be difficult to find, in the history of English education, a more significant step than that which is being taken at the present time. I refer to the Government's decision to undertake a vast expansion of our present system of higher education.
The target is an increase, from the present university student population of 110,000, to 150,000 in 1966, reaching 170,000 in 1972. These figures do not include colleges of technology, colleges of art. and teacher training colleges, in all of which similar expansion will take place.
Since everything concerning education is of vital importance to the Catholic community, this would appear to be a suitable moment to examine this whole question of higher education.
Writing in the "Sunday Times" recently, Susan Cooper stated, "For most people in Britain, higher education has never been much more than a vaguely impressive phrase." She weht on to ask, "Within its nebulous limits, what are the real reasons for the desperate voices calling now for university expansion, bitterly attacking Government ineptitude, warning of 'the frustration, the distress, the despair' in an educational Situation which can lead to national disaster within ten years?"
Miss Cooper suggests two answers. The first is that the idea, implanted in people's minds by the 1944 Act, that education is a "good thing", has been steadily growing. The craftsman parent secs higher education in a new light. He is much more ready to encourage his children to "stay on" in the sixth form, and to try for a place in university. Sixth forms are steadily growing, and the demand for places in the universities far exceeds the supply. The past ten years have, it seems, seen a revolutionary change in the attitude towards education in an affluent society.
Her second answer to the question seems to be very much nearer to the mark. "Fierce economic pressures are at work . . . an in creasingly technical society demands more highly qualified scientists and technologists. Faced with the competition of America, Russia, and the Common Market countries, Britain needs qualified men and women as a raw material not only for a higher standard of living, but for simple survival."
A Committee on Higher Education, under the chairmanship of Lord Robbins, is preparing a report which will be published early next Summer.
Since the Catholic community is vitally concerned, the Catholic Education Council has placed before the Robbins Committee evidence concerning Catholic participation in an expanded higher educational system.
The evidence submitted stressed the importance of encouraging both a love of knowledge and an eager desire to find the truth. There is, indeed, more than a suspicion that in all this rapid and massive expansion of higher education materialistic considerations far out-weigh any others. Now the essential evil of materialism lies, not so much in the importance it places on material things, as in its utter denial of the very existence of anything but the material.
The Catholic Education Council, therefore, in presenting its evidence, at once asserted the just claims of spiritual and moral issues to be acknowledged and seriously considered. It was pointed out that it would he a tragedy if the existencesof great divergences of opinion in modern society were to cause institutions of higher education to shirk discussion of the major philosophical questions.
"The Catholic body felt that it was essential to make these points", writes Mr. R. F. Cunningham, secretary of the Council, "if only because few other bodies might pay any attention to the fundamental objectives of higher education."
The following proposals, affecting the existing universities, were made on behalf of Catholics, in dicating the Catholic view of the purpose of higher education, which is the same as that of all other education, namely, the moral, spiritual, intellectual and social development of the student : I. That chairs or lectureships of Catholic theology should be set up in the same way as those already existing in, for example, Anglican theology. Cardinal Newman is quoted, " . . theology has at least as good a right to claim a place as astronomy".
2. That there should he public financial help to the chaplaincies of the different denominations.
The points were made that the chaplaincies help the students to practice their religion as a group. and that their work is most valuable in promoting the general well-being of students.
These proposals state, in effect, that the spiritual and moral development of our young people merits a consideration at least equal to that which is accorded to those aspects of higher education that are of a purely material nature.
Crowther The Crowther Report on Secondary Education, which was pub
lished in 1959, stated that "the education that is provided for the great mass of children is inadequate both in its quality and in its duration".
Crowther had much to recommend concerning the necessary attention that must be paid to moral training in secondary education. It is unthinkable that Robbins will do less for higher education. We took forward eagerly to a report next Summer which will demonstrate that the members of the Robbins Committee see our young men and women as much more than "qualified men and women as raw material for a higher standard of living."
The whole shape and pattern of our higher educational system will depend on this report. If we see recommendations leading to a a higher education which will aim at producing, not only highly skilled scientists and technologists, but also men and women of moral worth and integrity, we will agree with Sir Edward Boyle, the Minister of Education, in his description of the forthcoming Robbins Report-"This report will prove to be one of the outstanding events in the educational history of this country."